In the past week I have come to an unfortunate realization- that when it comes to sexual assault against women, some men still do not get it.
What I mean by ‘it’ is what a real and everyday thing sexual assault and harassment is to women. Some men seem to not have grasped what is right and wrong to do to women, and seem perplexed when you point out their faults.
I was confronted with this after a night out at a club with some friends. I was sitting with a group of people when two guys approached us and sat down across the table. One of them declared to me that he was going to show me a magic trick. I was skeptical, and not particularly impressed with this attempt (I assume) to try and pick me up. I looked at him blankly and try to make him aware in the politest possible way that I was not interested.
He seemed unaware of my disinterest and proceeded to try and do a magic trick anyway. After his disastrous attempt to try and convince me that the coaster in his right hand was the same coaster he had just ripped up with his left hand, I turned and started talking to my male friend who was seated next to me.
Then the man pulled a flask out of his pocket and poured some sort of liquid into my vodka and orange juice.
I was astounded. A man I did not know, a stranger in a club, had poured something into my drink right in front of me.
The second the absolute disbelief I had stopped, the anger set in. What did he think he was doing? What was he putting into my drink?
I turned on him. I may have yelled. Something along the lines of ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing!’ He seemed dumbfounded, so I continued. ‘Seriously- I can’t drink that now, do you realise that? You’ve ruined my drink. Thanks.’
He muttered some offensive word at me and attempted to throw $5 at me for the drink. I pushed it back across the table and told him to just go.
What this man, and what many men fail to realise is how their actions, sometimes without them realising it, make women feel threatened, scared and worried. How women have to be constantly on alert against sexual assault. How many women are sexually harassed on a daily basis, and when they bring it up are told that they are ‘over reacting’ and that the man ‘didn’t mean to’ do it.
This is all simply unacceptable. It’s unacceptable that woman are taught how not to get raped, yet men are not even taught how to make women feel like they won’t get raped.
I am drawn to a quote by Bryon Hurt, who wrote an engaging article last year entitled ‘Why I Am a Black Male Feminist’.
‘I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: "Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?"
Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, "Nothing." Then Katz asked the women, "What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?" Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:
"I don't make eye contact with men when I walk down the street," said one. "I don't put my drink down at parties," said another. "I use the buddy system when I go to parties." "I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction." "I use my keys as a potential weapon." "I carry mace or pepper spray." "I watch what I wear."
The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men's side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life -- including my mother, sister and girlfriend -- and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.’
This exemplifies the issue- men have no comprehension of the precautions women take every day to try and avoid violence against them. Because the majority of men do not have to deal with these issues it is like they do not exist. Men will then do things like put something into a woman’s drink and become surprised when she doesn’t then drink it.
It’s a crazy system. But there was one other thing about the incident that surprised me too- how people reacted to what I did in retaliation.
Some people I spoke to- especially women- were surprised I said something to the man. Many were awed that I had yelled at him in a club, drawing attention to myself and standing up to him. Some people made me feel embarrassed that I had ‘made a scene’ or tried to tell me I was over reacting.
This again, is a major problem.
Women seem to be taught not only that sexual harassment and assault will happen to them, but also that they should take it quietly. Not make fuss, lest they be labeled a ‘bitch’ for it. We are taught to be quiet and take it. When one of us goes against this, and god forbid reports sexual harassment, the majority of the time it is ignored or barely investigated. Men and other women do not believe us when we tell of sexual assault and harassment. It’s easy to blame the woman than to face up to the fact that there is something very wrong with our society when it comes to these issues.
My solution? I don’t have one. But I will continue to not be quiet about the issue, even when I am labeled a bitch- or worse.