As soon as the hotel elevator doors close, I realize my mistake. Men surround me on all sides. Drunk men. Drunk salesmen, specifically, with Under Armour logos on their shirts. They hold opaque plastic cups of liquor and brown plastic bottles of beer, suggesting they have just come from one of the boats docked across the street in the Inner Harbor. There are three men behind me and two on either side. I put my head down and focus on the ornate designs of the carpet.
The men are rowdy. I'm keenly aware I might get "accidentally" touched. I try to make myself small. At 5-foot 3-inches tall, it isn't hard. I'm wearing flats. My dress is clingy but not seductive — I'm coming from a work event on a boat, too.
"Good training today, huh?" one man says to another. "Sports bras and nipple chafing — always a good day!" comes the reply.
As they take turns trying to say the word "nipple" as many times as possible in each sentence they utter, I think of my dad, then gone just about 10 years. When I was a child, he sat on a Nike coaches advisory board. It was pre- "Just Do It," pre-sweat shop scandal. Everyone I knew thought "Nike" rhymed with "bike," but I instructed all my grade-school friends in the proper pronunciation: "Nike, with a long e, like the Winged Goddess of Victory." I'm consumed with thoughts of my dead dad and how he would respond to this kind of behavior when I realize I am being addressed.
"Can I tell you about our sports bras?" a ruddy-faced man asks. "Do you have a problem with nipple chafing?"
I keep my head down. I'm relieved: This man is obnoxious, not dangerous. And then I'm furious with myself for making justifications for his behavior. Sweat beads on the back of my neck.
Do they think they're flirting? Or are they trying to impress each other at my expense? I grow fiercely angry at the thought of being used for sport. I imagine my own 6-year-old daughter years from now being treated like the butt of a joke.
I think about screaming, "How would you feel if someone talked to your daughter this way?" but I know it will sound simultaneously strident and weak. I don't want to give them the satisfaction of my concern.
The elevator reaches my floor. It has been a quick trip. The doors open, and, as soon as my foot breaks the plane of the door, without turning around I say, loudly, "I'm so glad my father worked for Nike when I was a kid." It's practically a meaningless thing to say, but it is met with stunned silence. Then, as the doors close behind me, it lands.
One of the guys says, "Oh! BUUUURRRRNN. That was a buuuurrrnnnn." The other guys titter in agreement.
I'm relieved they're gone, but also sad. I know I got them where it hurts, but I've done nothing to protect my daughter or myself in the future. It's a small victory, but is it the wrong game?
The encounter in the elevator was just a month after the current president announced his intention to run for office. I didn't know anyone who was taking him seriously. It would be more than year before the audio in which he bragged about grabbing women by the crotch would be leaked. And now here we are, under his rule. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank recently praised the president and said, "People can really grab that opportunity" in reference to a pro-business commander-in-chief; if he didn't realize the parallel he was drawing, he should have. In his full page explanation in this paper, he said his company's values are strong and built by his people. I believe his people were in that elevator with me. They appear to have no concern for women beyond our utility to them; the same seems to be true of our president.
To make our #resistance felt, we must speak their language with our wallets and our votes, making the consequences of continued inequality clear. They should know we don't want a seat at their table; we want to knock their table over.
Back in my hotel room, I lie on the bed, adrenaline coursing through my veins. My body is safe, but my mind won't let me rest. My fight has just begun.
Jamie Beth Cohen (LANCoalition@gmail.com) is a writer in South Central Pennsylvania. She co-founded the Lancaster Action Now Collation after the 2016 election.