No Emergency Exits from Sexism: A Flight Attendant Speaks

Trigger Warning: This article discusses sexism, sexual harassment, misogyny and mental health.
My name is womxn no 12345, I have a job that’s a dream for many young girls and fantasy for many men out there. I bet it was some sick joke over a beer, which came up with the name ‘Hawai Sundaris’. Rings a bell? Our winged eyeliner helps us fly better, our pink and red lips makes up smile so pretty that you can’t help but do it with us. We get to see sunrises from top of the snow clad Himalayas and sunsets from the ocean. We enjoy the rain and the rainbows. But ours don’t come with a gold pot at its other end. The stone chips and thorns being the unwanted sexual attention we are used to by now. It being so regular, that the feeling of vulnerability is as avoidable as our routine weight checks. We suck in our tummies to keep our tears at bay because God forbid if we forget to use our waterproof mascara, we could scare the passengers. We are left feeling scared, fearing violence. The ability to express ourselves in that moment is stifled. As womxn, the sense of dread, discomfort, fear comes pre-installed like the breasts but still, each one of us has a different reaction to it.
Few days ago, I helped a man with his walking stick, struggling through the crowd of passengers ready to leave as soon as the doors opened. The man patted my head, said I had a pretty smile and that I will do great in life. While his hand on my head, I could feel someone else’s on my buttocks. I could Try and be poetic and tragic about it but it wasn’t my first time. I was numb again, I froze again. My reflexes betrayed me. A bag hit me in the process and I could hear an apology from somewhere. I wanted to tone out the voices and noises but my uniform wouldn’t have allowed me to do so. Unable to put a smile, I put a mask on. Funny how those things kept the virus at bay but not the disease up in someone’s head. I wished everyone a good day and finally left for home.
I came home and took a boiling shower. Used my coffee scrub so hard that I could almost see the blisters forming. While brushing my hair, all I could think about was how I also might have wished goodbye to the person who violated me. How the person would have left proudly thinking he fulfilled his fantasy. I was guilty for not being able to stop him, to slap him. This is our reality. The high heels don’t give enough pain to prepare us for this.
I encourage you womxn to come forward, tell your story, let them know, bust the myth, let it out, cry it out. We will listen. I am not sure why I want to do this. Maybe a closure, a chance to help someone but I know for a fact that our toothy smiles, perfectly fitting with our amiable personalities, can make people listen, help someone who doesn’t even know they are in need of it.
We cannot let them have the power to objectify us, we aren’t here to fulfil anyone’s fantasies. We are humans and deserve to be treated like one.
Featured image illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty.