Today I Am
A few months ago, a follower of our Instagram account sent the following message about a situation that had happened to her at a local vitamin store:
“Legit had the guy at my local GNC that I frequented look up my number though my membership and text me to show his interest.”
This comment was posted to our stories, and almost instantly the submissions of similar situations flooded our inbox for the next week. We posted over 400 stories of professional harassment to our account, all of which can still be viewed by looking at our “story highlights” on our page.
At the bottom of this blog that was first published on March, 2020, there is a small sampling of the other submissions that were archived.
By Kitty Bates
Today I woke up and checked my phone. Nothing unusual there. I opened Instagram. An account I follow and adore, @you.look.like.a.man came up first on my stories. I clicked and started reading multiple accounts of women being harassed by men they had given their phone number in a professional or consumer context.
Today I am saddened, angry, hurt and worried.
With International Women’s Day on Sunday, I felt it apt to shine a light on this area, and on this platform I have. One of the areas I feel passionate about is empowering women to be the best they can be, regardless of their background and the context of the situation. I work with young people on a weekly basis and one of the most rewarding parts of what I do is when one of them comes back to me going “I didn't think I was going to do it, but I remembered what you said and I managed to do it!”
In a world where we are trying to empower and bring up young women to feel safe in the environments they work in, it saddens me that the girls that I work with are going into a world that won’t look after them and not fully embrace the incredible potential each and every one of them has.
Today I am... worried.
Let’s take the example above. At just 17 years old this girl is being sexualized in a fully covered top. This isn’t a case of “she should've been more covered” but a case of a young woman who is actively seeking employment is being preyed on by an older man on her first encounter.
17 years old. Not legally an adult.
Yet already the concept of men in abusing positions of power is creeping in.
The Guides I work with are up to two years younger than this, and my job as their leader is to empower them to know that they can do whatever they want, yet things like this happen and my job becomes twice as hard.
The negative words spoken over them are going to stick in the heads more than the times I can tell these girls that they can do it, they've got nothing holding them back and that they are clever enough to get their goals.
Today I am... angry.
I am angry for these women. I am angry that they feel the need to go through the hassle of changing their number to make sure they don't get harassed. This situation isn't just a one-time thing though, women of all ages go out of their way to protect themselves. I carry a rape whistle on my keys, and I'm very thankful I have never had to use it for that purpose.
On my first ever night out in a club, one of the older girls in the group told me to never buy a glass of a drink if you were in a small group, shots were the safest thing to do and to drink it at the bar. The lengths that women have to go to feel safe in a place where we want to celebrate makes me furious.
Recalling a conversation with a younger, male friend, I told him about this plus the other things I have to do on a night out to stay safe. He was shocked, he'd never had anyone tell him the lengths women go to in order to feel safe.
It’s time we start the conversations to help people understand why in certain situations, women are less comfortable or why asking for a phone number on a form isn't always needed.
We are all responsible for creating the safe spaces we want the next generation to have.
From a professional point of view
Taking all emotion out of it and focusing on the legalities of data processing, this isn’t legal.
Using customer information to pursue romantic interests is not a lawful basis of processing. That should go without saying.
If you haven’t consented to receive messages about romantic interests or follow-ups from creeps, then in the UK and GDPR processing region, you have the right to report that.
First things first, using the template here: https://ico.org.uk/your-data-matters/raising-concerns/ raise a concern with the company in question.
Set reasonable steps you wish to see taken and while it may seem tricky, remove emotion as far as possible. Act quickly and ask for proof that steps have been taken to stop this from happening again. If you feel that the action wasn't suitable, you are allowed to raise it further,
If it’s bad enough that you’ve raised it with as many people as you can and pushed as far as you can, in the UK the ICO is the next place. You can raise a concern and they can investigate the company. Have all the evidence ready and don’t back down. There is always a reason to call out behaviors and especially ones like the examples above.
Useful links and sources
Many thanks to Jessica Fithen aka YLLAM for allowing me to share these images.
For more on sexual harassment helplines in the UK, see here: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/sexual-harassment-helplines
And if like me, you like to call out “Gary’s” (YYLAM in-joke) for unnecessary comments on women lifting, I’d recommend following YYLAM on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/you.look.like.a.man/
Kitty Bates is the Content and Email Executive at The Typeface Group Ltd
Here is a small sampling of the over 400 similar messages YLLAM received. You can view the entire album by selecting “Harassment” under the Instagram highlights section at the top of the @you.look.like.a.man page.
“A police officer did this to me once. He found me on Facebook and asked me out after calling me to come pick up my ex husband when he was in an accident. I had to report him to his superior to get him to leave me alone.”
“It happened to me at the DHL counter. I picked up a package and he took my number and texted me to ask me out. Corporate didn’t care.”
“A new personal trainer at the gym I used to go to got my number from the system and texted me one day after I left the gym to hit on me. I didn’t go back for ages.”
“I was applying for an emergency protective order against a boyfriend and a Marshall looked up my info and called me to ask me out.”
“Had a guy who worked at the gym find my number on my profile when I scanned in and used it to text me.”
“I had a police officer who was the school resource officer actually come to my 11-year-old son’s school and pull him out of class to ask him about me.”
“My divorce lawyer, on the day of court, asked me out. I politely declined and he sent me a few aggressive texts afterwards about why I’m alone.”
“I had the assistant manager at a bank essentially hold me hostage when I went in to change over bank accounts due to my checking account getting hacked. He took his time ‘helping me’ and tried to flirt. He asked me out; I said no. He said he was going to find a reason to mess up so I’d have to come back and see him again and that I should ‘take a chance on him.’ I complained to corporate. He still works there.”
“I had a tow truck driver text me emoji flowers and ask if he could come by my house. It was absolutely terrifying that he not only knew where I loved but used my number unprofessionally.”
“When I was 17 years old I was sexually assaulted by my supervisor. He asked what I would do if he grabbed my breasts and I said I would punch him in the face. He groped me and I broke his nose in two places. He then reported me for assault.”
“I brought my car to a body shop for an estimate. I went to work and couldn’t look at my phone. When I was leaving three hours later, I had over 20 missed calls and my phone rang again from the same number. It was the guy who’d done the estimate, asking me out.”