I attended an event last night at a local pub. As I went to the bar to buy a drink I began chatting with the man next to me. He was friendly and funny. We were chatting about how warm the room was and I mentioned how the woman behind the bar had told me how she regretted wearing a wool jumper. He responded by saying he wouldn’t mind if she just took it off and began making sexual comments about her and then about me.
Why? Why do so many conversations with men end up like this? In what world does this sort of interaction actually result in me going home with him? Or is the goal simply to have a sexy conversation? Is it about power? Whatever it is, I can assure you that it isn’t welcome.
What I find most irritating about these types of interactions is that I am a very friendly person and I want to stay that way. I enjoy chatting and making small talk, especially at a fun event at a local venue. I don’t want to have to be rude and angry and have a confrontation. It is stressful and embarrassing and I don’t want to do it.
But here I was at the bar, gobsmacked to have been spoken to in such a way by the “friendly” man next to me. In the past I would have laughed it off and gotten the heck out of there, but this time I confronted him. He tried to laugh it off but I wouldn’t have it. I told him how I had decided not to back down anymore and to physically fight back if anyone ever tried to be inappropriate with me. I told him that I wouldn’t hesitate to kick him in the balls and/or punch him in the face if he tried to touch me. No joke. I was very clear. He left me alone after that.
Want to know what turned this pacifist into someone who makes legit threats of violence? Last year I was assaulted by a school dad at my daughter’s school’s Christmas party. What began as a pat on my bum by this dad soon turned into some pretty serious grabbing. He was also very specific about what he wanted to do to me and repeatedly asked me if I was “wearing knickers” (which he was convinced I wasn’t). Not wanting to make things awkward, I simply removed myself from the situation and began to chat with other people, but he continued to seek me out and continue his behaviour. Having lost him again, I was walking toward the toilet and he walked towards me and firmly grabbed my crotch.
I was utterly and completely shocked. I had considered this man a friend for many years and he had just openly grabbed my crotch at a school Christmas party. Stunned, I walked over to where my husband was chatting with a group of dads and told them what happened. My husband was obviously not happy about this and said he was going to go talk to him, but I stopped him. This was about me and my body and I wanted to be the one to tell him it wasn’t okay, and I didn’t think it would be helpful to do while he had been drinking.
Fast forward months later and I still hadn’t ever confronted him about what happened. Knowing this man’s personality, I knew he would laugh at me, deny his actions, and make me once again feel victimised. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I have simply avoided him at all costs, and have freaked out before any school event where I might see him. In addition to feeling violated by his actions, I also now feel ashamed by the fact that I couldn’t confront him on what he did.
It is now a year later, and I have thought a lot about what happened and how I would like to react differently in the future. I am convinced that the best way to deal with this type of behaviour is to shut it down in the moment. I have played through the interaction with this dad in my head a number of times and have thought about the best way to deal with a similar situation in the future (because these interactions are apparently inevitable . . . ). I have come to the conclusion that I will just have to be loud, draw attention to the situation, and not be embarrassed into being polite. Running through scenarios in my head has been helpful and last night proved that it actually helps.
Like most women, I have far too many instances of men being inappropriate with me: waking up to a stranger groping my breast on a train, having my butt grabbed and smacked by countless men, having a good friend grope me when I was asleep at his house, even getting nicknamed “DSL” (dick sucking lips) by my guy friends at college (they called me this for weeks before finally telling me what it meant) . . . The list is long and varied and, until last night, my response was always pretty passive (walk away, laugh it off, etc.), but no more. Laughing it off, or simply walking away sends the message that it is okay, but it most definitely isn’t. As much as I hate being forced into being rude and even perhaps violent, there is nothing I can do to keep this from happening again. What is in my power is how I react and I assure you, I will not be quiet again.
image from here