By Willow Glenn
I keep thinking: what would have happened if you had said something?
I was alone, trying to find my mom’s credit card. She was inside the store, and as far as I could feel, miles away. We had been driving all night and all day. I was walking around in a bit of a hurry; we wanted to get home but the credit card was missing. I tried to multitask by stretching my legs as I hunted. I walked towards the spot our car had been previously parked, when I heard his voice.
I turned. He stood about 10 feet away, eating from a bag of chips. The voice inside told me to run, but I just quickened my pace by a bit. He called after me.
“I like those jeans! A good choice for today!”
I walked faster, my heart pounding and my eyes tearing up.
You were there, behind the other gas pump. I knew that you had heard him, because when I shakingly asked you if you had seen a credit card, your quiet voice was full of concern. You actually looked for it, and said that you were sorry, but the card wasn’t there.
I saw you look at him.
When I couldn’t find it, I ran back to my car. I could feel his eyes on me. I got into the car, locked the doors, and cried.
Just like the time a man followed me around a store. Just like the time a man passed me three times and blew kisses as I was walking. Just like the time a man called to me as I was on a run. Just like the boy in math class.
And just like all the other bystanding men in all those other times, you said nothing. You did nothing. You stood there, as a man with graying hair made comments about my body.
What would have happened if you had said something? You could have said anything. You could have even just checked in with me. “Are you okay? Do you have a parent around? Do you want me to make sure he doesn’t follow you?”
It would have made a world of a difference for me.
You know, the experience taught me something. You don’t know this because we have never officially met, but my dream is to be an actress, and I am working hard to get there. I learned that I am going to have to protect myself, especially when I am working by myself. Whenever anything like that happens, I cannot rely on outside help, because it might never come. I have to say something whenever I feel afraid, violated, or uncomfortable. I need to be strong. I have to be prepared to stand up for myself. You taught me that I cannot always count on having help.
The experience also made me realize that I never want anyone else to feel the way that I did, crying alone in my car, looking around to see if anyone was approaching. I never want anyone else to feel so alone, dirty, and weak. You taught me that I want to be someone who other women can count on. I want to fight for the safety and freedom of other women’s minds and bodies. So if I ever see harassment or abuse, I will stand up and say something.
I really hope that you learned something too. I hope that you will not stay silent the next time you see a woman get catcalled. I hope that you speak up and show your support. I hope that you will not waste the privilege and power that you have as a man in that kind of situation. I hope that you will use it to give power to women.
I think we need solidarity between all genders. We need men to call each other out on harassment and educate their male friends. We need men to consciously fight against female disempowerment in their relationships. We need men to support feminist movements.
I hope that you think about that moment. I hope that it takes up space in your head and forces you to reckon with your complacency in harassment. I hope that you realize that you were a part of the problem. I hope you change.
Willow Glenn has not made friends with a faerie yet, but she is trying. She recently saw an owl and thinks that she is secretly a selkie.