I was considering renting from an agency and went to view a property. I wore a smart, casual outfit with a little bit of make-up, and a polite smile. On arriving, I was greeted by an older gentleman hired by the agency to show the renters around the properties. At that time, he seemed friendly and warm. At least initially, I felt at ease looking around the apartment and envisioning how I might arrange my furniture, should I choose to rent.
Slowly, I started noticing his manner becoming more and more comfortable. He would compliment me on how I looked, ask how old I was, and shake his head in disbelief when I told him my age. Then he asked me to guess his age, somewhat suggestively, assuring me that he was in ‘full-working-order’ despite his 75 years.
I knew he would be passing on comments to my potential agency and landlord. And I wanted to make a good impression. So I tried my best to be polite and friendly and sidestep the attention with a chuckle and changing the subject.
When it was time to leave, he offered to take me to wherever I may be headed in his car, which I declined, in the kindest way possible. He concluded our meeting with an uncomfortably familiar remark—”I haven’t felt like this in a long time. It has been so lovely to meet you, and you really are a beautiful young woman,”—and a cuddle.
A cuddle—during a global pandemic—from a stranger in a setting that should have been, if not professional, then at the very least, neutral.
I walked away from this situation feeling flustered but mainly concerned about how I was to get home as quickly as possible and make sure I wouldn’t be followed. This may seem like an extreme reaction or an unwarranted fear. Still, when someone feels it is acceptable to initiate physical contact with you without your consent, you worry about what could happen next.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, we can’t be sure that anyone would notice or even care if something inappropriate happened.
This is not the first time that I have been touched without my express consent by an older man in public.
Once, while studying at university, a man grabbed my bum on the bus. He then reassured me that he and his wife had an agreement. And that it wouldn’t be a problem for me to come home with him.
The truly heartbreaking thing about these situations is that you walk away thinking…
“What did I do wrong here?”
“Am I somehow at fault?”
“Am I overreacting, and is this really even an issue?”
Many of us have stories like this. Whether minor, extreme, or equally intrusive, they leave us feeling vulnerable and scared, angry and bitter, tired and defeated.
We need to know that it’s not okay for men to make women feel like this (or anyone, really). And it’s definitely not okay for society to teach us to overlook it.