When taking to social media to support the #metoo campaign I didn’t even have the courage to flat out write #metoo.
I wrote this instead:
“Re the #MeToo campaign — surely it would be rarer to meet a woman who hadn’t been sexually harassed/assaulted than not? If this statement shocks you, then it should. It’s shocking.”
I talked around the issue.
Because it seemed too daunting to out myself as a survivor of sexual misconduct.
We are too afraid to speak out
What does that say about how afraid we are of being alienated by society for being “tainted”, “deserving of it” or for being labelled — god forbid — “drama queens”?
Especially when not all encounters are as “cut and dry” as:
“He forced himself on me. I said “stop”, was overpowered, and when he left I was reduced to a puddle of blood, snot and tears”.
What about the “grey areas” that we don’t really talk about for fear of being misunderstood? After all, the facts seem confusing.
Especially when the facts are confusing
Take this scenario for example:
A girl is 17 years old and she attends post-high school education party week.
One night, she is out with her friends. An older guy who is family friends with one of the crew members joins them.
He takes a fancy to this girl.
She has a boyfriend who is partying at a totally different city. They had been dating some 3 months. In hindsight it wasn’t serious — they were kids — but they were inexperienced, and so, in her mind at least, they were “going steady”.
The older guy pursues the girl. He wants to hook up with her. She furrows her brow and says “No, thanks. I have a boyfriend”. Thinking that would be the end of it.
You’d expect the reaction to be one of gracious acceptance, right? She was after all, spoken for. But, no. This rejection serves only to inspire his determination. He starts to pester the girl for a kiss.
But hang on — “pester”? That can’t be right. You’re saying this was after she already said “no” to him?
He pesters her AFTER she already says “no” to him. There were witnesses by the way. All her friends were there. Some of his too.
Is sexual harassment just all part of the game?
Astonishingly, this behaviour goes on for ages. Hours. Eons, it seemed, in the end. It’s getting very early into the morning. She is tired.
She tries to deflect by telling him he could chase literally any other of the single girls in their group.
“But I want you”.
Awwwww. That old chestnut.
But this young girl is determined not to compromise her relationship. She says — for the umpteenth time — “no”. It yields no results.
He pesters her, and pesters her, and pesters her. By now he has taken to following her around. It is an exhausting level of persistence.
She has, after all, repeatedly said “no”.
Remember — this is all unfolding in front of her friends. Some of the guys in the crew eventually tried to step in and dissuade the older guy. They were young. They were friends with him. They didn’t get physical. They thought she could stand up for herself. Which she did. For hours. And yet, the persistent older guy wasn’t deterred.
Eventually, feeling trapped by the circumstances — she is really very tired and just wants to go to sleep — she gives up. “Ok, fine”, she says, “you can kiss me”.
And they make out — no sex (no way!) — and then the next day, guess what?
He blanks her.
And slut-shames her for cheating on her boyfriend and makes it out like she was positively begging for it.
You’ve gotta be joking?
No. I’m not.
What went on here?
Now, is this sexual harassment? Or is it consent? She did after all say “ok, fine”, right? Surely that’s consent?!
Or is it coercion, harassment, and a breach of personal space?!
What do I mean by that?
Let’s look at the whole picture:
- He followed her closely all night. She tried to leave. He kept following her and wouldn’t let her out of his sight. So she stayed.
- All her friends were at this place. If she left, she would be going home her own. She was worried he would follow her back to her room. Who knows what could happen then.
- We are talking about good kids. Not even the “slutty” group. They did all the nerdy subjects. Got good grades. Came from good families. They weren’t known for causing trouble.
- He was older and well-liked. Well trusted.
- She was known for being able to take care of herself.
- Everyone is inexperienced. They see what is going on, but don’t want to upset the apple-cart. They hope it will sort itself out without anyone having to lose friendships or face — they are still figuring out their place in the world after all. No-one wants to lose the support of the group by saying something that will embarrass the well-liked, well-trusted, older guy.
- She said “no” repeatedly. And — after seeing no other alternative to make him go away — she caved.
Was it a “yes” with unambiguous intent? Or was it a desperate strategy to finally get out of a very uncomfortable situation?
To what extent are we willing to call out the sexual misconduct in this scenario?
Was she in the wrong to eventually give up under those conditions?
Was he reasonable to pursue her in the face of rejection?
How many “no’s” does it take for consent to be denied? One? Five? Twelve? More?
Is this simply a case of a young man’s dogged determination — a virtue we hold up in our society — or a flat out violation of clear boundaries expressed, repeatedly?
For her to achieve the most physically safe outcome under the circumstances, not only did she kiss a guy she repeatedly rejected, it was at the secondary cost of betraying her then-boyfriend. She bears both burdens alone, but at least she is here and she is safe.
It took a Herculean amount of effort to say “no” repeatedly for all those hours at night, under the influence of alcohol, as an inexperienced girl.
But in the end, survival instincts won and she said “Ok, fine” because it seemed like the best strategy to make him go away. To make the pestering stop.
There are some of you nodding your heads. You’ve been there.
This could be any woman.
Think about this girl for a minute.
Who is she?
Could this be your daughter who will be going to “schoolies” in December this year? Is it your cousin? Your niece? Your friend? Your sister?
Or was this you? A few decades ago? A few years go? Last weekend?
Was it your wife, girlfriend or mother, once upon a time?
Shockingly, this is just a relatively benign example of sexual harassment. So benign that incidences like this happen all the time and all involved might not even think anything was wrong.
We are led to believe the “chase” is all part of the game: “Oh well. Sometimes you get pestered into kissing someone you don’t want to. Sorry, you got dud cards. Better luck next time.”
But this isn’t benign. And no-one should have to put up with unwanted advances.
Lessons to learn from this
Whether it’s a kiss pestered out of a girl late at night, a stranger’s hand up your skirt as you’re walking through a nightclub, a violent rape in a marriage or a demand to massage a powerful man in his hotel suite to get to the next round of interviews — these encounters are not ok.
And for the love of god you naggers who are reading this – “no” means “no” and harassing your way into a “yes” by putting someone under duress is actually still a “no” too.
You don’t have to be a genius to realize that the girl in the story is me, 17 years ago.
I was a minor, he wasn’t, and that whole thing went down in a big fat vault of secrets in my brain I called: “Pretend it never happened and no-one will think less of you”.
TL; DR — Please get actual consent — or please don’t touch.
I hope this stimulates conversation — and it should be a conversation, not a show down.
We need to better understand consent and we need to be better at speaking up.
And with this post, I’m trying to inquire more into these complex issues too.