Saturday, 27 August 2016

Covering Up Because of Sexual Harassment

Covering Up Because of Sexual Harrassment

If you're living in London, you will have noticed we've just reached the other side of the second heat wave this Summer. As hot as it's been, I've mostly been delighted! I am one of those people who is pretty much cold All. The. Time. So when the sun is out and the weather is warmer - even if it's a tad warm - I absolutely revel in it. I have been walking the streets in cute vests and halter necks paired with denim shorts, or my lovely dresses, and at home I've been lounging around in pyjama shorts and a bikini top - a welcome change from huddling in a fleece under a blanket.

But not when I'm at work. At work, it's strictly t-shirts and jeans, and I have been suffering in this heat. My legs have felt suffocated, my t-shirts stuck to my back with sweat, and I've just been all round physically uncomfortable. This isn't down to work's dress code, we can pretty much wear whatever we like, within reason. No, I have been suffering in the heat because of the male customers I serve.

I simply do not feel comfortable wearing anything even remotely revealing. I'm a bookseller, and shelving books requires quite a bit of crouching down and occasionally bending over, and serving customers at the tills can require leaning forward over desks. Situations male customers have taken advantage of.

I have had a colleague who was propositioned by a guy when she was bending over a trolley of books. There has been talk of, years previously, a man who would come in with a walking stick, which had a little mirror attached to the bottom, so he could look up women's skirts. I have leaned over the desk when serving a guy to each to insert his card into the card reader, while wearing a vest, to have him very obviously look down my top. Even in colder months, when completely covered up, a colleague has had to suffer comments on her figure from an old guy. Yes, we can complain. Yes, we can have these men removed from the shop. But that doesn't stop it happening; it doesn't stop another guy coming in and looking where he shouldn't or remarking on our bodies.

And it bothers me. It really makes me bloody angry - especially in weather like we've been having - that I am wearing t-shirts that come right up to my neck with no possibility of gaping, and jeans to keep my legs and backside covered, feeling so hot and uncomfortable, in order to feel safe. I shouldn't bloody have to. When I think about what to wear in the morning, my thoughts should be based on what I feel good in, not on what will offer me protection from wandering eyes. I shouldn't have to worry about crouching down or leaning forward and someone looking down my top or up my skirt or commenting on my body in some way.

And there's a part of me that is mad at myself for letting the behaviour of these men affect my choices. I should just wear what I want, like my other colleagues, and call out each person who behaves inappropriately. But the thing is, I would constantly feel self-conscious in a dress or shorts-and-vest combo, always aware of how I move in my workplace to keep eyes off my boobs and underwear. I would be agonising and focusing on it all day, and it would be exhausting. I'm at work, I simply want to get on with my job, and feel safe while I'm doing it. It's bad enough to be on the receiving end of sexual harassment when on the street, I don't want to have to deal with it while I'm at work too.

I simply don't know what the answer is. I really don't know what to do. So I'm throwing it out there to you guys. How do you fight this kind of sexual harassment, whilst also trying not to feel safe at the same time?

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