A Pokemon store opened a couple of months ago in our little backwater, and Tiger has been dying to visit. First I put him off until the summer holidays, then until payday, then just a few more days, then eventually yesterday I promised we'd go after some running around we had to do in town. It was 33 degrees, the chores took forever, we ran out of time to go before his gymnastics lesson but I promised ABSOLUTELY after gymnastics. He was incredibly patient and good about it, and when we finally made our way towards the shopping center he was literally jumping with excitement. As we searched around in the maze of new shops for the Pokemon store I noticed a British guy trying to engage passing school girls in conversation using loud, aggressive-sounding English. "What a creep" I thought, but having the kids in tow I didn't want to start anything so I just ignored him. He noticed us, however, and followed after us yelling "HELLOOOO" at the top of his lungs. I tried to ignore him, but he ran ahead and then blocked our path and began a rambling and largely incoherent conversation about how we didn't know each other but our friends had probably met each other so we should be friends. He reeked of booze. He was being friendly enough but he was swaying and touching me and the baby and kept poking his finger into the baby's face saying "beautiful eyes, beautiful blue eyes" and I was terrified he was actually going to stick a finger in those eyes. I tried to extract us from the situation in the usual ways, but he continued to follow us, block our path an get in our personal space. I took the kids to the toilet and we hid there. Poor Tiger, after his long wait he was close enough to smell Pikachu and some jerk was ruining it for him. We checked a couple of times but the creeper was lurking, waiting for us. I spent thirty minutes in the toilets with an increasingly upset Tiger before eventually calling the husband to come and get us. He came in a hurry and parked in a spot we couldn't use for long, so in the end our poor little boy got a five minute run around the store and a frustrated promise that we'd come back another day. For us, it was a scary situation with a stalker. For the creeper, he probably saw it as a friendly encounter.
As we hid in the toilet Tiger ran through our options.
"Get angry and tell him to leave us alone?"
"He'll say 'why are you being like that, I'm just being friendly' and then he'll still follow us around but he'll be angry and yell at us a lot."
"Ignore him and tell him we're in a hurry?"
"He'll just follow us into the shop."
"Ask the staff for help?"
"It'll turn into a big scene and we'll be dragged into it."*
As we ran through each scenario I realised that what I was relating to Tiger were not hypothetical outcomes but rather the results of years of my own experimentation with dealing with street harassment. I've tried every variation imaginable to extricate myself from drunks, creepers and perverts and I am well aware of the dangers inherent in each one. The safest course, in my experience, has always been to avoid confrontation. In the end though, this leaves the creepers blissfully unaware of the havoc they cause.
Clementine Ford wrote recently about an experience at a restaurant in which the owner stuck his fingers into her friend's meal:
This is what happens when you tell creepers they are being creepy. They get aggressive, insist you are misunderstanding them and in my (extensive~ I was barely eleven the first time an adult man on the street commented on my breasts) experience they often follow it up with physical intimidation and violence to drive home the point that they are a nice guy and you are just a fucking ungrateful lesbian bitch. Much as I would have loved Tiger to see me standing my ground, when you have a four month old baby strapped to your chest facing into danger just isn't the right thing to do. It wasn't the right thing to do when I was trying to get the bus home after work when I was sixteen and alone either. The more I think about it the angrier I feel that I'm sitting here feeling guilty for letting the guy get away with it as though his behaviour is my responsibility to stop... but then, that's always how we treat these things, isn't it? Jill should have worn sensible shoes. I say "creepers" because that's how I think of them, but even my dad does the same thing. My parents had a high school student do a home stay and my father made a joke about her electric toothbrush doing double duty as a vibrator. She asked me to help her deal with it. When I told my parents it had made the girl uncomfortable the usual happened. He wasn't a creep, it was just a joke, she was over-reacting. I patiently tried to explain that maybe her feeling uncomfortable was a good enough reason to avoid such conversations whether or not HE thought they were creepy but no, it just didn't compute. Then my mother, who as so many women do staunchly supports a patriarchal social order, jumped in with "well she clearly provokes such comments and young girls all secretly love attention from older men." In frustration I ended up snapping at them both: "she's a CHILD and she is in YOUR CARE, get over yourselves!" They sulked with me for quite some time.He acted like I was being incredible tedious and said that I didn't understand that this was a "fun" place and that it wasn't a big deal. (Yeah, because it's always so "fun" when someone puts their fingers where they're not wanted.) I pushed the point and he grudgingly said that he would get a new meal for my friend (who also said to him explicitly, "I need you to know that I wasn't okay with that.")
He then returned to the table and further tried to press his point. That I didn't "get it", that no one else ever has a problem with that kind of behaviour, that I was being difficult and "fucking unreasonable". At that point, we stood up to get our money refunded and he followed us to the bar and actually tried to stop the bar staff from refunding our money....
We got our refund and then as I turned to leave, the owner said "fuck off, you cunt".
Anyway, to look on the bright side, when I need to talk to Tiger about these issues we now have a convenient short-hand: "Don't be the guy at the Pokemon store."
*This being Japan, we would have been implicated by our shared foreignness. I doubt the guy spoke Japanese so I would probably have been dragging in to interpret. The staff would have freaked out and the whole situation then called the police. The police require ID and statements from anyone "involved" in an incident... a friend was fingerprinted and had her mug shot taken when she reported being the victim of a mugging. I doubt they would have accepted that I didn't know the guy and I felt it would have made the situation worse for us.