Today I was sitting in a Starbucks writing my Feminist Friday post, a different post than the one you’re reading now, I was confronted with a situation that prompted this piece instead.
Side note, Starbucks’ are pretty good about giving you free hot and cold water and letting you sit and work for free. They may not love it, but they make enough money that they usually let you slide on by.
In any case, I sat at a corner table alone, and a man passed me muttering to himself about coffee. I knew without even looking at him that he had been drinking. As he passed, I looked up to check out what was going on. And I caught his eye.
He stopped in his tracks, looked me up and down and gripped the back of the chair across from me. “How you doing today sweetheart?” he sputtered as he pulled out the chair.
A mix of emotions flooded through me in about .05 seconds. I looked at this man feeling sad, knowing that he was deep in his own struggle, knowing that a cup of coffee might do him good, but also knowing the way he made me feel was not okay. I felt violated, sexualized, unsafe (even in a coffee shop full of people). No one else got up to say anything, no one else asked him to leave me the hell alone. So, in that .05 seconds I made a decision.
I would say no. I would claim my space. I would keep myself safe.
So before he had even pulled the chair out, I sat up straight in my own, I held my hand out in front of me and I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “No. I don’t want company.” And with a defeated look, one almost of shock, he shook his head and walked away.
Perhaps he was expecting me to put up with his antics, to allow him to call me pet names and ravage my body with his eyes. And perhaps years ago I would have. Perhaps years ago I wouldn’t have known how to claim my no, wouldn’t have felt confident thinking on my feet and standing up for myself. But today I did.
The man did one more lap around the coffee shop and exited. As he walked I calmed my breath. My “no” may have been strong but I was shook. This man, who was impaired, who was bogged down by his own demons, who had no clear sense of boundaries had invaded my space, had made me feel vulnerable and unsafe, and no one had come to my rescue.
But as I settled myself, as I took those deeps breaths I realized something, I didn’t need to be rescued. My clear no, my body language, my authority, turned that man away from me in less than 30 seconds. In fact, it caused him to leave the vicinity completely. Ya’ll let me tell you, I am all about empowerment, and in that moment I felt pretty damn powerful!
May you all harness your own power, your own no’s, and your own clear boundaries! Oh, and when you claim that no, don’t be afraid to shout it out, and say it again for the people in the back!