To start, let me acknowledge that this post makes a few generalizations, for which, I apologize. Ish.
Recently, I was at an airport traveling solo, when a white man (I feel like the term “dude” is maybe a more accurate depiction, if I’m being linguistically precise) popped down next to me, headphones in. He was groomed and professional. After several minutes of not speaking to me at all, he pulled out an airpod and asked me to watch his stuff. At the airport. No one has ever asked me to watch something for them at the airport, nor would I ask someone to do the same. Maybe it’s the innate Goodie Two-Shoes within, but I’ve only ever heard overhead announcements admonishing travelers for leaving bags unattended or requests for travelers to “report suspicious luggage to airport personnel.”
I’d done exactly zero critical thinking about what I would do if someone asked me to watch their bags at the airport, so I responded with a knee-jerk.
“Erm, I don’t really think we’re supposed to do that.”
This did not please Well-Groomed White Dude.
“Oh, come on!” He said, very quickly annoyed by my response. “I’m obviously not a terrorist.”
For the record, I didn’t go through my “Are You A Terrorist Checklist?” before I responded to him. I didn’t take a moment to racially profile before I declined. I didn’t consider that he was well-groomed and good looking, or that he probably had a wife, and I didn’t even consider whether or not I thought he might have a bomb in his bag. I just went with my gut. My gut said no.
But in that split second of “Oh, come on,” I did what I think many women do. They take that split second to self-assess, ever-placing the blame on themselves and contemplating, “Am I crazy? Am I overreacting? Am I stupid?”
And it’s in that split second that damage is done.
I agreed to watch his bags.
Barely seconds after he left, I wish that I hadn’t. But his bags were already at my feet.
I wished the man had realized that he made me feel uncomfortable and had just asked someone else to watch his bag. I’m not saying this is a necessary step, but if the situations were reversed, I would have apologized for making a request that made someone feel uncomfortable. Instead he made me feel both discomfort AND shame.
I share this anecdote because I wish it had been easier for me (a strong, independent woman on a business trip!) to say no with conviction. I want to help explain why women in much graver situations than this might yield their will, their bodies, or their souls to men who are used to hearing yes, and gaslight women when they are told no. As a woman, I was the one embarrassed left with his luggage as people in the terminal watched me push right over. And when the man sat back down next to me, bladder empty and altercation forgotten, I seethed with the consequences of having said no, and also with the consequences of having said yes.
Us women, we all too often carry the baggage of yesses that ought to have been no’s.