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A Foot Fetishist Taught Me About Objectification in Starbucks

foot soleLast year something happened to me that I never would have expected. I posted about it on Facebook and the reactions I got from friends and followers surprised me.

I was working at Starbucks on a Friday afternoon when a cute frat boy-type guy sat down at the next table. We did the look-and-then-look-away-then-look-then-smile flirting thing a couple of times. I was wearing flip flops and I pushed one off and sat on my foot with my bare foot facing him.

Suddenly he looked over and said, “This is going to sound weird, but would you mind not sitting like that? I have a foot fetish and you’re driving me nuts since I can see the bottom of your foot.” Then he shifted in his seat and I could see he had an erection. I put my flip flop back on.

About a half hour later he asked me to watch his stuff. He got my attention by slipping his thumb between my sole and flip flop and squeezing my foot. When he came back I could tell he’d adjusted his bulge but he was still aroused. About 5-10 minutes later he suddenly stood up, touched my foot, said, “I gotta go. Maybe I’ll see you later,” and I could see his stuff twitch after he touched my foot again.

He practically ran out the door. I didn’t try to stop him.

As you can imagine, the story quickly got tons of likes and comments, but what intrigued me most was the chasm between the responses of men compared to the women who commented. I said it was a creepy experience being objectified like that and folks had strong opinions on whether or not I should consider it creepy or complimentary.

Ninety-nine percent of the men who responded told me I was crazy for not hooking up with the guy. From “Jees, be grateful someone still cruises you!” to “Not weird at all. I would love that kind of attention, especially by a cute frat guy half my age,” the men seemed to think I was the strange one for finding the experience creepy.

The women, however, seemed to agree with me that it was similar to a stranger rubbing their junk against you on public transportation. He told me he found me/my feet sexually arousing but then followed that up with nonconsensual sexual touching; it may not have been sexual for me, but it obviously was for him.

2e00cc8bbed974d287deaec0336bf833Plus, he opened the conversation with a request that I change how I was sitting because it was turning him on. Isn’t that like telling a woman her skirt is so short her rapist couldn’t resist? Especially since he touched my feet shortly thereafter — multiple times?

“I agree it’s kind of creepy. Not that he found you or specifically your feet attractive, but that you seemed to be reduced to an object in his game. I doubt that’s what he intended. But being objectified is by it’s nature creepy,” said one female commenter.

“Is that a difference between men and women or are women more sensitive to being seen as objects since we are seen as objects on numerous levels in our culture?” Jennifer Litton Tidd asked. “See, for me, because many men dismiss me as merely a baby machine, when I feel like an object and not a complete human, it bothers me. Men, who generally aren’t dismissed as objects in our culture, seem fine with it.”

Many men hear women complain about being objectified or sexually harassed and assume they are blowing things out of proportion — just as they did on my post. But this incident highlights a stark difference between how some people see the same situation very differently simply based on their lived experiences.

“The whole thing did make me think a bit about my own knee-jerk feminism a bit. Maybe when some lounge lizard is making lewd remarks on a barstool, I should just be flattered and not feel it’s a sexist attack,” Litton Tidd wrote in a later email. “It was very interesting for me to read men talking about men like I usually hear men, who I dismiss as sexist, talking about women.”

A week later, the same guy came back to Starbucks while I was working there again. He saw me and bolted for the door without sitting down. A couple of hours later, he came back and came up to me to apologize for “being weird” and said he’s seen me there often. (I only noticed him the day he groped my foot!) He said he felt bad and had come back just to see if I was there so he could apologize.

I accepted graciously, but said I had to go because I was meeting someone. He asked if I was leaving because he had come back and I reassured him that, no, I really was leaving when he returned. He said he hoped to see me again because “you tend to come here at the end of the week.”

Visions of stalkers started flashing through my mind. Just as he had, I practically ran out the door. He’d made it past “weird” and all the way into “creepy” territory. I avoid that Starbucks on Fridays now.

So what do readers think? Am I overreacting or do you agree with me that the whole thing is a little odd? Would you be flattered or creeped out?