Recently,  I attended a gathering at a life-long friend’s home.  She and I have known one another since I was in kindergarten and I’ve known her family just as long. During the party,  one of the family elders had imbibed just a little too much and became very touchy-feely with many of the female party goers.  To be clear, I’ve known this man since I was very young…. he’s practically the same age as my own father and for many years I felt just as close to him as a daughter.

So it was mildly unsettling when he began groping my ass repeatedly throughout the evening. And then swooping in for REALLY extended hugs and not-fatherly smooches. Because I’ve known him for the better part of three decades, I felt ABSOLUTELY uncomfortable. But I was MORE uncomfortable asking him to refrain from doing so. Whether it was out of concern for hurting his feelings or bruising his ego, the other ladies and myself were prepared to instead completely avoid him rather than tell him he was behaving badly. My friend’s husband and brother finally explained to him, in no uncertain terms,  that he was out of line and made arrangements for him to depart. But it got me thinking….why had each of us ladies been far too timid in the moment to thwart his unwanted advances? 

Myself, and the other ladies there, were tangled in a situation of being far too polite to kindly ask him to back the fuck off. And there lies the conundrum. 

In a world where 1 in 3 young girls are subjected to unwanted sexual attention and advances and nearly every grown woman has experienced some sort sexual harassment….I began to wonder if we, as a gender, are predisposed to believe that we must simply just endure rather than refuse to allow ourselves to be subjected to that sort of behavior. 

I wonder too if, inadvertently, we are teaching young girls that it’s rude to call men on their sexually charged shananagins and are thereby creating the perfect future victims of sexual crimes. 

I would like to think I generally take not one bit of shit from anyone….but I digress. Far too often I’ve found myself in an unsavory situation and error on the side of polite disregard for my own well being. Are we systematically trading our own safety for politeness? 

Think about that the next time you see an unsavory character approaching you. Everything in your gut tells you to take yourself out of the equation. But, to cross the street or clutch your purse tighter or hustle in the other direction or refuse to engage in conversation would make you appear unnecessarily assuming. Then think of how many women regret not listening to that inner voice.

And while I know I was in a relatively safe place with someone who, though behaving badly, was completely harmless……I have to admit I don’t know that I would have reacted differently if I didn’t know the person.

More times than I care to admit, I find myself lingering longer than I’d like in truly uncomfortable (and sexual) conversations with creepy, strange men simply because I’m unsure how to appropriately convey “you are a big giant sleaze ball” and retreat to safety. I’ve been groped in public by scary men and didn’t stop them. I simply endured and walked away thinking “whew… glad that’s over”. I’ve generally surmised that maybe they don’t realize how truly repugnant they’re being. But the truth is…..they probably do. And they are COUNTING on you being far too uncomfortable and polite to tell them no.

I suspect it’s something inherently ingrained in our DNA to be charming and nice and friendly. We like to think we, as women, must be nurturing and kind at all times. But I would like to think we should also be empowered enough to value ourselves,  and our personal space, more than we value unrequited politeness.