I will not be complaisant – things I learned about myself and about harassment

Written By: Maddy

Content warning: harassment, sexual remarks/gestures, abuse

My name is Madeleine, and I identify as a cis woman. I am a loud person, my voice carries, I have loud opinions, and I am comfortable in front of a crowd (I can crack a joke, no problem). And this is going to be long, but I think it’s important for everyone — men, women and non-binary folks alike.

Growing up, I learned a lot about how I’m supposed to feel as a woman; not from my mother, who is equally as loud and opinionated as myself, but from society.  I was (and still am) told that I am too harsh, too aggressive. I’m not serious enough, I should try to smile more often, be more accommodating, move out of the way for people. And most of all, I learned that in public my body and my presence didn’t belong to me. I learned this particular lesson at Tim Hortons.

The summer between grade 10 and grade 11, I got a job at Tim Hortons, and I worked there for the remainder of my high school career. It was a truck stop Tim Hortons off of the 401 in a small town. It wasn’t glamorous; I always smelt like old coffee, I burned myself more times than I can count, and people were very rude (don’t get between a Canadian and their Tim Hortons).

I enjoyed the job, to a point. And that point was creepy old men. I was ‘Young and Sweet’, only 17 when a man felt the need to inform me what room he was staying in in the hotel across the parking lot. I had a man offer to pay me to watch me spit in his coffee.  One man asked, with a wink that made my skin roll, if I could “put a little bit of love into his chilli”. They commented on my hair, my freckles, my lips and body. It was gross and a little demoralizing, but most of all, it was scary. When I left at the end of my shifts at 11pm, I hurried to my car and locked the doors as soon as I got in, frightened of who might come out of the shadows.

During the summer between my first and second year of university, I worked for the 2016 census and had a man spit at me when he opened his door. When I worked I made sure that there was always someone who knew where I was and where I was going. I always had a specific time and place where my significant other met up with me at the end of my shift.  I did not feel safe on my own.

For the past two summers I’ve worked in an office where, on one occasion, one of my co-workers informed me that if I was his wife, he would hit me every day, and that my significant other should try hitting me more often to keep me in line.

I have more stories, and I’m not the only one.  I think nearly every woman I know has at least one story about a man making her uncomfortable or frightened or downright terrified. On the subway, men lick their lips at me, sit next to me when there are 100 other free seats, mutter obscene things to me under their breath. The list goes on.

I’m not saying that this is a problem that includes all men and I’m not saying that women are the only ones victimized.  What I’m saying is, there is a problem with public and private spaces that foster this kind of attitude. The reason my co-worker was able to actively harass me for two summers was because “that’s just how things are”. When I reported him, I stirred the pot: I was moved to a different office for the last week of work, my boss was disappointed in me that I hadn’t come to him sooner. But I really felt like I couldn’t say anything to him, because everyone else in that office was completely complaisant in the way the harasser treated myself and the other women in the office.

I can’t speak to any other sort of harassment, but I know that the mechanics are the same. When the crowd is complaisant in the harassment, it emboldens the harasser. When there’s no push back, the harassment becomes the norm.  Which is why I’ve made a promise to myself, and to every person around me: I will not be complaisant. I will stand up for myself, and I will stand up for anyone else, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or whatever the case may be. Everyone deserves respect, everyone deserves to feel comfortable in public and private spaces, and everyone deserves to feel safe.

I aspire to show others that it’s possible to push back; I will be that loud, abrasive woman, I will take up space, and I will belong to no one but myself.

If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable and would like to contact someone on campus, please visit http://safety.yorku.ca/resources/ for more information on who might be best to contact.  If you feel you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1 for immediate emergency services.  If you would like a comprehensive list of services available for multiple needs, please visit http://journeys.ampd.yorku.ca/ and click the “resources” tab.  You can also submit your story and see others’ stories at this site, if you so choose.