Small transgressions, consent and rape culture

I am writing this in a bit of a huff, and at a medical conference, where I was hoping to be free of predation, free to focus on what I am trying to learn, but I just want to make it very clear that (and I think I can speak for other women)…

I am tired of being treated like a sexual prospect.

I realize that many men cast a dating net like they are fishing at sea, willing to catch and throw back anything that swims past, hoping they might catch something meaty that will satisfy their appetite for a bit.

I am not one of those fish.

I realize many men think it’s innocent to offer a strange woman a drink without first knowing her name, or to ask a lone woman’s name at a bar without first introducing himself, as if by going alone to a restaurant and sitting at the bar is an invitation to intrusion.

It’s not.

I realize many men think it’s okay to put their arm across the back of a woman’s chair at a bar after talking for a bit, despite not knowing her name, and likely because she started talking to someone across from you.

It’s not.

Some men think it’s okay to send a Facebook message to a female stranger (friend of a friend), claiming to be interested in her passion and claiming to have seen her in person, when in fact they are just trying to find out if she is available (IOW not dating someone).

It’s not.

I don’t think I have to go into detail about these 3 incidents, one on each day I have been in Charleston for a medical conference, for people to understand the gist of what was happening.

Perhaps I SHOULD explain though, for those who can’t see how incredibly rude, shallow, entitled, desperate and insensitive these actions are. Yes, these are strong words, and I will stand by them, because I have had a lifetime of dealing with these actions, and I feel myself defensive of body, mind and spirit just existing in the world because of persistent daily predation. I cannot be in public either physically or virtually without experiencing it. That could explain why I have spent so much time at home the past year.

*********Incident 1:

I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina Wednesday evening and took a nice walk to check out the area. Somehow, I happened upon a very cool little place called “5 Church” on Market St. I was lulled in by the music, originally thought it was actually a church, until I saw the dinner table outside. I walked inside, and was washed over with the soothing music of a thin bearded man playing guitar and a woman playing what seemed like a bass cello (don’t judge me for not knowing what it was). I am no expert in music, but I do know it was sublime. 5-church-charleston_catchlightstudio-7165-1024x683

And time slowed down, as I paused to take in the soft warm lights, the long table filling the entire middle of the room, angel wings disguised as lights hanging over the bar, and above them a cathedral ceiling full of white writing on a black background. On the right side, the largest words were “There Is Only We,” one word per panel, and on the left side “The Art of War,” and in between what must have been a decent portion of The Art of War.

A woman asked me if I would like a table, and I chose the bar because I didn’t want to take up an entire table, and I wanted to watch the musicians. I picked a chair, as I usually do, that had at least one empty chair to each side of me. This is because I am wary of men in public places. 

I sat and looked around the place, passing over the head and face of the man to my left so that he would not think I was interested in engaging, because I wasn’t.  I turned my back to him and settled my attention on the musicians at the front of restaurant, feeling the music waft through my body. I was in heaven.

My neighbor let me be for a bit, but it wasn’t long before he asked from behind if he could buy me a drink! I told him “Thank you, but no.” He tried to cover by saying that the establishment gives him free drinks, so he feels the need to pay it forward. I nodded unbelieving and turned back around to watch the musicians. Perhaps that was supposed to make him appear special? That I should care and treat him differently because the employees there do? It was certainly a comment meant to lend him credence. I really did want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I always do. I want to believe that people aren’t creepers.

Needless to say, he gradually found more and more ways to work his way into my silence. We did engage in a tad bit of conversation, and then other people came in, at which point he took the opportunity to move to the seat next to me, asking after he was in the seat if it was okay. What was I going to say? I didn’t want him there, but it would have caused a scene to say so. This slight but persistent transgression is how they work their way into your space.

He then asked my name, to which I bristled, cocked and turned my head, making sure not to turn my body toward him and fired off, “What’s yours?” and I forget his reaction. It was too lame to remember. I won’t go over the entire interaction, but over the course of the interminable destruction of my sense of peace, he insinuated things like “in case you fall in love with me” and any number of seemingly joking references to the possibility of ME falling for HIM. Whoa Nelly! Thank GOD he didn’t touch me. I might have slapped him at that point.

Now, he was a pretty meek, unattractive older man, so my mind played awful tricks on me, wondering if perhaps he was being facetious, and I should laugh with him at his expense. I wondered if I should be less judgemental. I alternately wondered how on earth how I was going to tell him he was freaking me out (or that I was freaked out in the more NVC way of stating his), or trying to remember how often I had been in a similar position, or wondering if this really was as wrong as it felt to my mood, my body, my sense of safety in the world. YES!

Why is it wrong you ask?

  1. Because my body tells me so.
  2. Because it’s not flattering to be offered a drink when you are a lone female.
  3. Because it’s not flattering to be asked your name before someone knows anything other than your outward sex and appearance.
  4. Because I did not express interest in hanging out with this man, although I “let” him sit next to me in a public space. (in today’s society, that makes it my fault somehow for the transgression….)
  5. Because it assumes I have interest in engaging
  6. Because he never asked if I wanted to talk with him.

I was hard-pressed to figure out a way to tell this man that I didn’t want to talk to him, that I wanted him to leave me alone, that even though I was replying to him, I was not interested, that his advances and insinuations were not a compliment and were insulting. We live in a society where for me to be direct and state my disinterest directly would have caused a scene and would have become even more uncomfortable.

I think men know this and keep pushing on.

They have the ammo of my potential “blown up” reaction in their pocket, with the slingshot judgement of Bitch to throw out if I dare express how disinterested I am.

We live in a society where my clear body language of my back to his face was not clear enough, and was not respected. We live in a society where a lone female is viewed as a target, a sexual prospect. It sickens me. He even bragged about his multiple properties, and unabashedly offered for me to stay at his place in Asheville, and spoke about his 7 year old son, and after I mention being a single mom for my daughter’s life, he spit out that he is a single dad. I didn’t challenge him by asking where his son was on this Wednesday night as he sat drinking at the bar a block from his home, or why his most recent photo was of his son at 4.

He offered to be a tour guide, and give me his number I didn’t know how to say that I would never call it. Perhaps I figured I would let him think his ploy worked somehow, leaving the potential that I would override my obvious discomfort, talk myself out of that and into calling him. My bad, totally. I never learned the skills of being direct. I am just now learning them. Needless to say, after entering this restaurant in soul awe, I left feeling violated, uncomfortable, and deflated.

*********Incident 2:

The next night, I walked a long time along King Street, checking out the sites and atmosphere, looking for the place that felt right, had the right balance of males and females, good food, and a non-predatory atmosphere. I finally found what felt comfortable after probably a mile of enjoyable adventuring at Macintosh. Again, I sat at the bar, where I felt very comfortable with one large seat on either side of me. Excited to finally get some dinner, I studied the one page menu, and within 2 minutes, I had a blonde guy to my left, and a large suit to my right. I sat upright and far forward enough to make it clear that I was not there to be picked up on, happy to be on my own. I was uncomfortable enough that I considered leaving, but I relaxed a bit when it seemed clear that the guy to my left was too into his computer to care, and the guy to my right did not make the expected approach or awkward comment. I kept my gaze very much forward so as not to engage. macintosh_charleston__0001_1.5-1160x619

When the suit did finally engage, it was pleasant enough and he didn’t ask personal questions or make comments that made me feel uncomfortable. He had a wedding ring on his pudgy hand, which I know well means about nothing. I think people who travel a lot are desperate for connection, understandably so. I also am jaded, because most of the men that have expressed interest in me while travelling were married. Everything was fine, and we chatted about random things while I chowed one of the most amazing winter vegetable plates ever, and he downed at least 3 whiskeys on the rocks. Somehow, I started to get the sense he was saving his appetite.

He asked how old my daughter is. I told him 19. He looked bewildered and then gave me the extremely awkward up and down, and said he didn’t believe me. He told me I was beautiful. I said, “Thank you.” And then the cute younger guy showed up to suit’s right. We each engaged him in conversation, but as soon as I held an individual conversation with cute guy, I noticed suit’s arm go across the back of my chair. It was clearly a territorial move, or was I “overreacting”? Again, I felt decidedly uncomfortable, sat up very straight and forward away from the back of my chair, and the hand went back  to his lap. This happened at least 3 more times over the span of 10 minutes or so. The cute guy mentioned music upstairs, and suit asked if I was going with them. I looked him directly in the eye and said, “No.” I wanted it to be clear that IF I went anywhere, I was going with myself.  He left within a few minutes of that.

Why was it wrong?

  1. Because my body told me so
  2. Because you don’t just put your arm across anyone’s chair
  3. I didn’t give my consent for that type of closeness

It wasn’t a huge transgression, but it was a boundary tester, and unfortunately, I was torn because it was small enough, but certainly uncomfortable enough to confuse the hell out of me in figuring out how to deal with it.

Afterward, I mentioned it to the cute guy, and he asked nonchalantly if I told him it made me uncomfortable, and I told him no, I didn’t know how. It’s very strange when you have decent conversation with a stranger, no intention or acknowledgement of any attraction, and you don’t want to “overreact.” My, how that worry has been drilled into my consciousness, my entire being.

Somehow, I have been programmed to not rock the boat, to not overreact, to therefore not set boundaries early, and often. Meanwhile, small transgressions are being “allowed”, and meanwhile we are feeling uncomfortable, and before long we end up in a situation way, way over our heads. This, my friend, is how date rape happens. How rape happens. How men rape women and let the society’s programming convince themselves it’s somehow their fault. Because they should have said something, right? Yes, if they had been taught how, or that it was okay.

You know what happens to the girl who speaks up in movies, right? Yep, she gets bullied into submission, either through ridicule or actual physical violence.

*********Incident 3:

I received a random Facebook instant message from a non-friend three days ago. He said,

Amy, tell me about your fundraiser for [your daughter]. I just noticed you were posting about it. I’ve been off Facebook for a while now….and Hi BTW! Last time I saw you was at L’s I think. How ya doin?’

Innocent enough, I suppose, except that

  1. I knew deep down he was beating around the bush to get my response
  2. I could sense he had an entirely alternative agenda
  3. He didn’t live in town
  4. His profile advertised single (damn straight I checked this out before replying)
  5. I had only been to L’s house twice, and I am pretty sure he wasn’t there
  6. He was too lazy (or not actually interested) to read the flipping fundraiser to even know it was my daughter, or he would have known all that it was about.

I battled responding, and then let the worry of “overreacting” get the better of me. Surely he means well, Amy. He’s not a creeper like the rest.

‘Hi Chris. Hopefully you read about the fundraiser on the website. It’s for my daughter’s college tuition for Berklee music school. I have not been to L’s often. Twice I think.

I should have added that I could feel the creep factor strong, but he seemed nice enough, right? 

Today, while in session at the medical conference, I get a ping back, and it’s him.

I haven’t been FB much at all lately. So didn’t read much {IOW he didn’t actually give a shit}. Are you dating? Just curious.’

Truly, am I supposed to be flattered that you express fake interest in the most important person and event in my life right now, and feign a connection through someone I like and respect, in order to weasel your way to my response so that you can treat me like an object out for grabs?

I know, I know, he was being nice, right?


It was innocent enough, right?


He lied to get my response, to open the door enough, to test the boundary just enough to see if I was a Sexual Prospect.

I battled for about 3 minutes how I would respond. I asked myself how I could not come across as a bitch, was I overreacting, how could I be clear without making any potential future occurrence in our small town less than excruciatingly awkward, and then I did the only thing that felt right. I set a very clear boundary.

‘I am not interested in dating you.’

‘Sure, thank you. I hope that didn’t offend you. Take care.’

‘It did.’

Not only did I set a boundary, I let him know that I was, indeed, offended.

This is big for me. This was monumental for this 43-year-old fiercely independent woman. Because we are programmed to be scared of setting our personal boundaries, to honor our bodies, to justify away all the transgressions of our humanity, both within and without. It was small for some, but huge for me.

Why was it wrong?

  1. Because my body told me so
  2. Because falsehoods hurt everyone
  3. Because I am a human at the end of that instant messenger
  4. Because I am not on a dating site. Just because you are looking for that does not make it okay to assume I am.

He apologized, and this is where the self-doubt comes in. Was I too harsh? Should I not have told him that it did, indeed, offend me? And then I remembered all the times my boundaries have been crossed, and all the times I turned against my intuition, and that it led me down many a dark path.

And I have compassion for the men that truly don’t understand how this behavior perpetuates our current rape culture. I am not even going into the many subtleties here. And I am only speaking to male/female interaction because this is my personal experience. In no way do I claim that it’s the only time this happens. But, I am not going into that.

I am not here to justify my experience according to all the social norms and political correctness flying around out there. That is what got me, and so many millions of women in the world, here, in this predicament. I am sharing this to get it out of me, to learn how to (no matter how awkward it may come out) express my boundaries, be honest about my confusion, hopefully name and voice something that other women (people for that matter) experience as well.

In re-reading this post, I see a lack of NVC skills and practices, but a part of NVC tenet is to understand that someone’s reaction is theirs, right? So, I have enough faith in whomever reads this to understand that I have my stories that are woven in here. Judge all you want. You have not lived my life, my experience of being preyed on, if you judge.

And if you understand what I share, if some part of you resonates with this, trust it.

Trust that your body knows best.

Trust you are not overreacting when you honor your boundaries and expect that of others. 

Trust you deserve utmost respect.