“I almost got you one of those T-shirts, you know,” my stepmother told me.
“What T-shirts?” I asked.
“The ones that say, ‘Hands off the bump!’ I knew you’d hate people touching you.”
Bingo! Unfortunately, though, my stepmother didn’t buy me the shirt, and even if she did, I doubt it would have stopped countless people from angling for a grope of my gigantic stomach. I am fairly certain people see those shirts as a joke (I think my stepmother did, too) and respond to them with a slightly less offensive version of “Aww… it thinks it’s people.”
Like pretty much every pregnant woman that ever was, I had to deal with this unwanted touching on a case-by-case basis. Work colleague strangely fascinated by pregnancy? Yeah, go for it. Stranger I met in the park while walking my dogs? No thank you.
But if I get pregnant again, it might be time to pull up stumps and move to Pennsylvania, where a law has just been passed to prevent people from touching pregnant bellies without permission. It was borne of a case where a man, unknown to the pregnant woman, touched her stomach repeatedly, even after being told to stop.
Touching anyone without their permission, at any time, is harassment, plain and simple. At a time when women are already physically and emotionally vulnerable, this is the height of douchebaggery. And yep, there should definitely be a law against it.
But why? Isn’t it just common decency to not touch someone without their permission? Yes, yes it is. It is also common decency to not sexually harass a person, to not rape someone, to not kill them, to not steal their car. Sadly, we can’t always rely on the common decency of offenders. Hence, the law. But isn’t this going a bit far? Couldn’t the woman just tell the man to stop? She did. And he didn’t. In the majority of cases, people will ask before touching. And if they do touch sans permission, the majority will stop when asked. But laws are in place to protect the majority from an aberrant minority.
So what now? Are we all meant to just say hello to every pregnant woman we meet and not make them feel even more like freaks by rubbing their tummies? Don’t women know that when they have babies, they’re fulfilling a social contract that makes them public property?
If the roles were reversed, I doubt any man would see unwanted touching by a stranger as harmless fun. It would be assault, right? And whether the touching is violent or sexual or neither of these things, if it makes someone feel intimidated, scared or uncomfortable, it is assault too.
Pregnant women shouldn’t need t-shirts or laws to protect them from being manhandled, just like, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need laws to protect us from violence or abuse. But we do. And I’m glad that this time, the law is on our side.
Now, can we please pass a law that prevents people from asking us how much weight we’ve gained during pregnancy?