You were drunk and sweaty, and reeked of cigarette smoke. You were wearing a red shirt and a medal. You were walking with a friend. It was late afternoon and the rain had stopped, the sun making the air sultry with humidity.
I was on my way to the store to run an errand after work.
I was wearing my baby in a carrier on my chest. I was watching the post-run competitors walking past me, each in their own happy group of friends, laughing and chatting about their day.
Our eyes met. You smiled.
I stopped, flipping through faces of the people I knew inside my head and trying to place yours. By the time I had figured out you were a total stranger, you were in front of me with your arms open, forcing me — US, because my 6 month old daughter was stuck in the middle — into a hug.
You forced me into a hug.
I froze, my hands trapped by my side. The words I wanted to say not coming to me until later in the evening, when I was processing this experience. I awkwardly half-laughed and took a small step to the side.
You stepped back and asked if I had a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke,” I said.
“Cute baby,” you said.
“Yes,” I said.
And then you walked off to catch up with your friend, laughing like the others about the run, your day, the excitement or fun.
I continued in the opposite direction, passing a young woman standing outside of a restuarant, with her phone in her hand.
“Awkward, eh?” she said, having witnessed the encounter.
“Yes,” I said. “Did he get you, too?”
“Yup,” she said, before returning to texting.
By the time I returned home, I was feeling unclean and nauseous — the words I wish I’d said cluttering up my brain.
…the words I wish I’d said cluttering up my brain.
I wish I had said, “Do I know you?” “Please don’t touch me.” “Get away.”
I know you had no malicious intent — you were feeling a runner’s high and were happy and wanted to share that around — I get it, I do. In some ways, the benign nature of our encounter is the most troublesome part.
THIS is what people are talking about when they say “Rape Culture.”
You felt it was absolutely fine to force me into physical contact because your intentions were not “bad“. Our interaction didn’t bother you at all, you clearly thought it was okay.
Your actions were threatening to me. I protected myself by not reacting, not escalating, and extricating myself from the situation as quickly as I could.
This is how girls — how WOMEN — are conditioned to react to threats.
To the untrained eye, this could be perceived as accepting your attention and not viewing your behaviour as a threat.
I assure you this was not the case.
I am mostly angry for my daughter…
I am angry with myself for not telling you to get your hands off of me, but I am mostly angry for my daughter:
She is 6 months old right now. I am raising her, as I am raising her three brothers, to understand that the only body she owns is her own.
If attitudes like yours don’t change, someday she will experience the same situation into which you forced me. Someday she will have to laugh it off like it doesn’t matter and try to escape without engaging any extra attention.
Someday she will have to laugh it off like it doesn’t matter…
Someday she will be torn between wondering if it was somehow her fault, if she invited the attention by the way she dressed or smiled, or if she could have done something differently to ensure it didn’t happen.
Someday I will have to tell her that it is not her fault.
That this was not my fault.
It is your fault.
It is the fault of every man and woman who denies that this is a problem, and insist that “Rape Culture” does not exist. It is the fault of every man who thinks it is okay to touch a woman without her consent. It is the fault of every woman who rug sweeps it away with a “that’s just how he is — he’s very friendly”. It is the fault of the passers-by who don’t intervene.
It is the fault of every person who accepts this type of behaviour as status quo and does nothing to enact change.
The only missed connection here is between your behaviour and my consent.