On Harassment in New York City

IMG_0525Last Friday night, I went to watch a movie at my local AMC theater in Manhattan. It was a chick flick that started at 8 p.m. I went by myself. I am comfortable with going places alone because in my almost three years living in Manhattan I haven’t run into trouble and I most certainly had never noticed, quite so fully, my womanhood.

I sat down. Next to me a man, maybe in his thirties or forties, was reclining. He wore no shoes or socks. He had layered two graphic tee shirts. Balding. I thought he was waiting for his girlfriend, so I pulled my mouth into a false smile, took my coat off and sat down. Within a few seconds, the man looked at me and asked me my name in French. I don’t speak French, but I don’t think he did either. It appeared that it was the only thing he knew in the language.

Women have a code of conduct for cat callers in New York City: ignore them. I treated him as such, and pulled out my cell phone. I had been texting my friend, Ryan, and read through the texts. The man then grabbed my shoulder and leaned in towards me, “You should really put that away,” he said. I mumbled a protest and sent Ryan a text saying “The dude next to me is really creeping me out.”

In this particular Third Avenue theater, seating is assigned. You pick your seat at a kiosk. On the other side of this beginning to be bothersome fellow, a woman was about to sit down with her friend. She told the man that he was in her seat and to check his ticket. He sounded unsurprised and said “Oh, should I check my ticket?” The woman responded in the affirmative. He stared at the screen and did nothing.

After a trailer for a George Clooney movie played, he asked me my name again and also if I was alone. I could feel my face grow harder and more angry, but also scared and panicked. When I did not respond to his questions, which were in Spanish this time (a language that I understand), he touched my leg and told me it was rude to not say anything. Now, I grabbed my coat and sweater. I bumped the legs of the young women on the outskirts of the row on my way out, checking behind me to see if he was following me.

I thought about just leaving, but instead, I went up to the lady ripping tickets with whom I had spoken before. I told her that I was leaving, but that she should know there’s a man in theater two in seat D8 who was harassing me and touching me. Her eyes widened as she went to get security.

When trying to procure a refund, the security guard, an older woman came out to me and the ticketer. She said the man was “just relaxing,” looking at the ticket boy. She looked at me as though I had made it up.She asked,

“Was he touching you ‘inappropriately?” as though there could be an appropriate way to reach across the fat armrest of a reclining chair and touch the leg of another person.

Where was he touching you?” she demanded in disbelief.

I grew angrier and more upset, pointing out to her where he had touched me, thinking this was an absurd thing to ask. The group of employees that had formed around me now asked if I wanted another seat in the same theater. I told them that the seat wasn’t the problem. He was the problem. I said, “I won’t sit in the same theater as him. He’s creepy. I just want my money back and I want to leave.” They obliged, and I left.

My mother, an overprotective type, was frantic when I told her. My father now insists that I take a self defense class. I put in a formal complaint with the theater. The manager called me to apologize for the situation for being, using the words I had used in my e-mail, “ill-handled.”  She told me she had sent four movie tickets to my apartment. I expressed that I didn’t want them, but she assured me she wasn’t trying to buy me. Right. If you want these tickets, you can have them, reader. I’ll be giving them away anyhow.

That wasn’t the point of my complaint. The point was that I should be able to go to the movies without being harassed by a man since I do go to the movies and do not harass single men.The point is that harassment complaints shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. The point is that they should have given me my money back without a hassle.

In some ways, I felt the security guard thought I was being narcissistic because I am young and not terrible looking. But, I can assure you that that man was going to bother any woman that was going to sit in seat D9, whether she was a 20-year-old NYU student or a 30-year-old marketing director.

I’m not saying that we should move to eradicate harassment. It’s not possible. I’m saying that when it does happen, we cannot trivialize the situation. We cannot say “it could have been worse.” It can always be worse. Let’s not let it get there. That’s the point.



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