Mass shootings are becoming such a regular part of American life, that I lose track of names and faces of victims and shooters, alike. When we say that shooting, we now have to specify. Which one? Which state? Which one in that state? This year, one took place just two miles from my home.
Even so, there was one thing which stood out in the recent Texas school shooting, and that was the allegations made by the mother of one of the victims. She claims her daughter was sexually harassed by the shooter for four-months, before she finally stood up to him in front of the class—embarassing him.
This new detail became the new impetus for conversations about how boys and men handle being spurned. They say hell hath no fury like women scorned, but perhaps this is not as true as many would have us believe. After all, most rapists and stalkers are not women, but men. And by most, I do not mean more than 50 percent; I mean upwards of 90.
What are we teaching our boys? Why is being told “no” such a crushing blow? Do they learn these behaviours from their fathers? Older brothers? Or is mummy the woman who never had the guts to say “no”?
For almost a year, I’ve had this blog post sitting in my queue unfinished and unpublished, but today I think I’ll add my own ten cents to the dialogue, showing that sexual harassment is a serious issue in modern society, and affects women not on occasion, but almost every month, every week, and for many, every day.
Here are ten of the worst times a man has failed to understand the meaning of the word no in my life.
1. I Will Cut You
I was sixteen and at an event at my college. As has ever been the case in my life, most of my friends were guys, and I was standing with them. We hadn’t come for the show, but to hang out, so while we were in viewing distance, we were to the back of the hall.
I was minding my own business when a guy walked over to me and poured his bottle of water down the front of the white button-up blouse I was wearing. I jumped back and asked him what the hell was wrong with him. He said, “You have nice boobs, and I just wanted to see what they looked like under a dripping wet, white shirt.”
“Really?” I said, digging in my purse for a razor I always kept handy. “Can I borrow your hand for a second?”
“Sure,” he answered.
I slashed him on the forearm and walked away.
2. Under My Skirt
I was seventeen years old and at a college party at a local club. My friends had gone to get drinks, so I was by myself, waiting. I don’t remember if I was dancing or standing, but at some point, some guy saw fit to sneak up behind me and press his groin to my backside.
I turned around and told him politely that I wasn’t interested. For good meausre, I moved, but not so far away that my friends couldn’t find me. He saw fit to move, too, and this time shoved his hand under my skirt. “I’m [insert generic name here],” he said, when I rounded on him. “We go to the same school.”
“What’s your point?” I asked him. “If you touch me again, I’ll break your fingers.” Whether from embarassment or entitlement, the anger boiled within him. But before he could try his luck, along came my friends with our drinks—once again, all guys. He saw he was outnumbered, and walked away.
3. Do you Know Who I Am?
I had only just moved to a new neighbourhood for university, and had no idea I would find myself in the middle of the ghetto until I was already living there. As one of the only lighter-skinned Blacks in the community, I stood out like red chalk on a sidewalk, and drew a lot of unwanted attention.
One day, while I was waiting on a cab for class, I heard a guy cat-calling me from across the street. I ignored him and continued to walk. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see him crossing the street and coming towards me.
“Didn’t you hear me calling you?” he demanded, blocking my path.
“I heard you.”
“Then, why didn’t you answer me?”
“I have no obligation to answer you.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, menacing, and took a step closer. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, no doubt implying that he was a member of one of the gangs, maybe even their leader.
I took out the knife my boyfriend had given me some weeks before. “Do you know who I am?” I returned.
He was so stunned that for a moment, he only stared at me, and then he started to laugh. This is probably the only instance with a happy ending. I was untouchable in the neighbourhood thereafter, under his protection. He didn’t need to be anywhere near me. Whoever he was (I still don’t know), his word was law. Even so, I moved to a better neighbourhood a month later.
4. Nice Ass
When I was 20 years old, and in university, I lived in a house on a hill not loved by cars. So, almost every evening after classes, I would get out at the foot of the hill and take the quiet walk up. One day, when I exited the cab, I noticed three thug-muffins sitting on a wall by the foot of the hill.
“Hey!” one of them called to me. “You need to smile! Why you look so miserable?” I ignored him, but he decided to follow me. When he was close enough, he reached out and grabbed my ass.
I spun around and served him a slap to the face as hard as I could. “You want to try that again?” I asked him.
He was so stunned, he backed away and kind of fell against the wall in a daze. His friends didn’t say anything, either. I was in a daze, myself. I hadn’t intended to slap him, but my body apparently, wasn’t having it today.
Kudos for reflex?
5. I’m Going to Rape You
While still living at this same neck of the woods, I was waiting on the bus to get to school one morning, when a motorcycle whizzed by me. He made some sort of cat-calling attempt, but I was on my phone and pretended not to hear. Less than a minute later, I heard the bike coming back in my direction.
“Didn’t you hear me call to you?” the man asked me.
“Yes—and?” I replied.
He narrowed his eyes at me and said, “I’m going to rape you; watch.” And then he rode off.
6. Nice Arm Rests
After college, I met this older guy who took a liking to me. One day, I mentioned a movie I wanted to see and he offered to take me. I advised him it was no date, and he said he understood and that was fine. To prove the point, I invited one of my female friends along, and all three of us went to see the movie, together.
In the theatre, she sat to my left and him to my right. When the movie started, I felt his arm around my shoulders, with his fingers hanging idly over my breasts. I moved it; he put it back. This time, the tips of his fingers were very clearly on the cleavage beneath my blouse. I moved his hand again.
“Come on, now! Don’t be like that!” he said, ordering me really, to allow him to continue to touch me as he pleased.
“If you like your hands, you will keep them to yourself,” I warned him. My friend who knows I don’t take kindly to these things (as you’ve probably noticed by now!) watched out of the corner of her eyes with a smirk on her face.
She was not disappointed. In the parking lot after the movies, I let him have it, and then her boyfriend came to pick us up and drop us home.
7. Marry Him, But Sleep With Me
Maybe less than half a year after this, I went to the club with my boyfriend-at-the-time. While we stood talking together, and later dancing, there was this guy nearby goading him on. “Yes, man!” he said. “Your future wife, that!”
My boyfriend then noticed some of his friends not too far off and excused himself to go talk to them. I assured him I was fine, and would wait where I was. He had barely taken two steps away when the guy who had been encouraging him to wife me two minutes earlier grabbed me and pulled me against him. “It’s my turn now,” he said.
I tried to pull away from him, but he wouldn’t let go, and the other men around us only watched while he dragged me further and further away from where my boyfriend had left me. As we passed the table of one of these men, I took up their bottle of beer or rum or vodka (I don’t remember) and turned around to whack the guy across the head with it.
He immediately let me go, and backed off. And can you believe, told me I was being unreasonable? Needless to say, no one bothered me for the rest of the night.
8. Pay for Easy
I met a Hungarian who, for whatever reason, was head-over-heels for me, and made it clear from before the first date that he fully intended on making me his wife one day: an assertion I paid little attention to.
On our first date, he had been mostly a gentleman, but on date two, I guess he thought he would try his luck. While we ate, he suddenly set his hands on my thigh and started to stroke it. Looking him dead in the eye, our conversation uninterrupted, I reached under the table and moved it. He smiled and seconds later, it returned. This time I reached under and threw it off. When we went to the movies afterwards, he tried the same game again, and was met with the same result.
For as long as I had known him, he had often complained that women were only ever drawn to him because of his money. So, at the end of the night, I told him, “Since you want women who don’t have boundaries about their bodies and what you do with it, keep paying for them.”
I never went out with him again.
9. Foot Fetish
When I worked in corporate, I often wore heels or flats. However, I hated walking in them, so I would often walk out to where the cabs sped by on the main road in my sandals and then change into my work shoes in the car.
One morning, after a cab picked me up, I hopped into the front, and immediately began to change from sandals to shoes. As I took the sandals off, the driver looked down at my feet. “You’re showing off, eh?” he asked me. “Such pretty feet!”
I looked up just as we almost drove into a light pole—so distracted was he by my feet. He then righted the car, and reached for a foot. I slapped his hand away and asked him if he had lost his mind.
Suddenly, he seemed to come to himself, and began to focus once more on the road. I hurriedly slipped on my shoes and put the sandals in my bag, watching with obvious unease, while he struggled to keep his eyes on the road. This is hands-down the creepiest cab ride I have ever taken.
10. Stalked Home
When I was still on my nomad journey in the U.S., I often bounced between my mom’s and my husband’s (then-boyfriend’s) apartment. When I stayed on her side of town, I would walk with her to the bus stop from her apartment complex, and then walk back.
One day, as I returned to the complex, a car pulled up in front of me and blocked my path. The two guys in the front then stuck their head out the window and started to shout “flirtatious” obscenities at me. I pretended not to hear them, walked around the car, and continued on my way.
At the stop sign just ahead, they made a left, and I made a right towards mom’s division. When I got to the parking lot just before her building, the car pulled up in front of me, again. The driver jumped out: eyes wide, temper flaring.
“Didn’t you hear me holler at you?” he said. “Why you gonna play me like that? You ain’t gonna answer me, shawty?”
Again, I pretended not to hear him, and kept on walking. But rather than go home, I took a deliberate wrong turn and went to a different division. I waited for a few minutes, and when I was sure he was gone, I cut around the back of the building, and crept up the stairs to the door.
For the men especially who read this, do make note of how many times women are assaulted throughout our lives. It’s not an occasional occurence for a rare few. I didn’t say the ten times I was assaulted; I said ten of—and it took a lot of time to decide which ten I would use.
As bad as these instances are, there are at least three so horrific I will never post them online. One saw me dragged to a police station with tears in my eyes at nine years old. The other launched me into a month-long depression where I practically fell off the face of the Earth. And the third, left me on an angry rampage for a year, making intimacy with others almost impossible.
Naturally, I am a fighter, as my grandmother was a fighter. I do not come from a line of women who bow to men’s wishes and efforts at submission. But what of all the women who were not raised by fighting women, like I was? What are their everyday realities? What are their endings like, in these scenarios?
I know this is a sensative topic for many of us, but as I’ve rambled off ten of my worst, will you share yours with me in the comments? Men need to better understand the world they have created for women (their mothers, daughters, sisters, wives) to live in, and rein in their bad apples, before it spoils the whole lot for the rest of us.
Also men, do not fail to note that in none of these instances did another man step up in my defence. Not one.
We don’t all have the luxury of strong women who set an example for us, so why not see it at work in fiction? From the nonchalant and unfeeling to the emotional and intense, strong women follow a wide and varying spectrum. We need not always be painted as men to be strong. See women like these at work by pre-ordering my upcoming novel via purchase of any of these items. Thanks for taking the time to read my rambles!