I attended an out-of-town conference earlier in the week. The conference hotel was a little too pricey, so I booked a well-reviewed Airbnb within walking distance. My host was wonderfully communicative, and the location was great, and while the building was a little shabby, the apartment was very comfortable. I left a positive review when I got home.
But I also emailed the host because of an experience I had with one of the building’s tenants.
One night, coming back from dinner, I took the elevator up to the 6th floor, where I was staying. The elevator stopped at the 5th floor to let another woman off. A man was waiting to take the elevator down, and greeted the woman warmly – they seemed to know each other – before spotting me and giving me a once over. He stepped into the doorway of the elevator – preventing it from going up or down – and proceeded to introduce himself and hit on me while the woman in the hallway called for him to leave me alone.
Eventually he stepped into the elevator and rode up a floor with me, asking me if I was alone, how could I be alone, was I was married, why I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. He told me he was a decent man. I couldn’t get off the elevator fast enough, hurrying down the hall to the apartment as he called after me, hoping that he wasn’t going to follow me. I shut the door and locked both locks. I assume he got back on the elevator as I didn’t see or hear him again.
Once I was safely inside the apartment, I tried to brush it off. I chatted with my partner before bed. I took the stairs in the morning. I didn’t mention it to the host as we emailed back and forth about my departure. I didn’t mention it when I got home.
But the more I thought about it, the angrier I felt that my immediate response had been to brush it off, to minimize it, to try to believe the man’s assertion that he was a decent man. To tell myself that it was no big deal when in other circumstances, it could have been a very, very big deal. To normalize another experience where a man’s needs or desires were allowed to impinge upon my privacy, my personal space, or my safety.
I hate that it takes even one victim sharing their story to get us to take this stuff seriously. It shouldn’t be necessary. We should believe women. But we don’t, and so the harassing and hurtful behavior is normalized. And because we don’t believe women, women don’t tell their stories. And because women don’t tell their stories, the harassing and hurtful behavior has no consequences.
So I’m telling this story.