I got outrightly molested for the first time today. You’d think that this being Japan I’d have my encounter in a crowded train but nope, it happened in the thrift store near my place.
I entered the thrift store just before noon. Bright daylight. Summertime. Hot, so I had an umbrella. I’d just finished at the gym, so I was an uglily dressed, sweaty auntie with no makeup on. The gym is just across the street from the store so I didn’t see why I had to go back and change. I needed an incense holder.
I went into the store. There were two members of the staff at the counter, one weird guy squatting at the entrance holding a bag of snacks, and another man in the background.
Before getting said holder, I decided to look at the retro water glasses, so I headed for the aisle. The man in the background, an Asian foreigner (I won’t tell you his race because I find that it’s unnecessary profiling) in the aisle adjacent to mine. He said, in English, “hello”; and smiled.
I looked up at him, quite startled. Did I know him? Nope, I decided, didn’t know him.
I said “hello” back the same time he switched to Japanese with a “konnichiwa”. I figured he’s an Asian foreigner, I’m an Asian foreigner, might as well be friendly.
Ignoring him after no further exchanges were imminent, I wanted to get out of the aisle because I decided I wanted my incense burner. I tried turning out of the aisle but noticed there was a pile of stuff in the way, blocking the exit to the rest of the store. I had to turn to get back out. Doing so, I had to pass this Asian foreigner again. He hadn’t moved.
This was when it happened.
“What?” he asked in English, indicating why I turned back.
“It’s blocked,” I said, and in the next moment he took a step towards me. The left side of my body was facing him, the side with my umbrella. He got close enough so the back of his hand was pressed against the side of my butt, and it all happened very fast but the moment he got close I went “Whoa!” was already pushing him back with the length of my umbrella, so technically the only thing touching me was his hand; the rest of his body was against my umbrella.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, still smiling.
I left the aisle, pausing near the counter to think about how to not to alarm him while I reported this to the clerk (yes, this auntie’s first instinct is to make sure someone else knows), because I wanted to make sure people were wary of him. There were females working at the store; I didn’t want them to be preyed on.
I went up to the clerk and asked loudly if they had any incense holder. The clerk went to the backroom to get one for me. When he came back, I chatted with him about the holder before telling him in a low voice: “Excuse me, that customer over there…”
It was at this point that the molester left the store. I then very loudly continued:
“…tried to molest me. He tried to touch me.”
Upon hearing this, the clerk quickly ran out of the store to look at the man’s face. He came back not long after and said the man wasn’t a regular.
I told him how the man touched me, and he told me sometimes rich foreigners come and buy stuff, and try and chat up women. I had to “be careful”.
No shit, Sherlock.
I’m half-joking, actually. The clerk – I think it was actually the store manager – was very kind to me, but I want to point out that this is the kind of thing that happens to women. It was in broad daylight, in a store I’d been to several times, under the nose of good people, and right beside a window. How was I supposed to be careful? That’s the point I’m trying to make. Women can’t avoid situations like these.
Next, I was bothered by how this was another classic example of how certain groups of foreigners mar the integrity of people who look like them, or share their skin colour. There’s already enough racial discrimination as it is, no need to worsen it. When the clerk told me I had to be wary of foreigners, I felt my heart sink. I’m a foreigner too.
In a way, I’m glad that it was me. I’m not easily intimidated, and I don’t freeze up in danger or whatever. I’m also not a very small person – I weigh over 60 kilos and stand at 165 centimetres – so I guess it was good that it was me, and not someone smaller or weaker.
I pity the man more than I’m angry at him because I find it sad that he’s got this rotten quirk that he’s got to live with. The issue I’m more concerned is how we are raising our kids – namely boys – and whether we’re teaching them to be respectful of women and not touch them any way they want to, or approach them in a way that will discomfit them.
I don’t feel any sense of loss, nor do I feel taken advantage of. I feel that it’s something that couldn’t be helped – it wasn’t a secluded area, it wasn’t dark, it wasn’t a crime-ridden part of the neighbourhood – and I handled it well. I’m glad I pushed the man away, and I’m glad I went to tell the clerk. I just wish it wasn’t something that ‘couldn’t be helped’, you know?
Interestingly, just a couple of days ago I was on the escalator and from behind, I heard a man saying “excuse me” in Japanese.
I turned to look at him. He then said:
“Your skirt has ridden up.”
I pulled down my skirt, which had gotten caught between my butt and my backpack (I was wearing shorts) and thanked him. I didn’t feel any embarrassment. He handled the situation very well, and I happen to not be bothered by such things, so I wasn’t embarrassed.
I hope more men can be like this kind stranger. Look out for the women. Don’t be afraid to defend their modesty. It will really change society and give younger boys the role models they deserve. Hopefully everyone can be this kind of stranger who protects instead of preys, who is brave enough to risk being misunderstood to help out someone he’s sympathising with. Not many people can do that.
I don’t know why I’m not embarrassed about showing my petticoats, or why I’m not more offended at some random stranger touching my butt. I realise that my body is only a home for my soul, and I don’t really mind what happens to it as long as my soul is whole. Does this make sense?
Similarly, even though I talk about how men can help women out in this post, I actually don’t completely identify as female. I’m genderfluid, which means sometimes I feel more like a woman, sometimes I feel more like a man, sometimes I feel like both. I’m not confused, all right? This is just who I am. It’s like when you mix tea and coffee to make yuanyang – sometimes you want the taste of the tea to be stronger, sometimes you want it to taste more like coffee, but because it’s still tea mixed with coffee it will always be yuanyang. I wonder if it’s this part of me that is at work when I’m not bothered by how people harass me. I don’t know. Just wondering.
All in all, I guess I still identify most as an auntie? Haha.