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Sexual Harassment

Dear Amy,
First let me thank you for being here to help myself and others. I am a 26 yr. old female barber. A customer, whose hair I had cut once before and had acted as a gentlemen, came in today. We talked about his daughters baseball game that he would be attending tonight. He said how he went to everyone of his older daughter's games before and how he never misses his younger daughter's games now. I commended him on being a good father, how many parents these days don't seem to understand that all their children want is their time and attention. I keep client record cards and told him I would be moving to a salon soon, and would let him know when. He said "Definitely, please let me know". I thought it was a complement on my skills.

As he was leaving he stood sideways and held his arm out, as if for a small 'pat on the shoulder hug'. Now, I did not like that at all, I know any touching (other than their head because I have to) is inappropriate. But I live in a small Alabama town and the lady who I had worked with at the barber shop, before she retired, had given lots of side hugs to her clients. Granted, it was when she told them she was retiring and she had cut all their hair for 20, even 30 years.

Anyway, I didn't like it, but since the lady was respectable, and I took most of here clients, I assumed it would be alright, rather than risk insulting and loosing a client. I mean, what's in an innocent shoulder pat, right? I know that's the excuse he would use, in his head if not to me. I kept my body lined sideways with his, put my arm around his back, and patted his arm, when he swooped his arm around my back, PAST my arm, and onto my BREAST!!!! where he squeezed it quickly and repeatedly about three times. The whole thing happened in less than 2 seconds and I was so SHOCKED! I just said "Okay Bye-bye now!!!".

I know I'm making excuses. I know I should have confronted him then and there. Afterward I wanted to tell him that I was somebody's daughter too, and I have to deal with this all the time, and soon HIS daughter would deal with it all the time because of men like him. I know the end of it all begins with ME, but this time my boyfriend called him and impolitely told him never to show his face again.

I know this is a terribly long e-mail. I'm sorry and thank you for listening, but there's a bit more. I've had this job since January 2005. A male barber, let's call him Satan, had just purchased the business from the lady who was about to retire. I am currently still in progress of attaining my cosmetology licence. No salon would accept me yet, and I don't have family here to practice on, as the other girls do, so I checked out the barber shops. I would say I'm psychic, except apparently 99% of men seem to be predictable pigs. Of course, Satan began telling me how pretty I was, "Gosh, you're pretty!". Can you imagine that in a redneck accent?!!!! It's ALMOST funny. I would nicely say "Oh, stop!" and quickly change the subject.

When that didn't work, I started not saying anything and quickly walk away. WHEN THAT DIDN'T WORK!, I finally told him "Look, that is making me uncomfortable, you're going to have to stop", then he did stop. But he still is constantly talking about what muscles he worked out that morning (yeah, right), and making comments about women that walk past the shop. I ignore him and that's tolerable, but he also always find some way to touch me!!!! not inappropriately though!!!!! If I stand behind my chair and he walks by, he'll lightly push my shoulder, when I'm sitting in the waiting room with my ankle on my knee, he'll walk by and lightly smack my foot. I know this may sound silly, but I also know it thrills him just to touch me anyway he can. I sit there tense, knowing it IS coming, WHEN?WHEN?WHEN? OH, GOD THERE IT IS! HOW DARE YOU, YOU PERVERT!

I know I could get a job at a restaurant until I graduate, but I really need the experience, and no one else would take me yet. AND, 2 weeks after I started, he went to Florida with his family and consulted his WIFE on buying a skirt for me!!!! I don't feel bad for her because she puts up with it. He confesses to me that he's using her for her paycheck, and then he preaches to me about the teachings of Jesus Christ!!!! and hangs up printed verses of Psalms all over the shop!!!! I can't tell him to stop any of this because in Alabama, one doesn't need a reason to fire someone. He would pawn what he is doing off as nothing and say I'm too difficult to work with or something, I know because it's happened before. What he's doing, I could never charge him for, therefore, put up with it or leave. He knows where the line is, and he won't cross it but he steps right up to it and stays there.

The other day I was sitting on the trunk of my car in a parking lot while waiting for my boyfriend. A man drove up and said "You sure look good sittin' up there!" I ignore him and he drove away. I know if he had persisted I would have told him off, but as it happened, I'm still left so angry and feeling just like nothing but a piece of prey all the time. After this I seriously considered wearing a garb just to STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But I am an American! I would rather FIGHT for MY RIGHTS!

For 10 years I have put up with it because it does make life easier, I needed this job. But it doesn't make life easier. The stress has taken it's toll. I am so tired and depressed from holding in the anger. Going home and yelling and beating up pillows does not help anymore. It is time for me to ACT!!!!! It's time for all women to act! The laws cannot help us if we do not help ourselves.
I WILL stand! I WILL NOT accept it any longer!!! But I do not have much experience with confrontation, in fact I am a little scared of it. Please help me get involved.

I would like to join some group, where others can help me learn and where I can eventually help others learn. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and I would be willing to travel to some neighboring city if I must. Please help me, I need the support of women, please. I know change is slow, but it is also inevitable. I WILL help change things, if only an inch, it is an inch better.

   

Thanks for sharing both your anger and your passion for changing things. I wish there was a solution to street harassment or just that in between harassment that is more than annoying and yet not something that legal recourse likely applies to. It is certainly the most common form of abuse that I hear about. It makes me slightly resentful of anti-violence laws -- because the laws actually make the abuse definable, but when something falls outside of the definition, it's then not quantifiable and therefore not legitimized. It does a disservice to these more banal forms of abuse or just confuses it.

In terms of what to do -- I'm certain that there are resources in your town that you can tap into. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm guessing that at a minimum that the university there has a women's center for women's studies or something.

Also, it's a fairly big town and I'm sure that comes with some systems and organizations already in place. Not that these don't need perfecting, but I always think it's better to start there before trying to start something from scratch. This guarantees you more infrastructure and also more opportunities to maximize your idea. I think the most important thing to keep in mind before you get involved is what are you hoping to accomplish.

I am more of an optimist than a pessimist, but it's unlikely that you will be able to end violence, more important, however, is that in lieu of that, what can you accomplish, contribute. It's just important to be realistic about what you can accomplish so you don't burn out. I hope that helps and I hope that you continue to find ways to funnel your anger effectively.

Good luck,

--Amy