|Photo by Michael Prewitt.|
My spidey senses are telling me that conversations around sexual assault are about to enter a weird middle ground.
On ONE hand, we are FINALLY recognizing that every single woman deals with harassment on the regular, and most have an experience of actual assault (or narrowly-avoided assault). That means that a LOT of men are participating in harassment and assault as well. (Or at least it's very likely that it's more than one very bad dude running all over the world assaulting people at lightning speed like a terrible terrible Santa Clause.)
On the OTHER hand, some people are now trying to claim that attempting to rape a peer is totally normal behaviour for teenage boys and who hasn't done that and if we start making that into a big deal then no man is safe because they've all done it! This is absurd and wrong. It is not, and cannot, be normal behaviour to attempt to rape a woman. NOPE NOPE NOPE.
So now here is the issue: as we amplify stories of assault and trauma to make it clear how much has been swept under the rug, others have the opportunity to point to that plethora of stories and say, "See? It's so common! Everyone does it! It's normal!" instead of using it to motivate them to be better. (Humans are the worst sometimes.)
That's why I loved Maura Quint's Vox article, "All the men who never assaulted me." It's important to recognize that assault happens way too often/all the time, and it's REALLY important to recognize that this is not normal or acceptable behaviour from men by pointing out all the opportunities they have to, you know, not.
So I'm going to share some of my experiences of not being assaulted:
When I was at a small gathering with some friends, and a guy I had been talking to grabbed my hand (in front of everyone) and said, "have you seen the bedroom?", pulling me down the hall. I knew I would cause a scene if I yanked my hand out of his and stood stock-still in front of everyone, so I went with him down the hall. We stood in the door to the bedroom and I said, "Yep, that's a bedroom." Neither of us moved for a minute, then he said, "Well, I guess we should go back." And we did. He didn't even try to touch me, let alone rape me, even though I had walked down the hall with him.
Some friends took me out for my 30th birthday. We were doing one of those "all over town, day drinking"-type events that ended at my favourite pub with two dudes who joined our table. My friends had to leave and the dudes invited me to go do karaoke with them. I really wanted to, because I love karaoke and not because I wanted to end the night being sexy with them, but it seemed unwise to go off and do karaoke with some strange men. To make sure it felt safe, they added me and a friend on Facebook (so they could be tracked down if anything happened to me). Also, in my drunken confidence/entitlement, I told them that because it was my birthday I was not going to pay for anything NOR was I going to owe them anything. They agreed wholeheartedly, we had a fun time singing nostalgic songs, and they put me in a cab alone at the end of the night with nary a hint they wanted to (or deserved to) join me, even though I was drunk and they had spent money on me.
At a pub, a guy I was talking to asked if I wanted to make out. I said no. He said okay and we kept chatting. He didn't get mad, try to convince me I should want something different, insult me, or get mad at me for wasting his time, even though we had been having a conversation.
I was seeing a guy who I met online. We went on a few dates. It was pretty obvious to me that he was more into me than I was into him, but I felt bad and wanted to like him so I went on another date with him (always a recipe for success, to keep dating someone because you want to like them). Finally, I told him that I just wasn't feeling it that way. He was totally respectful and accepted my rejection with grace, not once suggesting I was a whore for rejecting him or trying to force me to have sex with him, even though we had gone on three whole dates and he had been very nice the whole time.
THIS IS THE CORRECT WAY TO BEHAVE. THIS IS WHAT NEEDS TO BE NORMAL.
Yes, I have a lot of stories about times that my boundaries were just barely skirted around or nudged at repeatedly or yelled at or otherwise treated poorly. That is a problem, not a reality to accept. This, the boundary-respecting reality, is the one we must accept and promote.
Sign up for my email newsletter for a weekly digest and BONUS CONTENT!