Wednesday, September 19, 2018

No Means No

I had an awful experience weeks ago that I have not been able to get out of my mind. It is an occurrence that is, sadly, fairly common to me, but something I rarely talk about.

I went to a Chris Stapleton concert with 3 of my amazing girlfriends. We had great seats right up front. As soon as we got to our seats, the man directly in front of me turned and apologized for being so tall and obstructing my view.

"Eh, no biggie."

And it was all downhill from there.

He turned back around, "I like your shirt, what does it say?"

"I really like your braids... very cute."

"I love your glasses. You look great in those. Where did you get them."

Each compliment I smiled dutifully and then turned back to conversation with my friends. I thought it was the good universal hint of physically turning away from someone to let them know you are shutting down the conversation.

It didn't work.

He persisted.

And, if he was not directly trying to speak to me, he was simply turned with his back to the performer, staring at me. Mind you, he is two feet or less from me. As you can imagine, this makes a person very uncomfortable.

"You should really go out with me sometime. I am a fun guy. I live in Boston, its a fun city."

"No thank you."

"You don't like the city? It's not that scary. I will take care of you. You know I have been watching you since before you even came in here?"

At one point my friend kindly interjects, "She is not interested. She said no."

He persists.

I think I spent an hour of politely declining. Some might say, "Why not tell him to go to hell?"

If you ask that question you are most likely a man and most likely not a sexual predator. When I was younger and had a much less acute sense of self preservation, I would have said that. And did. Many times.

That's a big mistake.

"OK, you stuck-up bitch. You think you are better than me?" This is where the uncomfortable situation turns from bad to worse: when you attack a predators ego and his power. Most woman know that switch. You see it first in their eyes. You see that fire is lit after you defy them. It will make your heart stop and your stomach leap.

So I took another route which I find so deflating, "I have a boyfriend." I hate trying to use this as my "no". I hate that I am now asking this man to respect my boyfriend and the fact that he has laid claim to me. I want this man to respect my no.

No matter, that doesn't work either. It usually doesn't when you are engaging with a predator.

"So? I don't care."

He persisted.

Finally, as the encore was beginning and we had spent two hours at this, I clasped my hands together in a sort of prayer and said, "Pleasssse. I really like Chris Stapleton and I really want to enjoy this. I came here to hang with my friends and enjoy his show and their company."

He smiled at me, he leaned into my ear so I could feel his hot breath, "Ok. For now. But I am VERY persistent and I ALWAYS get my way." He turned away.

The goosebumps came. My throat started to close. I stop watching the show and started looking around to plan my escape from the venue. In leaving, you have to walk through wooded areas to your car. I could not have him follow me. I planned my route. I would dart out, take a left into the bathrooms where I know there is an attendant and I know she has a radio if he happened to follow me. I would wait and text my friends and tell them where to meet me after I felt the coast was clear. We would walk the route I knew back to the car the passed through the least amount of wooded areas.

How does my thought process take me so immediately to such an intricate escape plan? Because this is not new to me. This is not new to any woman. This is how we live our lives. This happens to me at my place of employment, in a bar, in a park playing with my kids.

The next day I could not get this incident out of my head. I kept replaying it and practicing different things I might have said. I wondered why this night in particular was bothering me so intensely.

And it hit me... I had dropped my 18-year-old daughter off at college for her first day that very morning. The anxiety was creeping in as I knew this could be her. This will be her. I can't even stop this from happening to me as a shrewd 42-year old woman, and now my child has been left to the wolves. I have three daughters who will face these circumstances over and over again and will be made to endure the same anxiety I do as I walk down a quiet street or sit on a park bench or attend a concert at my favorite venue.

1 in 4 women WILL be sexually assaulted in college.

So to the people who wonder why we make such a big deal of one quick drunken incident of a Supreme Court nominee from 30 years ago: it's a culmination of all the instances together of all the men in all the towns over all the years that means my daughters are not safe to exist. They can not freely walk down a dimly lit street. They can not walk to their car after work. They can not go for a quiet hike in the woods. They can not attend a concert in a crowded auditorium. The can not sit alone in a secluded office in their workplace. They can not do these things without the anxiety that accompanies a woman who has spent the entirety of her life in fear of the physical and psychological power men have been allowed to exercise over them.

He persists.

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