Hard sell and/or assault

One of the students in my graduate class has posted an experience she had at the local mall, in which a salesperson (male) physically grabbed her and pulled her somewhere. In my reading, this could easily be seen as assault: no one touches someone’s face uninvited.

She wonders why she was not more active in resisting this. I’ve talked to many people — not just women, but mostly — who have been in similar situations, and unprepared, are just too stunned to speak out. I’m reminded a bit of a recent NYT article on Milgram’s attempts at crossing social lines in a subway. The “victims” of this experiment generally complied, in part, I suspect, because they didn’t have a schema to resist it. It was simply a very unexpected event.

I guess part of it is that it’s really important for people to be prepared — as much as possible — for such breaches of civility. I think women are generally more aware today about rape, even if they have not had someone attempt to rape them, and have in mind some of the ways they can respond. But there are a range of physical attacks that they may not be prepared to react to. I suspect this might also have something to do with socialization: boys are often taught that it is both acceptable and even admirable to respond physically to a physical intrusion, whereas many girls do not have the opportunity to learn how they can or should behave when their physical privacy is intruded upon.

Of course, the terrible part of this is that reporting this incident (which I think is vital), may have little or no effect on what happens in the future. Many organizations have people within them that have been repeatedly accused of, for example, harassment, but there is nothing done until the complaints are deafening. And for every complaint, there are ten people who silently abide by the behavior.

In her shoes, I would contact not mall management, but Kaufman’s customer service. When they know that another shop in the mall is assaulting their customers on the way out, I suspect they will have more of an impact than a single customer will have on the mall management.

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  1. Laura D.
    Posted 9/15/2004 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Let me start by saying that I know exactly what “nail booths” Sarah is talking about. They have no affiliation with Kaufmann’s, they are a separate entity. It sounds as if she was on her way to purchase a shirt at Kaufmann’s but along the way got stopped. There is no doubt the “nail booth” employees are very agressive sales people. It’s horrible and by all means violating if someone touches you without your consent. But what we might be missing is the fact that this “guy with an accent”, might not be breaching civility in his own eyes. And this is where COM 101 pays off…..Cultural diversity…For many cultures being tactile is simply a part of their way of being and socializing. Some people don’t know any better and are not aware of other cultures. Being aware of cultural diversity is certain to help become an effective communicator.

  2. Posted 9/15/2004 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    While cultural sensitivity is important, for those working in the service industry, it is equally important that folks adhere to a set of expectations and are trained well. Cultural sensitivity is not the same as carte blanche. If I worked within another culture, I would be expected to adhere to the norms found there, or I wouldn’t keep my job.

  3. Posted 9/15/2004 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it’s the Sarah. While I can appreciate cultural differences, as I’m getting a lot of that experience at UB, Alex is right…We were taught in 101, and several other courses on cultural diversity and when you go to another culture it is your responsibility to learn their norm, not the other way around. And to clarify–the nail place isn’t assoc. w/ Kaufmans. Thanks!

  4. The Mad Historian
    Posted 9/15/2004 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Dear Alex,
    I have been looking for a good pair of breeches for some time, and the breeches of cilivity sound like just the thing! Can you tell me where to order these online? Now that I’m teaching, I want to make sure that no one mistakes me for one of those people sans culottes.

    I hope that my sarcastic tone won’t result in a breach of friendship, m’dear…

    Your faithful editor,
    The Mad Historian

  5. Posted 9/16/2004 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    It was really hard for me to fix that. I kind of like the idea of “breeches of civility.” Jamie used to work for someone who occassionally put on her “bitch pants.” I guess this would be the alternative.

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  1. By karakerwin.net on 9/15/2004 at 3:54 pm

    It could happen to anybody: harassment at the Mall
    Of course there’s cultural diversity, but the culture of a shopping mall does not include the sort of contact that Sarah described .
    I’d contact the mall security office, the mall’s corporate headquarters, the nail store’s corporate headquarters, …

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