There is a friendly older man who works at my local supermarket. I first noticed him six months ago when I was shopping with the kids. He waved to them and smiled. They waved back. He came over and asked if they would like a piece of ham. He works in the fancy cheese and meat department.
My children know all the stores to visit to get a tasty treat. They like to go to “pressing” (tailor/drycleaning) with me because the owners have a big bowl of lollipops on the counter and they always get to pick one. They know two different butchers where they will likely score a piece of sausage. At the fancy bakery in our village, they usually make off with an extra cookie or slice of cake. They’re cute and friendly, and they already know how to turn on the charm when there is an edible treat in sight.
It is no surprise then that they are always happy to see their friend at the supermarket. He often stops what he is doing to give them a high-five or a pinch on the cheek and some goodie from the deli. He puts his hand on my shoulder and asks how I’m doing. He knows that we’re expats and speaks to me in English. (My Dutch is halting.) I’d guess he’s in his 60’s, kind face, quick to smile. I’ve seen him chatting with other female shoppers, even sharing a hug, and they all seem glad to see him. Frankly it’s nice to see a friendly face when you’re doing your errands, especially since sometimes we still feel like foreigners here.
This morning I went to the market after dropping off my daughter at pre-school. Time alone to peruse produce can feel like a spa day for a sleep-deprived parent. Should I get romaine or butter lettuce? Ooooh, or maybe baby spinach? Ahhh, the endless choices, and I don’t have to rush through the store, throwing items into my cart before one of my children wanders off or knocks over a display or rips open a package of something.
I was deciding between granola and oatmeal when Mr. Friendly came by.
“Hi. Good morning.”
He leaned over to give me a kiss on the cheek and then a hug. Too much of a hug. Far too much. My breasts were pressed against his chest and I felt his hands on my back.
I’m a hugger, and rarely have a problem with someone touching me, even a stranger. I am affectionate with my friends and family. My kids usually have lipstick all over their faces because I can’t stop kissing them. When I walk with girlfriends, I link my arm through theirs. Most people do not have enough platonic physical contact…it’s a reflex for me to touch others in a comforting, supportive, loving way. I acknowledge, however, that when I hug male friends, I subconsciously make my chest concave so that there is not too much contact. Maybe this is a hang-up because I’m busty. Maybe not. Twenty-plus years ago, a creepy (but insightful) guy told me that men like to hug busty women because they became aroused feeling their breasts. This could be total bullshit, but it lodged in my brain for better or for worse.
The hug from Mr. Friendly lasted only a second but it made me interminably uncomfortable. I crossed my arms over my chest defensively while he chatted with me about the children, the weather. When I finally excused myself to continue my shopping he leaned in again and gave me a half-hug. My arms were wrapped tightly in their protective position so he was not able to get close the second time.
If you have ever nursed a baby, you know that there are many sensations that awaken in the breasts, some of which are painful or unpleasant. This unwelcome contact provoked a visceral reaction across my chest, as if my breasts were rejecting the assault.
I continued my marketing feeling very unsettled. “Well, maybe he was having a bad day and needed some kind of affection?” I thought. My breasts answered, “that’s not our fucking problem.”
I made my way around the store, crossing things off my list. And then, there was Mr. Friendly again. I’m hoping it was a coincidence.
“Oh, Hi again!”
“Yeah, just finishing up.” I smiled weakly. “I’m really tired (truth) and I want get home.”
“Oh, you’re tired?”
“My little girl didn’t sleep well so…”
“I was going to ask if your husband was, you know, keeping you up.” He laughed and winked.
I fake laughed in response and swatted away the suggestion with my shopping list. I escaped further conversation with Mr. Friendly and rushed toward the check-out. I still had items to get on my shopping list, most notably ham for today’s lunch, but there was no fucking way I was going anywhere near the deli counter.
While I was bagging my groceries, I kept running over the “innocuous” comment in my head. “Did he just ask about my sex life?! After he hugged me like that?!” I was livid.
In the parking lot, I ran into another mom I know. After exchanging pleasantries, I told her what happened. I just had to tell someone, another woman. I didn’t even mention the comment just the hug. “Ugh, that’s awful. I totally know how you feel. I saw a former colleague the other day and he got way too close, holding and kissing me. It was so inappropriate.”
And that, Friendlies, is the problem. Probably every woman in the world knows how I feel because women have to deal with this crap, these kinds of unwanted advances and inappropriate comments, ALL THE FUCKING TIME. EVERY DAY. Not just at the club when we’re rocking a hot outfit, but even in the market at 9:15 on a Thursday morning.
This is one of the reasons women are so heart-broken and horrified that a piece of human garbage is sitting in the White House. This is one of the reasons millions of women marched. Despite the myriad reasons he is unqualified for the job, his disdain for women, his cavalier attitude about sexual assault (yes, grabbing someone by the pussy is assault), should have been the end of his story. Instead, it has given men all over the world the green light to (continue to) harass women, to threaten them with sexual violence, to be “inappropriate”.
Well guess what, Grabber-in-Chief? You just ignited some Righteous Female Rage. We’re done with men telling us what to do with our bodies. We’re done with making excuses for YOUR shitty behavior. We’re done being told we “asked for it". Sisters around the world are rising up. And we’re coming for you.