Traditionally, the ideal woman was like a priceless piece of art — beautiful and silent. She was pleasant and subservient, and she handled adversity with a soft smile.
Traditions, however, are made to be broken, and Georgia waitress Emelia Holden smashed antiquated notions in a recent viral video.
The security footage shows Holden at work. A man later identified as Ryan Cherwinski touches her rear-end without invitation, and Holden hurls the man to the ground.
If Holden doesn't fit the traditional mold of an ideal woman, then I don't either. Watching the video, I was taken back to a college basement party two years ago.
The unventilated air was sticky with the odors of cheap vodka and perfume-tainted sweat. Those unlucky enough to be wearing open-toed shoes found their feet caked in a mystery combination of beer, dirt and lord-knows-what-else.
I had been standing with acquaintances when I felt an over-confident hand squeeze my backside and linger before snaking away.
Unnerved, I whipped around and slapped the drunken perpetrator.
The group fell silent, seemingly shocked that I had the audacity to hit him.
I turned to face the owner of the rogue hand, whose brow was furrowed and head hung. The man was angry and sad that I had slapped him, someone said.
I was left at a crossroads. Do I continue to publicly condemn this beerified oaf, do I laugh it off or do I return to being a well-behaved young lady? Looking back, what I did makes my inner Gloria Allred cringe.
The assailant pouted while I coaxed him to relax and prayed for the awkwardness to dissipate.
I was not drinking that night (not that it should matter) and more importantly, had not given implied or direct consent for him to touch me. My gut reaction was to slap the stranger, without even thinking about it.
I'm not sure what I would have done had I thought before I let my hand fly.
A groper is committing an assault, even though it usually doesn't result in physical injury. Philadelphia lawyer Zak T. Goldstein explained that instances like mine constitute indecent assault under Pennsylvania law. For a first-time offender, a conviction could result in an order to register as a sex offender for fifteen years
But women used to handsy strangers might not realize that what's happening is legally assault.
So, what do you do when an individual grabs you sexually without invitation?
You could call the police. But unless video evidence is available, it can be nearly impossible to prove indecent assault in court, Goldstein said. I didn't call the police, mostly because I didn't know what happened to me was assault.
You could slap the assailant or throw him to the ground. Goldstein called this type of self-defense a legal gray area, but said he would be "shocked" if a victim were prosecuted. Some victims, however, are smaller than their attackers and fear that yelling or responding physically could make the assailant become more violent.
You could give the perpetrator a stern lecture about how to treat women. Or you could do nothing.
Many women have faced this dilemma of how to respond to a groper. They've shared wide-ranging stories of assaults at work, concerts, fraternities, bars, campuses and sports games.
Some, like Holden and me, react by physically avenging their assaults.
At a New Year's Day music festival in New Zealand, a topless woman was followed by a stranger who then fondled her. The woman and a friend chased the man, threw a drink on him and punched him several times before leaving. The incident was caught on video.
Later in January, a woman in Texas was caught on surveillance camera fighting back after being groped in a grocery store parking lot.
In April, Fox Sports reporter Maria Fernanda Mora was live on air in Guadalajara when an unruly soccer fan grabbed her backside. She hit him with her microphone before chastising him.
Sometimes, though, there isn't a lot of time to react to being touched inappropriately.
A woman who asked to only be referred to by Carrie, her first name, wrote on Twitter that her rear-end had been slapped at an Eagles tailgate. The stranger then stole her beer and fled. She yelled profanity at his back as he disappeared into the crowd.
Others don't even catch a glimpse of their assailant.
Beth, a 24-year-old Wynnewood native who also requested to be referred to only by her first name, recalled a stranger grabbing her breast as she squeezed through the crowd at dimly lit bar, an encounter that "all happened in five seconds."
Beth said via Twitter that
she believes society has normalized these kinds of non-violent assaults: "In our world right now, I feel like the focus is outing the monsters at the other end of the spectrum while the smaller, daily incidents of groping aren't being highlighted."
Since October, the #MeToo movement has encouraged women to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment to show how pervasive the experience is.
A February study commissioned by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment reported that 51 percent of women and 17 percent of men have experienced "unwanted sexual touching." But while such incidents may get attention more often in the #MeToo era, they're still generally accepted as a vexing part of being an adult woman.
For instance, Beth said she thinks groping is something "that happens to every woman." Drexel University student Madeline DelVescovo described it happening to her "quite a few times." The first time I remember a friend describing a stranger groping her was in eighth grade.
As a child, my parents always taught me to never "get physical." When my sister and I fought, whoever got physical was punished.
That's probably why I apologized when I was groped.
Two years later, I wish I hadn't said I was sorry — because I wasn't, and I'm still not. If it happened again today, I wouldn't comfort my assailant upon seeing his pout.
Seeing Holden's reaction was empowering. It showed that women can have control in situations where they're vulnerable, and don't have to be at the mercy of a handsy stranger.
While her response was particularly memorable, I can't advocate for Holden-style physical retaliation, especially if it seems like it would trigger the attacker to become more aggressive. But reporting a groper to authorities or verbally disparaging him can leave an impact, too — something to make sure he remembers the consequences of his actions.