“Don’t get raped” he said as his hands reached for my face. The way he tried to sensually caress my cheek was similar to the way main characters kiss in Disney Princess movies. The prize. The accomplishment. The passion. Except he was a total stranger and he had been following me around the party for about five minutes.
I arrived at this party looking for a way to escape the many evils I had come to expect at frat parties. The harassment. The devaluation of my existence apart from my boobs and ass. The anger if I refused to push my ass up against a random male crotch and dance as if I got the same amount of sexual stimulation that he did. I arrived at this party because it was small, because I thought I would be surrounded by a majority of people I would know or at least feel comfortable around. Instead, a stranger followed me and passionately advised me “don’t get raped.”
While the word stranger might convey an older man or a person with an eery appearance; this stranger was a college student my age wearing a pokemon hat for the Halloween theme. He had been hovering around me for a few minutes before he decided to pull my friend and I aside to advise us “not to get raped.” We were initially confused as to why he thought this subject an appropriate way to introduce himself, but when our eyebrows unfurled, the only feeling left was anger.
There are many things wrong with telling someone “don’t get raped.” First, it is implying that a victim of rape has any control over the fact that he or she has gotten raped. Second, it is suggesting that something about the way we dress or act, maybe our gender, makes us more susceptible to getting raped and therefore it is our responsibility to consciously avoid such a situation at all costs. Thirdly, as many women and men have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lives, casually bringing up the subject of rape in a dark backyard party setting can immediately revive traumatic events and the emotions associated with such pain. As he told us “don’t get raped” it seemed like a threat. I wondered, “Don’t get raped by who? You?”
As we stepped away from him to avoid further confrontation he insisted on approaching me. He began to massage my shoulders while telling me “don’t get raped, don’t get raped.” I ran to the other side of my circle of friends to escape this unwanted touching and he followed me. He moved his hand up to my cheek and looked me in the eyes saying “don’t get raped.” Because I have been socialized to avoid conflict rather than confront it, my instinct was to keep running away from him until he stopped, but then I realized that I cannot live my life in fear of monsters. The monsters who prey on people when they think a mask of darkness, a mask of “friendship” or “intimate relationship,” or a literal mask covers and vindicates their actions. For the first time in my life, I took an active stance and defended my right to exist without fear of or living with harassment.
I looked around me and was empowered by the people standing next to me. My friends. A select group of people who have come to understand the many traumatic experiences women face in everyday life and what it means to be empowered defenders of the oppressed. A group of people who I knew would back me up and would not be scared to defend the stereotypical “emotional or illogical” woman fighting back against an “imaginary” ill.
I stood my ground and pushed his hands away from me yelling “Don’t fucking touch me! Get away from me. You need to leave and NOT touch me!” He looked down at me completely surprised and almost amazed that these forceful words had left my mouth. While he questioned me with “What!?” I reiterated my previous statement and told him he needed to get away from me. Apparently this was the final insult for him. Instead of leaving he faced me and began to shake his arms repeatedly screaming “SLUT BITCH WHORE MOTHERFUCKER CUNT!” The words of violence, shame, inferiority, disgust, subordination, and victimization rained down on me; but surprisingly I did not feel a thing. I was able to laugh, look in his eyes, and tell him that he might as well keep the words coming because I could not wait to write about him later.
Sensing an immediate threat, my bestfriend ran and threw her entire drink all over him to startle him. As it hit him in the face, I was able to run behind a protective barrier of my friends who informed him that there was no way he would be able to harm me. With my whole body shaking due to the risk I just took, I watched as he yelled at my male friends saying “WHAT? YOU’RE JUST GOING TO STAND UP FOR YOUR BITCH?” Knowing that some kind of socialized instinct made me want to cower while my male friends handled a presumably more “physical threat,” I had to make the conscious decision to re-involve myself and claim the right to speak over the well-being of my own body.
With the support and protection of my friends, my best friend and I went back to him and told him exactly why he deserved to have a drink thrown at him. We explained that the response was not due to inebriation or an overreactive emotional woman; but due to the fact that he choose to sexually harass me while “helpfully” admonishing me to avoid getting raped. He had overstepped the boundaries of consent when he put his hands on me. He chose to continue this intrusion of space by placing his hands on my face and eventually screaming the worst words he knew to describe a woman who stands up for herself.
While he could not comprehend women speaking for themselves, he looked at my male friend, saying “What are they talking about? I didn’t say rape, did I?” Noticing this attempt at shifting the power towards a male-oriented and supposedly more “logical” dialogue; I made sure that he knew he was talking to only me. I knew what he said and what he was doing. I did not need a male to vindicate or disqualify my experience.
Making direct eye-contact with a stranger who harassed me and telling him to leave for the final time, has been one of the most empowering experiences in my life. Watching him walk away, defeated; my voice gained an authority that I rarely feel comfortable claiming in situations where I feel threatened or mistreated.
Looking in the blue eyes of a male college student wearing a pokemon hat, I found nothing but his weakness, and in this weakness; my power.