Perhaps it's Time to Bring Back the Hatpin
The recent video that captured Donald Trump’s reprehensible behavior towards women has brought up traumatic memories for many women. Some of my clients, especially those who have been sexually assaulted, were so upset that they wondered whether it’s worthwhile continuing to try to date. They worried that they might find themselves alone with a man who has a similar attitude towards women.
I reminded them that each man is different. Most men would never consider treating a woman in this way. We talked about how a woman can have better control of her safety and maintain her dignity if she is prepared to deal with a man with a false sense of entitlement about her body.
Sexual assault or harassment has happened to most women I know. I don’t remember a time in which we have talked about it openly and unashamedly. When it happened to me, I thought it was my fault, so I was quiet about it. So were most of my friends and clients.
It often happens so suddenly, and unexpectedly. You’re just going about your business. Perhaps you’re on a date, on a bus or at work. Maybe you’re meeting with your boss, a mentor or a business connection. Perhaps it's the coach for your kid’s baseball team. He is supposed to be a friend, to be kind, to help you. He is supposed to be someone safe to be around.
It happens in the blink of an eye. One minute you are doing something completely normal. In the next minute, he talks about your body in graphic terms. He unexpectedly touches your body with his hand, his mouth, or even more disgustingly, his crotch.
Your first reaction might be to freeze. You are instinctively aware that you are smaller or weaker than him. You know he can overpower you. No question about that. So, you buy time and try to figure out what to do in a way that doesn’t anger him or call attention to the situation.
If the man is a stranger on the bus or your relationship is otherwise inconsequential, you are more likely to do something that will keep you safe without fearing that you will offend him or get him angry so he might hurt you. You can move away and you might be able to command your voice to tell him to stop.
It’s not so easy if he is your superior at work, if he is a business connection or if he has power or influence over any part of your life. In this case you have to rapidly measure your options and the consequences of standing up for yourself. You will also have to consider what might happen if he retaliates.
Even though this kind of sexual harassment is over very quickly, it leaves you feeling disgusted, ashamed and humiliated for a long time to come. It can also leave you feeling helpless and powerless.
After all, a man is not likely to be prosecuted for pinching your bottom, putting his hands on your breasts or rubbing his crotch against your body.
You know that the American justice system says he is innocent until proven guilty. If you bring it up to the authorities, it will be his word against yours. You know you will have to explain what happened to strangers, who may not believe you. You will be forced to relive the experience over and over again.
I think it's important that every woman be prepared for this sort of situation.
Some of our grandmothers went out in public armed with hatpins so that they could deal with men who put them in this type of situation. But in this day and age, we don't expect men to behave so badly and as a result we're not always ready to protect ourselves from this all-too-common experience.
Predatory men like Donald Trump count on women’s acquiescence in these situations. They expect that we’ll be quiet, not make a scene or defend ourselves. If we fight back, they are likely to try to discredit us.
Don’t let that stop you from speaking up. It’s likely to help if you have decided what you’re going to say beforehand. Practice it in your most confident, clear tone of voice, so that it becomes automatic.
Tell a stranger, “I need you to stop. Please back off. Get away from me now!” Repeat these words as necessary speaking them louder each time.
If the man is someone you already know, say, “Please stop. This is making me uncomfortable. I’m sure you don’t intend for me to feel this way. I appreciate your offer of help, but I need it to be above board.” Most men will back off.
If he doesn’t, you should be prepared to walk away. Tell him you need to leave, then do so. Even if he’s providing you with a favor, he knows that you’re not a prostitute. If the only way he will help you is if you submit to his advances, he is not a reliable friend.
While the vast majority of men are kind and respectful to women, it helps if you are prepared to handle the potential misbehavior on the part of others. Or, you could always bring back the hatpin.