Chakraborty: Female students shouldn’t excuse harassment

My friend and I had a routine we followed this semester: after class we would meet up at an establishment to eat and chat.

Initially this started off fine; the employees were pleasant and we had a good time. Gradually, the employees began to recognize us and remember our faces and orders,  as we would visit frequently. We took this as a sign of being friendly and never thought twice about it.

It all seemed innocent enough, but following this, our experience went downhill. One worker in particular seemed to have taken interest in my friend and started behaving slightly too friendly with her. He would compliment her every time we went, letting her know that she looked beautiful and that he liked what she was wearing. He even began discounting her food.

It was always a little strange but became outright disturbing when she wore a shirt that said Teenage Runaway on it and all the employees starting referring to her by this nickname. Soon we could hear the employees whispering and giggling while we were there, obviously discussing her and how one of the workers seemed to have a “thing” for her. This all got too disconcerting for my friend, and we stopped buying from this establishment.

However, the employee’s advances did not cease there—he thought it was permissible to  specially come over and say hello to my friend even when we were not dining there. My friend, visibly uncomfortable, would still try to be polite and smile while answering him. Inside, she was definitely a nervous wreck and felt targeted. Obviously, we are no longer customers of this establishment and have never gone back.

This incident poses the question: How many people deem it alright to objectify and plainly discuss someone who is clearly not interested in them? My friend should not have had to dread the unwanted attention and become increasingly self-aware because a man simply did not know his limits.

Moreover, why would these people stand there and talk about her as if she was simply an object rather than a person with feelings, likes, dislikes and fears? My friend is worth more than what a few jeering words reduced her to in those instances.

Then comes the question many will ask, “What if he was just trying to be nice?” Attempting to be “nice” is not a sufficient explanation for behavior that makes someone feel insecure or unsafe to any degree. While it is fine to harbor personal sentiments towards a person, these should not be overtly displayed towards them, especially when they are not reciprocated.

The only term to adequately describe this behavior is “harassment”. My friend was progressively harassed over the course of the semester and was pretty much powerless to stop it until she left the establishment completely.

One of the main problems with subtle harassment is that the victim is often unsure of whether their discomfort is valid; perhaps they were being oversensitive. This mentality needs to be reversed. If there is someone persistently making you feel uncomfortable or dropping inappropriate comments, it’s them, not you.

No one should suffer in silence or wonder if it just their imagination when they are clearly being harassed.  My friend should not have had to feel awkward and ashamed when there was a man sexually harassing her. He was in the wrong and should have rectified or apologized for his actions.

Ideally, we would not have had to stop visiting this place and my friend would not have had to sense a lingering creepiness from an employee.  Unfortunately, these situations are not ideal and it is up to us, members of society, to never shy away from labeling such incidents as what they are–harassment

Ankita Chakraborty is a second-year student majoring in biology and minoring in psychology.