Yesterday, on my lunch break at work, a group of my coworkers and I went out to lunch. We arrived at the restaurant about 12:30 pm, so lunch breaks were in full swing and the restaurant was pretty busy.
The five of us were standing in the lobby waiting to be seated when a man who I later found out was the bartender walked toward us. He stopped when he got to me and said, “I just want to touch your hair!” then proceeded to run his hands firmly along the back of head and up through the roots of my hair.
**Side note: I have hair that is shaved underneath and then longer on the top so I frequently get comments or acknowledgments on it, because it is not a typical hairstyle.
I was shocked to say the least. I have had strangers touch my hair before without asking, and while I’ve never been particularly happy about it, I’ve have never had someone be this aggressive in doing so. I was also so taken aback because of the surprise of the touch—I didn’t really even know he was talking to me until his hands were on me.
I don’t like to be in awkward situations, so when things like this happen I tend to laugh or brush them off in order to get out of the situation quickly. But this time, I was pissed and extremely uncomfortable, and I knew I couldn’t let this man walk away without knowing what he did was completely unacceptable.
He must have known by the look on my face after he touched me that it was a big mistake, because he then said, “Oh, is that okay?” I responded, “Well, it might have been okay if you asked me before you touched me.” The bartender then went on to apologize and try to rectify the situation. He mumbled through his awkward apology, and eventually he walked away and that was that.
After he walked away I turned to my coworker and she had this look on her face like, “What the hell was that?” My supervisor got wind of the situation and approached him when he passed us again to head back to the bar. She told him about how inappropriate it is to put your hands on someone without permission, especially if they are a stranger. While she was aggressive in her approach, he was pretty defensive about it and just kept saying that he had apologized and mentioned something about “being an intelligent person.”
To some, what occurred may not seem like a big deal. You might be thinking, “Well he apologized, let it go.” or “It’s not like he grabbed your butt or touched you in an inappropriate place.” But to me, the problem is much deeper than the action of him touching my head.
Let’s examine some components of the situation:
- I was with four other people, all of who are women.
- I am a woman.
- I was standing next to a woman.
- He impulsively touched me without asking.
- He only mentioned anything about if the touch was acceptable or not after I showed a negative reaction to it.
While I can’t be sure that this is true, I have a feeling if I were a man he never would have put his hands on me. Of course, you have to take into account our homophobic culture, where there are strict social rules around men touching men, and it is definitely frowned upon for a man who is stranger to touch another man who is a stranger.
But also, if a man were to have been standing next to me I can’t imagine he would have touched me. Can you picture him putting his hands through my hair if any adult male who appeared to possibly be my brother, boyfriend or father were at my side? Doubtful.
This man’s action of touching me without my permission is part of an issue in our society where some men feel that it is acceptable to put their hands on a woman they do not know without her permission. I don’t think the bartender looked at my coworker and me and thought to himself, “Oh, here are two women alone and I want to touch this woman’s hair; I can totally do it because there’s no man around.” I think it was a subconscious observation of the situation, and if there were a man there, he wouldn’t have considered touching me because the subconscious acknowledgment of that would have turned his impulse off.
The idea that this is a subconscious reaction makes it all the more troubling. If a man touches a woman he does not know without her permission, and doesn’t even stop for a second to consider if that is acceptable, then there is a serious problem.
I didn’t reach this conclusion because of this one incident. A few months ago I was sitting in the lobby of the recreation center at my school, when an older man approached me about my hair, and he too, touched it without my permission. Also take club and bar behaviors into account. It is common at a crowded bar or club for men to grab/touch the waist, hips or back of a woman when squeezing by. This is an action which, of course, is rarely done male-to-male, and in my experience, also rarely done female-to-female.
Dancing at clubs and bars is another example. It is common for men to approach women and begin dancing or grinding on them without asking. Some women might not mind this, I for one, appreciate them asking before they start dry humping me, thank you. Often times, once the dancing begins, men let their hands wander. I once had a man try to put his hands on my inner thighs almost immediately after we began dancing (I was wearing a skirt, mind you). Needless to say, I quickly removed them and ended the dance session.
Finally, the biggest problem with this is not necessarily the touching itself, but the issue of consent. I did not consent for this man to touch my hair. Quite honestly, if he would have asked, I probably would have said yes. You might think that’s silly, and that if I would have said yes anyways, then why make a big deal out of it?
The bigger issue is one of power, where there still appears to be an overarching belief that, just by being men, men earn a position of power over women. A man should not feel he has the right to touch a woman without her permission. No human being should feel they have the right to touch another human being without permission. MY body is MY body, and who are you to think you can put YOUR hands on it just because YOU want to?
The man expected that—me being a woman without the “protection” of a man anywhere—he could touch me without permission and there would be no consequences. Well, he was wrong. When in doubt, turn back to an old kindergarten lesson and “Keep your hands to yourself!”