I was at the gym recently in my apartment complex. It was about 4 P.M.; a good time to go to the gym if you hate crowded gyms. There was a guy seated in one of the flat benches. He was on his phone doing whatever.
I said hi and went on to the elliptical machine.
The guy put his phone aside and faced in my direction. I could see him from the mirror in front of me, but he didn’t realize.
1 minute…. 3 minutes… 6 minutes…. Dude, what are you doing? Are you here to exercise or to make women feel uncomfortable? I thought to myself.
This continued for almost 10 mins, then a teenage girl, about 15–16 years old walked in. She went on to the treadmill. This guy’s gaze shifted from me to the teenage girl. I could see that the girl was uncomfortable.
The guy hadn’t realized that the whole time we could see him in the mirror in front of us… I guess he was too distracted to think.
I and the girl looked at each other… like WT***
Our neighborhood is a pretty secure place and there are security cameras in the gym, so I didn’t panic.
The fact that we were two of us also helped a bit, but it was still a very uncomfortable situation.
The guy continued to pretend that he was reading something on his phone, while we could clearly see him gawking at our behinds. Whenever one of us changed from one machine to the other, he shifted his position to get a better view of us.
The strangest thing is that he didn’t even have a slight sense of shame that he is in a gym but not exercising at all; unless he was exercising his fingers by scrolling through his phone and exercising his eyes by staring and probably comparing our behinds.
This happened for almost 45 minutes, then I decided to leave the gym.
The young lady followed me. And we got talking downstairs:
What the hell was that? I was a bit scared; I didn’t want to be left alone with him, that’s why I followed you, she said.
I know. I was a bit scared too, I told her.
We should have said something, but how can we tell him that he is making us feel uncomfortable without hurting his feelings?
Maybe we should have reported him to the receptionist downstairs, but that might seem like we are accusing him of something he hasn’t done… yet. And if we report him, it will be a bigger problem for him because the whole apartment complex will come to know of the weird guy.
That’s how our discussion went. We didn’t report him to anyone. We parted ways.
I mentioned it to my husband. I really do hope the young girl told her parents.
Later at home, I got thinking: Why are we so keen on being nice and polite even when clearly someone is making us feel uncomfortable?
This is especially common with women.
From a young age, we are taught to be nice. A decent woman should behave this way and not that way.
You should be polite. You should be nice. You should do as you are told by your seniors — said all parents who want their kids to be respectful to “others”.
Here’s my problem with this line of thought:
The world can be cruel. And sometimes we need to think of our safety first. We need to teach our kids that if a stranger makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, they should throw away the politeness hat and run. Or shout. Or report him/her.
They should not worry about causing a scene, offending anyone, hurting their feelings, or whatever.
I mean, the guy looked like he was in his late 30s. Old enough to know that what he was doing was not proper. Old enough to see that he is making others feel uncomfortable.
I can only imagine how the young girl would have felt if she was all alone with the guy in the gym.
According to Rachel Jewkes, the director of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls global program;
“Rape is an extreme consequence of sexual harassment, but there are myriad of behaviors which can be considered sexual harassment. The fact is that sexual harassment is part and parcel of daily life, particularly in public places, and it is used to curtail a woman’s freedom.”
We need to teach our young girls/boys to prioritize safety over politeness.
I cannot begin to emphasize the numbers of times as a kid I would hear parents/teachers/any seniors tell us; to be nice no matter what. To be polite no matter what. And woe unto you if it is a senior member of a church or a relative you dislike; you will still have to be nice. You will have to be polite. No matter how uncomfortable they make you feel. No matter how tight they want to hug you. No matter their fixed gazes directed to inappropriate places.…. you must be polite.
This is so wrong.
We have instincts for a reason, let’s learn to honor our instincts over politeness, and teach our children the same!
When niceness and politeness are shoved down on our throats; we end up being afraid of speaking up when something doesn’t feel right, especially when we can’t point out yet what is making us feel uncomfortable.
I get it, we could have been wrong; but I do not know anyone who loves the gym so much that they would spend almost an hour seated and changing sitting positions, in between scrolling through their phone and “observing” — if you insist, two women go about their exercise.
We do not want to make others uncomfortable. We do not want to make others feel awkward. We do not want to make others angry. And certainly, we do not want to accuse anyone wrongly, but what about safety for our young ones?
Thank you for reading!
Edith Tollschein, 2019