When I was voting on April 4th, the male poll-worker overseeing the ballot box applied a sticker to my upper breast.
It happened so fast that all I could do was muster a “thank you, sir” and scurry off to my car, wondering, “Did that just happen? Was it an innocent slip in judgment or sexual harassment?” As I drove to work, I replayed the incident. Instead of handing me that coveted “I Voted” sticker, the volunteer peeled it off and stuck it to my chest in the region of my upper left breast. It was an action both infantalizing and discomfiting.
The interaction reminded me of the first time I was sexually harassed in the workplace. It was on a sweltering summer day in a coffee-shop that didn’t have air conditioning. I was wearing a black tank top in a futile attempt to beat the heat. While I was reaching up to pull a styrofoam coffee cup down from its dispenser, my boss swung up front to pour himself some coffee. I’ll never forget the words he said as he looked me up and down: “Harry, you looking good today.”
Having been conditioned to be unfailingly polite and ingratiating, I probably mumbled, “Thanks.”
My first impulse in telling the above story is to defend my conduct in wearing the tank top in the first place (i.e. It was hot and my boss was a cheap-ass who didn’t want to pay for proper AC; of course I was wearing a tank top). There’s an insidious built-in assumption here, though, that there’s a time and a place to wear a tank top when you’re a woman, and that perhaps harassment is more excusable if your reason for wearing a tank top isn’t satisfactory.
Maybe the poll-worker was intentionally being a pervert, maybe he wasn’t. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. My friends agreed that his putting a sticker on my chest without my consent was out of line, so I sent an email to the mayor. I trust that he’s an ally and that he and his staff will work to solve the matter, but in the meantime I’m still sorting through my feelings and a misplaced sense that maybe the incident was my fault.