What Women Put Up With That Men Don't

Last night, my friend Eugenia and I went to a restaurant and took seats at the corner of the bar. An hour later, a man obviously who had been drinking nearly bumped into me. I reacted by holding my hands up, bracing for contact. He stopped directly behind my stool, brushing against it with his torso, as he began hovering over me. I politely asked him to step back from my chair, telling him he was too close. Rather than comply, he stood there, leaning in with a drunken stare. Standing at least 6’2” with a wide, heavy frame, he was intimidating. With more insistence, I said, “You’re in my space. If you don’t take a step back, I’m going to scream.” He moved closer, inches from face, quickly becoming aggressive and responded, “No, you’re in my space.” Eugenia intervened with a courteous tone, also asking him to step back. He didn’t. Before last night, I would have cowered and yielded by moving to another area of the restaurant. I might have even left. But earlier in the day, I attended the Women’s March on Chicago. I left with a mind shift that finally synchronized with something I had been told once, ironically by a man: “Your mind and your body are your real estate. Don’t let anyone stake a claim on your property.” He also told me that whatever land I was standing on was mine. So there I was, standing on “my land” in that bar, resenting the feeling that I had to make an accommodation for this jerk’s behavior. I called loudly for the bartender to intercede. The man still refused to move. Other patrons, men and women, witnessed the situation but with no motivation beyond gawking. I faced the man and didn’t move. I was committed to getting him off my land. The bartender came and coaxed him away. I thought away would be out the door. Instead, the man was allowed to move across the bar, where he sat hunched over, glowering at me. I was not at ease, feeling at any moment he would return with more threatening intentions. I asked for the manager. When he came, I explained what had taken place, and what remained unresolved. I went on to say that this situation happens to many women, and that I found it unfair that I (we) have to move or leave to escape feeling uncomfortable, harassed and intimidated. I insisted that the man be made to leave, and that is exactly what he was made to do. The situation was surreal. The moment I committed to standing up to him, my courage kicked in. Why? Because courage is the ability to act when confronted with fear. Interestingly enough, you have to do the very thing you’re afraid of to get it. As I watched the man walk out the door, I realized I had finally done it. I flexed. My fiancé gifted this word to me when I was frustrated from being too slow to respond to a rude remark. He believes that to “flex” means to confirm your self-worth by defining it at all times, and defending it at a moment’s notice. And that the first step is to state your most simple truth the moment you are aware of it. Earlier that day, I had watched more than 200,000 women flex on the streets of my city, women who had refused to yield to the push of intimidation, the shove of bias and the slam of disparagement. Like them, we must all begin to flex, to define and defend our space. And we need to actively support each other, whether we know one another or not, when antagonizing situations occur. Time to flex. Alicia Bassuk is a leadership coach and performance consultant with Ubica Strategy. Follow her on Twitter.

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