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Monday, September 26, 2016

Paris: Standing for Ourselves and for One Another

Recently I went to Paris for a quick vacation.  My partner could not go on this trip and, as I love to discover new countries and places on my own, I took off for a week in Paris.

My hotel had a security policy where room keys were dropped off upon leaving and picked up when returning.  When I returned around 11pm one night, I stopped by the front desk to pick up my key and to ask about getting more creamer for my coffee.  I also wanted to ask a question about a sign posted in the elevator which stated the water would be turned off for 3 hours the following day which is fairly significant for a hotel, but the exact time was unclear.

Last Time I Checked, Elevators are Not Invitations for Non-Consensual Activity
The front desk man started talking to me in an overly familiar way, calling me “Princess” and then asking for my name.  He gave me the creamer and when I asked about the sign in the elevator, he said he needed to look at it.  I kept an eye on him as I was already in the elevator.

He leaned in to read the sign and told me something that made no sense regarding the timing of the water issue.  I thanked him for his help and as I was preparing to go on my way, he attempted to lean in to kiss me.  It was a rather disgusting attempt, and awkward and bizarre.  It was also the one place in the hotel where no one could see and was an incredibly confined space.  I quickly turned away, told him this was not a cool move, and eventually had to put my hand on his chest to push him away. 

In the almost ten years since I graduated from IMPACT’s Core, I have not once had to use more than my voice, but given the proximity as well as his audacity, I had to move him back physically as well.  After moving him out of my proximity, he then backed out of the elevator and I went upstairs to my room, knowing that after picking up my key, he knew the room I was in and he knew I was staying there unaccompanied. 

After arriving back inside of my hotel room, I stood in the middle of the floor stunned by what had just transpired.  I could not believe the pathetic gall.  I refused to go to bed afraid and I was unfathomably angry.  A person should be able to ask for some goddamned creamer for coffee as well as when the hotel will be out of water without the night attendant attempting to take advantage of no one being around.  So I went back downstairs to the lobby and confronted him.  I strongly told him that that was not okay, to never do that to me or anyone else again or I would report him. 

I remembered in IMPACT the concept of the final step of “911” (now “walk to safety but with the same meaning to reach out for support).  I reached out on Skype to my partner, but I also knew I could reach out to my IMPACT sisters for support if I felt the need.  I knew those in The Circle would support me, yell with me, and listen to how it also hurt my feelings.  And recognize that we are courageous to be the agents of change.

His Consequence
After considering the incident, the fact that he was so brazen, he had likely done this many times, and how horrifying to have anyone let alone the hotel night attendant behave like this, I decided to file a report with the hotel manager. 

Important Thoughts to Note when Responding to a Report
The following is a reflection that I would like to emphasize after deciding to report: the concept of fear, particularly social fear and the stigma that keeps this cycle thriving.  I was not afraid of retribution of the night attendant. I was also not afraid of retribution by the hotel. 

I was afraid that I would be blamed. 

And to me that was the scariest part of opening my mouth to say what happened.  This concept of blaming women for the misbehavior of men can render a wounding so deep, the fear of it can be almost equally painful (sometimes even more so) as the incident. 

Several scenarios ran through my mind of responses I had heard prior when sexual harassment or other attempts had been made on me or others: 

1)     Laughing. If you are a woman, you know what this means.  You report, and you get a guffaw of “boys will be boys and this is funny” response.  The message is not only permissive (even encouraging) of this behavior, but also blames women for taking themselves and their personal rights, dignity, and desires seriously.

2)     The, Let’s Evaluate How Pretty You Are response usually summarized by insinuations of “How could he help himself?” almost as though that is a compliment.  How could he help himself literally means that “you are so lovely, you attract assholes and non-consensual advances and should feel special for this.”

3)     The, He’s a Young Lad and You Expect Too Much response.  Because apparently, respect takes education, age, and genius.

4)     The, What Were You Wearing response.   Sigh.

5)     The, What Time of Night Was It response.  Because apparently Werewolves appear at night and any woman out past curfew is just asking for trouble. 

6)     The, It Was Probably Cultural response.  Because other cultures are supposedly less-than in cultivating human respect and consent.

7)     The, Why Are You Traveling without a Man response. 

8)     The, There Must Have Been a Misunderstanding response.   Yes.  Invading my space with your lips can be confusing. 

9)     The, Is There Anything in your Background that would Cause You to Hallucinate response.  Hopefully I can claim that if I punch you.

10) The, Did You Give Him Some Sort of Signal response.  Hm.  Apparently he has a problem around vaginas.  Can a vagina signal?

11)The, No One Has Ever Mentioned this about Him Other than You response.  I wonder why that is…?

Disbelief.  Blame.  Excuses.  Isolation.  Talking about you and not about him.  Expecting more from women than from men in terms of sexual and basic respect. 

Think about it—the majority of women you know have all experienced this to some degree in response to what they deal with on any given day from men.  None of these ridiculous interrogations are foreign to us when we open our mouths about the perpetrations of men.    

And the consequences for these responses in our society are deadly, permissive, and keep the cycle running smoothly.  It cannot be emphasized enough that if someone tells you they have suffered sexual misconduct, violence, gender discrimination:  believe them, get involved, don’t be a useless bystander, ask the women in your life questions regarding your own beliefs and behavior.  Be part of the solution.  Call to account yourself, strangers, friends.  Use your voice.  Get on the right side:  the oppressed, the abused, the violated, the hunted. 

The power of response became apparent to me in a different way as I walked to the report the following morning to open my mouth and tell the two at the front desk what had happened the evening prior.  I was so afraid of being laughed at and blamed as can be the usual response nine times out of ten.  But they took it seriously, they talked to the manager, the manager asked me to file a hard-copy report, and apologized for it.  Other responses were not entirely what I would have liked or were the most helpful, but it amazed me how these basic first steps made me feel better about the situation.  I felt a little less alone. 

If terrible responses can hurt, silence, and continue the cycle, positive ones can push for healing and for change.  And this is how we begin.  We listen, we believe, we take things seriously, we refuse to die, and no matter the setting, the culture, the onlookers, the judgment or the embarrassment, we stand for ourselves and for one another—knowing that even as we are alone in an elevator with a perpetrator—we are not really alone on or off this mat.  We stay on one another’s line.

Sarah E. Grove
IMPACT Chicago Core Graduate 2007

Special note:  My story may have happened in Paris, but is in no way indicative of France or Parisians.  This story is about an offender, not a location). 

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