*Warning: Naughty language ahead!
I have to sit here and make conversation and smile.
My personal space, violated.
My lines, crossed.
I’m at the bar that I work at and frequent. A group of men that come to see us, fairly regularly, have all just started coming in. I am one of their regular bartenders, so, I was asked to stick around after my shift.
The guys like me because I have a nice rack, quick mouth, and I can hold my liquor. But, they’re all too close to me, breathing down my neck, telling me what they want to do to me, or what they want me to do to them.
I am nothing more than a piece of meat for a pack of wild dogs to fight over and sink their teeth into. No amount of mental or emotional preparation can make that easier to deal with.
At one point, I escape from the pack and find a quiet spot to collect my thoughts and build my light up around me. One of them comes over and, before I can even get nervous, he’s apologizing on behalf of his friends.
He tells me he has two daughters and he can’t imagine either of them being in this kind of situation. These men are hungry and foaming at the mouth.
I look him in the eyes and I ask him to do me a favor—to make sure he teaches his daughters not to blame themselves when men disrespect them, to teach them to be strong and stand up for themselves.
Even if that means being called a bitch.
Earlier in the night:
Guy: “Can I buy you a drink gorgeous?”
Me: “Oh, I have one. Thank you though!”
Guy: “Come on baby one drink.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I really can’t, thank you though.”
Guy: “Why are you being like that? Come on, have a drink with me. Right now. What, you don’t like me?”
Me: “I’m really sorry, but I’m seeing someone. No, thank you.”
Guy: “Fuckin’ bitch. Whatever.”
I’m not actually seeing someone, but I thought it would help.
Why am I so apologetic?
Why do I have to be harassed to have a drink, and then be called a bitch because I said no thank you?
As a woman, I know that this is not the last time I will have this conversation, and it’s not the first time either.
Up until my own self-realisation, my value was in the hands of everyone but me. I was worthless to myself unless I had a man telling me I was hot, and that he wanted to do all of these dirty things to me.
I would engage in sexual activities that I didn’t always want to, because I was afraid if I didn’t, the guy wouldn’t be interested. After I gave a man what he wanted, of course, I was ignored or dodged anyway.
My sexuality gave me a false sense of self-confidence and, for years, I clung to it until it destroyed the most important person in my life. My paralyzing fear about the truth and my unwillingness to see the damage I was doing caused nothing but heartbreak and disappointment for myself and for him (but, this story is not about him).
I’m far from perfect. My mistakes have made me who I am today. All of those years of confusion, insecurity and pain have led to my rising from the ashes.
I destroyed myself until I had almost nothing left and then, suddenly, I was awake. I could see everything clearly and realized that I had this power inside of me.
No longer was my value in the hands of anyone other than me.
As a bartender, there is a certain amount of flirting that I have to engage in, and cat-calling that I have to ignore. I’m okay with that.
I have answered to names such as: sweetheart, babygirl, lady, sexy, miss, hottie, tall girl, and, even, sweet tits. That one is my favorite. Not.
The list is endless.
I have never been comfortable with it.
I have been told that I simply need to have “thicker skin” and that this is part of my job.
So, I put on a smile and flirt back, for a few dollars of a tip. Every time I have to grin and bear it, to smile through the discomfort, or ignore the feelings of being threatened, I am chipping away at my own spirit.
There is a certain amount of bullshit that a woman should never have to put up with.
I tried my best to put up my light around me that night, shielding and protecting me from any darkness that could get in.
I was radiant. I smiled and flirted and played along (mostly). I drank with them and laughed with them.
I was a rockstar. If any of the dogs stepped out of line, I made sure they knew it. I tried to control the situation as much as possible so that I wouldn’t get hurt.
But when the night was over, I still felt numb.
I felt like I was back in my old skin. Lonely, heartbroken, insecure, weak, scared, empty.
These old feelings are uncomfortable and still too familiar.
I try hard to block out all of the darkness, and it’s exhausting me. I’m mad as hell that I even have to do this.
I should have just gotten up and made waves. Everyone should have known that what was happening was not okay.
But, I just sat there, powerless, not knowing how to get out.
I close my eyes and I can feel it again. My skin is crawling because of the words whispered in my ear. I’m uncomfortable with the unwanted and unwelcome hands that traveled down my spine or up my thigh.
I’m uncomfortable with the unwanted and unwelcome fingers that tangled themselves around my hair to yank my head back. It didn’t matter that I, politely, asked them to stop.
It didn’t matter when I got loud about it. They thought I was playing hard to get, and decided to call me derogatory names.
It didn’t matter how many times I said no.
Some of these men have daughters.
I’m not a mother, yet, but I do know that there are things I want to teach my daughter.
I want to teach her that she shouldn’t think it’s cute when a boy yanks her pigtails on the playground, because I don’t want to give her the impression that this means the boy likes her.
I don’t want to teach her that abuse equals affection.
I want to teach her to walk away from these kinds of boys, so, that when she gets older, she doesn’t think she has to tolerate being mistreated.
More than anything, I never want my daughter to hate herself because of how a boy treats her.
I never want her to feel the pain of feeling worthless and empty because of love.
Real love doesn’t make you feel those things.
I will teach her to hold herself in the highest esteem, and to value who she is.
I will teach her about self-love, strength, and respect for others.
I will teach her that she should always speak her mind and stand up for herself if she is uncomfortable.
I will teach my daughter that it is perfectly fine to make waves, as long as she speaks from the purest and lightest part of her heart.
I will teach her the values of spirituality, not religion. This will make her stronger, more tolerant and respectful of others.
I will teach her to stand up for her rights, and to never be afraid of being called a bitch.
The more experiences that I have like this one, the more disgusted I get.
Women need to start looking out for other women.
We need to start empowering each other and we need to end girl-hate.
More importantly than that, we need to all start practicing self-love.
I saved myself from the dogs because I love myself. I refused to let them kiss me, even when they had their fingers digging into my jaw trying to pull my face closer to theirs.
I am not theirs to take.
Author: Allison Timpa
Assistant Editor: Elizabeth Brumfield, Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Photo: Tove Paqualin/ Flickr