Guest post from…Anna Groff is a 2006 Goshen (Ind.) College graduate and a grad student at Arizona State University. She lives in Whiteriver, Ariz., with her husband.
This post is one in a series of posts by guest bloggers, each reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite woman. You can check out earlier entries in the series: Why Femonite? and Invisible Covering, too.
After an evening class in March, I had plans to meet a friend for a drink in downtown Phoenix. I like checking out new places but I am directionally challenged, so I used the GPS on my phone to locate our meeting spot.
Still, Phoenix remains somewhat unfamiliar to me, so when I crossed the street, I had to cross back after realizing I headed in the wrong direction. I certainly appeared disoriented.
In the midst of my pacing, I noticed a group of police officers standing across the street. I deliberately waited for the crossing light to change in order to avoid jaywalking right in front of them.
One of the officers motioned for me to cross the quiet street. I replied—slightly exacerbated at the situation, “But you are all watching me.”
He responded to me with a comment—something similar to this: “You keep walking back and forth on the street. If you want to make some money, you’ll have to head a few blocks south.”
It took me a few seconds to grasp the offensive nature of his comment. I felt my heart rate speed up and my hands twitch.
Clearly, I am a student—lugging my heavy backpack with my nose in my iPhone. But that doesn’t matter. No woman—not matter how she looks or acts—deserves to hear a comment like that, especially when she is walking alone.
As I walked by, warily keeping my distance, I said to the officer, “That is not appropriate. I do not appreciate your humor.”
Confronting him left me feeling lightheaded and proud. However, I spent the next hour agonizing with my friend and later my husband on the phone.
Should have I asked for his badge number to file a report? Should I have confronted him more directly, or told him how that made me feel?
While I was pleased that I didn’t walk by mutely, I remain unsure that he will refrain from making a related joke in the future to another vulnerable individual.
Sometimes I replay that evening in my mind and I wonder how I could have handled it differently and provided the most effective response. However, I must feel at peace that my rebuttal might have startled him, even just a bit, and that he will think twice in the future.
One of the worst parts was that one of the officers in the group of four was a woman. Perhaps she reprimanded him or reported him later, but I will never know. All I know is that she opted out of defending me in that moment.
However, it is hard for me to blame her. I find myself in similar situations as that female police officer—surrounded by male authority figures or with male friends when I have gone along with the humor or the tone of the conversation.
Avoidance provides an easier and safer solution than confrontation. The situation’s complexity increases when the setting is particularly male-dominated like a police crew.
Frankly, it was easier for me to confront this stranger than a group of male colleagues or male friends. The bigger challenge is when I am with individuals I have an ongoing relationship with.
And to be sure, it is not just police officers but also professors, bosses, colleagues, siblings, friends, etc., who are capable of such comments. It takes courage to say something.
Have you experienced a comment like this from a stranger or acquaintance? What did you do? Is it easier to confront someone you know or someone you don’t know? Why?