I love pizza. When I was younger, we would often spend family evenings at the local Italian place; they made amazing pizza. It was always delicious and that’s where the village hung out. I would often go in the basement to play arcade games like the Simpsons or to watch the adults line-dance. After a few minutes of watching, I would copy their moves. They seemed to think I was adorable and didn’t kick me out. Unfortunately, that restaurant is also where I experienced sexism from strangers for the first time.
The chocolate incident
When I was in primary school, we were asked to sell chocolates to raise money for school activities like field trips or pizza lunches. I would bring my box of chocolates to the Italian restaurant and asked friends and family if they would like to buy some chocolates for a few dollars.
I believe I was five or six and selling some of my first chocolates ever. An older man, known for having money, approached me and said he was going to buy the entire box! I was stoked. I didn’t have to keep begging people for money; I have always hated doing that. My mother was talking to someone else close by and the man kept talking to me. He asked me odd questions and stood a little too close to me. I don’t remember the exact questions, one of them was about my jump ropes, but I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable and this urgent gut feeling I can only describe as “get out of here now”. This encounter tained the fun and safe place this restaurant was to me.
I got to my mom as soon as I could and remember telling her about how weird and uneasy it felt. She dismissed me and told me I was probably misinterpreting it. I insisted and never went near him again. I am sure I didn’t misread the situation.
As time went by, people got busier and would hang out less often at the restaurant. The arcade disappeared and the line-dancing stopped. The pizza still sold really well, but mostly in take-out form. We would order take-out for our dinner nearly every week. My mother and I would go pick it up together. I was about fifteen when I was at the cash with my mom waiting for our pizza. This guy she knew came up to us; he was very happy to see her. I remembered seeing him a few times when I was younger but I barely knew him. He said, “Roxanne, you’re all grown-up!” and tried to hug me. I remember freaking out yelling something like “Don’t touch me!” and shooting my hands upward to avoid the hug. He put his hands up and told me to calm down. I replied “I barely hug my parents, I’m certainly not going to hug you,” and stormed out of the restaurant. He never tried to touch me again. Why would a stranger try to hug me? No, thanks.
Small defining moments
These incidents may seem innocuous, but they weren’t. The first incident with the chocolate made me feel powerless. My mother didn’t believe me—she was believing a creepy stranger. Over time, I would learn that my mom mostly felt powerless in the face of men. The second incident was defining for me. I didn’t want to be touched by a stranger and was proud that I didn’t let him. Unfortunately, I would forgot this lesson later in life. More on that later.
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