When I was 18-ish I walked past the auto repair department of some department-type store in St. Paul – near the Midway Target on University – and a group of men hanging out there in the open bay doors catcalled and whistled at me several times. I regretted wearing a short skirt, I regretted being alone, and I have always regretted that I didn’t call the store when I got home and complain.
Today I walked past the construction site between Congress and Brazos on 4th street in downtown Austin. For a block and a half several workers on scaffolding several floors up catcalled, whistled, screamed “I love you baby” and other tempting lines. And while I walk faster than most people, a block and a half is still a very, very, very long time when you’re the only person on the block and you are powerless to offer so much as a comeback line or a dirty look. The regret for the short skirt and the aloneness competed with rage and humiliation.
So when I got back to the office I called Downtown Austin Alliance, who referred me to Cousins Properties, whose exceedingly nice receptionist referred me to Constructors and Associates. That exceedingly nice receptionist got me on the line with a supervisor, to whom I complained. He made all the right noises about how this was inappropriate and unacceptable in their company. He even gave me the address of the on-site construction office (I didn’t think to look for it, I just wanted to get out of there) and said that if it happened again I should go right to the office and he would terminate someone from the site for that type of behavior.
But then this happened:
Him: “You must be a very attractive young lady.”
Me: “That has nothing to do with it.”
Him: “That does have something to do with it, ’cause some of these guys are boxed in there for 12 hours, which doesn’t make it right, but I’m going to go up there right now and straighten this out…”
Now I don’t know what to do. Aside from cry, which I did a little bit once I got off the phone, and the only result was to get sunscreen in my eye (not sure how that happened, but ouch). Is it enough that he went up there to take action on my behalf, or should the company be teaching its people not to say things that imply sexual harassment is about the attractiveness of the harassee?