Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Please Don't Touch Me

Okay, I'm going to preface this blog post by trying to convince you that I'm not trying to brag about how good I look or how much male attention I get. (Really, it's not that much at all-- these things have only happened a select few times, if at all...I'm not trying to chastise people so much as be pro-active in getting this to not happen.)

I am a young woman who works for a professional organization. I frequently travel to conferences (oftentimes by myself) to table. As it happens, I am often at a table by myself. I'm fine with this, I do like talking to people. I love sharing information about the SSA, because I think we're fucking awesome. (We are. If you ever want more info on us, ask me; I'll talk your ear off.)

I am also a person with a very diminutive stature and a bubbly personality (when I'm not bitingly sarcastic, that is). I smile a lot. I laugh a lot.

However. This is my job. I am paid to do this. I am a professional. Just because I am young, or small, or smiling, or laughing does not mean you can or should do inappropriate things for my workplace. Things that may seem simple or innocuous to you are uncomfortable to me. You may think you're being my friend or that we're flirting by touching me. I'm not talking about scary sexual assault touching, I'm talking about putting your hand on my shoulder or something like that. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but people already don't take me seriously as a professional adult (because, like I said, small, smiley, giggley).

When I'm at events, people say things to me like "Little girl, get me a coffee." Sure, I know you wouldn't say that-- but if someone sees you, my friend or something I'm enjoying talking to, touching sends a message to them. It's okay to be overly friendly to her, because she's young and smiling at me. I've noticed that if someone (a close friend) touches my shoulder to guide me somewhere in a public room, many more people want to touch me later that day. I might be overreacting, but I really feel the need to reiterate: I am a professional at work. Do you touch your waitress? Or your concierge? No, of course not (and if you do, please re-evaluate your social behavior).

Also: please don't flirt with me while I'm tabling. Don't call me "cute" or "adorable." I understand that you are trying to make a connection, and that's great! But really-- I'm at work. I don't want to be seen as less of a professional (by anyone) because I'm flirting when I should be doing my job. Chances are, I'll be walking around the hotel or conference building later. Or getting food at some point (I do like food). Strike up a less-professional conversation with me then. Or hit me up on my twitter! I'll respond on there. Please, just not while I'm working.

I might be belaboring the point a bit, but I just really feel like I'm constantly fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously. Of course, within my organization, I'm respected-- but I don't know how people outside of it see me. Yes, I know I have a silly twitter account and blog, and I talk a lot about dinosaurs-- that doesn't mean I don't know my job inside and out. It doesn't make me less capable. That is separate from what I do at work.

I was at Skepticon last year (they have a new website, btw-- go check it out; it's awesome) and after a long day of tabling, I wanted to relax in the hot tub with my new book ("Nailed: Ten Christian Myths Why Jesus Never Existed" by David Fitzgerald, which is amazing, btw, and I highly recommend it). There was a guy already in the hot tub when I got there...okay, fine, he has a right to be there (I'm surprisingly anti-social when I want to relax. Don't take it personally, just me being an introvert.).

We had some small talk when I got in, and then I said, "Okay, well, I'm not trying to be rude now, but I've had a really long day working, so I think I'm just going to read my book for a while now." *Pull book up in front of face*

This guy replied, "Oh, you were working at the conference?"

I said, "Yes, I was tabling for the Secular Student Alliance."

He replied: "Oh, you were tabling at the conference?"

I said, "Yes, for the Secular Student Alliance." (a bit of an edge was creeping into my voice at this point)

He said, after a glance down at my chest and a short pause, " must be really talented at your job, because you're definitely not a booth babe." (For those unfamiliar with the term: a "booth babe" is an attractive woman, usually with large breasts and scantily clad, that is paid to look pretty and stand in front of something that men are generally interested in-- like cars or video games-- in order to gain their attention for the product.)

What am I supposed to say to something like that? "Yep, I'm ugly, so it sure is lucky that I'm smart!" Now, this is NOT your cue to tell me that I am, in fact, cute. That is not the point. The point is (to quote the ever-wonderful Greta Christina) that it should not fucking well matter. 

I just want to live in a world where I'm judged based on my professional behavior and aptitude-- not whether I'm fuckable or not. Short of that perfect scenario, I'd at least like to be treated with respect. Here's a quick litmus test you can do to figure out whether you should do or say something to me: would I also say this to a man or a person I am not attracted to? If the answer is no, then please, don't do it for me.

Just to be clear: I am NOT saying don't be friendly to me, don't joke around with me, or stuff like that at conferences. Please, do so! I love making new friends! But just remember: I am at work. Please treat it as such.

(I really hope this doesn't come across as "woe is me, I'm such a pretty girl! I have alllll the problems in the world!" I really just wanted to be treated fairly. I realize there are 10 million other, worse problems in the world-- this is just me asking for fair treatment in my workplace.)

Edit!: Here is also a solution! If there is some reason why you want to touch me-- say you're leaving and you want to give me a hug goodbye-- ask me if it's okay! "Can I hug you?" I will probably say yes! I have a lot of anxieties about being touched by people (mostly because I have been touched without my consent in very serious and damaging ways), but the minute you ask, I feel so much better. Also, if there's ever a reason why you NEED to touch, say, if a meteor is coming my way and you want to shove me out of the way to save my life...well, please do that. :)