Yesterday afternoon I was running some errands in town with the kids. After dual (or, dueling) dentist appointments, we went to the grocery store next door, where the ubiquitous bell ringers of the holiday season were stationed.
The red-vested man at this particular location was particularly friendly, greeting most customers as they came and went from the store. Normally, this would be a welcome change of pace from the standard lifeless drone collecting donations. But he quickly crossed the line from friendly to something else.
We had taken pictures with the Mall Santa earlier, so my daughter was wearing a glittery gold and cream colored Christmas dress. As we approached the door, the man mistook it for a ballet dress and asked her to dance for him. Being the shy child she is genetically predispositioned to be, she did not acknowledge or oblige him. He continued to badger her for a little twirl our entire way into the store, as if she were a stripper on stage.
I was creeped the fuck out, but I let it go. He was just trying to be friendly, I told myself. But I don’t make my children perform for other people. If they don’t want to hug someone, they don’t have to. They may be too young to know why yet, but their bodies are their own, and they choose what happens to them, absent medical necessity.
After the grocery store, we walked to the gym, which is also in the same shopping center. (Three cheers for spontaneous order!) On our way out almost two hours later, at dusk, the mouthy panhandler spotted us walking to the car and proceeded to catcall my daughter again.
“There’s my dancer! Where’s my dance?”
Excuse me? Your dancer? If I weren’t riddled with social anxiety I would have walked over and punched him in his fucking mouth. Instead, we ignored him and I am writing about it on the internet.
Men, this is not okay. Women and children do not exist for your entertainment. I don’t care how noble (or bigoted) your cause, this is harassment. It’s one (admittedly large) step away from Weinsteinism.
No, this man was not sexualizing my daughter (I hope). But then sexual harassment isn’t about sex; it’s about power. Through accepted “innocent” behavior like goading children into dancing for you, people are conditioned to deny other people’s autonomy and self-determination.
I’m overjoyed to see 2017 bring about the beginning of the end of the adult toleration of this behavior, through the selfless courage of innumerable women (and a few men). But in order to truly end it, we have to stop it in one of the places it starts – the puppeteering of our children.