Hey Safeway, your response to harassment in stores sucks

Today, at the Safeway #0995 at 1335 Webster St. in San Francisco, I had to yell “HEY, THIS GUY IS HARASSING ME. IS ANYONE GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?” I was so loud that everyone for 50 feet around me turned around to look. At this point a store employee finally came over and asked the man who had been repeatedly harassing me and another woman for several minutes to leave. Later, the other woman he was harassing found me in the chips and snacks aisle and thanked me profusely.

Harassers hate it when you take their photos
Harassers hate it when you take their photos
I’m writing this blog post because of what this woman told me next to the tortilla chips. She said that men harass her in this store all the time, and the employees never do anything about it. That they treat her like she’s causing the problem, and it’s a “fight” between the two of them. That the only reason they did anything this time was because two women had complained. This young woman was grateful to me – another customer – for being the first person to stand up for her and get her harasser kicked out of this Safeway. And I had to be willing to shout at the top of my lungs before anything happened.

I believe her, because until I got involved, that’s exactly what was happening. When I first saw her, there was a store employee standing between her and a man acting aggressive and verbally abusive. I decided to stand next to her and watch. Naturally, the man started harassing me too – can’t have the women standing up for each other!

Despite this, the store employee kept focusing on the victim, trying to get her not to call the cops. They told him to “keep shopping” and that they would “talk to her” and talk to me. I could not see why this was necessary since he was harassing us right directly in front of the employee. Meanwhile, the harasser would come back and say more nasty things to us as the employee talked to us.

This went on for several minutes, store employee talking to us, man coming back to harass us both, me asking them to kick him out. The store employee eventually went for help, leaving us alone with this dude and his equally scary friend. When he came back for the third time to harass us, that’s when I shouted “HEY, THIS GUY IS HARASSING ME. IS ANYONE GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?” Finally, another employee came over and kicked the guy out of the store.

Harassment is not between the harasser and the victim

I called the store manager when I got home and discovered that she was the exact employee who had been acting like the problem was the woman complaining about harassment and not the guy doing the harassing. I told her what the other woman had told me and what was wrong with the manager’s approach to harassment, that harassment isn’t “between” two people. It’s the store’s problem and they are clearly not handling it well and their staff need more training. Her response? “I told you I was taking care of it.” “That’s the first time I ever heard about her being harassed.” “I was trying to calm things down.”

Hey! News flash! If you’re the store management, I don’t want you to calm things down! If you are standing there as a witness to someone harassing people repeatedly right in front of your eyes, I want YOU to be the person who yells, “HEY! GET SOMEONE OVER HERE TO KICK THIS GUY OUT, PRONTO!” It shouldn’t take some random street harassment vigilante to risk her physical safety to make your store a place where women aren’t afraid to shop. I called Safeway’s national complaint phone number next; maybe that will get somewhere.

The ridiculous, victim-blaming, self-defeating response of the store manager – and the previous 4 times I was harassed today – made me write this blog post. As I was walking back home, I looked down the length of Geary Street and marked out all the places I was harassed this morning. I thought, “I want to own this street. I want to walk down it and never be harassed again. I deserve that right.”

Fighting street harassment

I know that I’m going to get punched or stabbed or seriously hurt someday for fighting back against street harassment in person. I don’t think people should have to risk their health and lives to fight street harassment. Hollaback harassment reporting appThat’s one reason I recently gave $250 to Hollaback, a non-profit fighting street harassment with some pretty cool ideas. The latest is a harassment reporting phone app for New York City that sends your harassment report directly to the City Council and mayor’s office – which is brilliant, send the report to the people who can do something about it. I’ve supported Hollaback since their first Kickstarter campaign and I’m excited to see their work growing and improving each year. Please join me in fighting street harassment the smart way.

Sady Doyle on the connection between mansplaining and street harassment

So Sady Doyle writes for the choir – people who are already fairly self-aware and well-educated feminists – and I don’t generally recommend reading her writing unless you’re well beyond Feminism 101. But her last post included a great explanation of the how mansplaining and street harassment are two facets of the same behavior:

The point of listening to women and feminists is to listen to women and feminists. Because if you listen to them, you might start to understand certain basic points, such as: Women do not automatically have to accept you as an expert, particularly not when the subject under discussion (sexism!) is something you’ve never experienced first-hand. Women do not have to make you “comfortable” and “welcome” in every single conversation. Women do not automatically have to grant you a space in their discussions, on their blogs, or in their lives. Women do not have to permit you to enter their political movements, their self-created spaces, their personal space, their bodies, or anything else that belongs to them; you, as a man, are not entitled to women’s attention, praise, affection, respect, or company, just because you want it. And when a woman says “no,” you respect that this particular woman said “no,” and you stop. You don’t make excuses, you don’t explain why you should be able to get what you want, you don’t throw a tantrum, you don’t call that woman names: You just stop what you are doing. Because she said “no.”

Here’s where we appeal to that “lived experience” thing. Because: Have you ever had a guy come up to you — on the street, in a bar, whatever — and just straight-up say, “hey, I wanna talk to you?” Happens all the time, right? Happens to women, all the time. But have you ever just straight-up said, “no?” Not “no, I have a boyfriend,” or “no, I’m busy,” or “no, I have to race to save the city from the Joker’s diabolical machinations, for I am the Batman,” or any other excuse: Just the word “no,” by itself?

Yeah. So you know what happens next, after you say “no.” The guy always keeps talking. He tries wheedling, or begging, sometimes. But if you say “no” firmly enough, or often enough that he gets the point, the dude just starts yelling. He tells you that you’re not that hot. He tells you what a bitch you are. (“You bitch, I have a Rolls Royce,” was my favorite of these.) Sometimes he follows you down the street, yelling at you; sometimes, he follows you in his car. These dudes are always so fucking certain that they’re entitled to your time and attention that they will harass you until you give it, or at least until you’re scared and sorry for not giving it. You do not have the right not to interact, as far as these guys are concerned.

So many women wrote, “Wow, thank you for articulating it that way,” that I wanted to share it with a wider audience (all 3 of you).