Respect or Nothing

Woman in business dress holds up her hand in the "stop" motion
Unwanted attention is unwanted no matter what.

By Tess Fox

When I first got dressed for the day, I decided that I wasn’t going to settle for an old t-shirt under a sweatshirt. I traded the combo for a nice, navy blue shirt that made my hair look as red as Pippi Longstocking’s. It had a wide neckline that exposed my collar bones and a bit of chest (no boob action). A modest, simple, nice top. Something that is professional (because I was going to work), but not too dressy for a high school basketball game in Eastern Washington.

As a photographer for the local newspaper, I still want to look like a professional.

Before leaving for the game, I had that last minute thought of, “Am I sure I want to wear this?” Generally I wear a baggy sweatshirt and put my hair in a ponytail. I firmly told myself no. I looked and felt nice. That was all that mattered.

Besides, I’ll be working the whole time. High school basketball games are not a pick-up destination, not that I’m looking for that. I’m focused on getting “the shot.” Why does it matter what I wear?

It was rainy last Friday night. Valentine’s Day was two days away. I was at a basketball game at Pullman High School, taking photos for my job at the local newspaper. My coworker was also at the game, writing the recap for the paper. He brought a friend to the game.

My coworker introduced me to his friend during half time. The basketball game was a state playoff game; it was rowdy and loud as parents chatted and the pep band played. I never caught his friend’s name. I politely introduced myself, exchanged pleasantries and continued working. His friend tried to continue the conversation a few times. I was working, so I mostly nodded and said “uh huh.” Half time ended and I left the stands for the basketball court for more photos.

Once I finished taking and editing my photos, I packed up and said goodbye to my coworker and his friend. He looked upset that I was leaving and I felt his eyes watch me leave.

His friend caught up with me as I left the front doors of the school.
“Hey Tess…do you want to get a drink sometime?” he asked.
I already have a significant other. Trying to drop a hint, I said, “Oh, I’m underage. I can’t go to bars.”
“Well you know there’s tea, soda and coffee we could drink instead,” he said.
“I’m not interested, I’m sorry.”

There’s a one-hundred-mile-long list out there of all the reasons that society needs feminism. I’ve had plenty of other experiences that have affirmed this belief for me. But halfway through a thought about how this situation was my fault and I should have worn a sweatshirt instead of a nice blouse, I realized something was wrong.
It doesn’t matter what I wore, it was unwarranted attention.

This is the shirt I was wearing. Slightly low cut, but nothing showing.

I was dressed professionally. If his friend took that to mean that I was dressing like I was available, that’s on him, not me. He crossed the line.

It blows my mind to think that many, many women go through this sort of exchange regularly.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked on a date. However, it was was the first time that I thought negative, awful, sexist things about myself.

My coworker’s friend put me in a position to wonder why I was receiving his advances, when I felt I hadn’t done anything to warrant them.

Driving back to Moscow, I thought to myself, “I should have been nicer. I should have apologized more.”

No. I was polite without being rude. But I shouldn’t feel bad for being uncomfortable and I definitely shouldn’t apologize.

I can relate now to women who have been blamed for things out of their control. Women experience all sorts of unwanted attention on the streets, in school and at work. It wasn’t my fault that a man put me in an uncomfortable situation. I am lucky: his friend high-tailed it out of there after I made it clear I was not interested.

I would like to add that my coworker is not to blame here. He called me after to apologize and say he had no idea that his friend would start asking out his colleagues. I am lucky to work with such respectful people.

His friend stepped over a line, but I don’t know that he realized it. Perhaps he will learn to keep his asking-outs for more appropriate social situations. At least now he knows that when you put journalists in awkward situations, they’ll probably write about it on the Internet.

The point is, I need feminism. I need feminism because I shouldn’t blame myself for unwanted attention. I need feminism because I shouldn’t feel obligated to apologize profusely, to let suitors down gently, to stroke the ego of the man I rejected. That’s not my job. Society shouldn’t tell me that’s my job. Society should respect me, or just leave me alone.


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