So, I’m standing in the pub having a drink and minding my own business, and one of my dearest friends is standing right next to me doing likewise, when she’s suddenly sexually assaulted (or subjected to high-level harassment and intimidation, I’m not interested in arguing the toss) by a man she doesn’t know and to whom she’s been introduced about a minute earlier. By me. For fuck’s sake.
The man is someone I know slightly; I’ve met him, socially, about four or five times. He’s never given any indication of being anything other than a nice guy. No, make that Nice Guy™. He just walked up to her with no warning and bearhugged her. And then didn’t let go.
Funny how a bearhug can go from slightly inappropriate to downright creepy in ten seconds or so. Thirty seconds to a minute later it’s getting really scary.
Then he whispered in her ear that he’d like a blow job. And then once she shook him off, he stalked her, creepily, until oh-so-politely chucked out by the bar staff.
Now I know that according to Helen Garner, in this situation I’m supposed to just come down on his foot, hard, with a spiked heel or something. (Hi-yaaaa! optional). Unfortunately, not only was I not wearing sharp high heels, but my reaction to this egregious behaviour was my usual: having brought up since birth to be polite, to be nice, incidents like these leave me paralysed, with my brain throwing out its customary 404 error message: This is not fucking happening!?
I didn’t hear the blow job bit, so I’d like to think that if I had that would have jolted me out of my social rictus and prompted me to action. Incidents like these remind me of Germaine Greer’s famous quotation, “women don’t realize how much men hate them.”
You know, even spending hours as I do in the threads of feminist blogs, I constantly forget just how powerful white male privilege still is, once I get back out into the world of my friends and family and workmates. Well, that’s not to say I don’t note it, but I lose the gut sense of it. He didn’t think to ask before touching, because in his drunken state she had become just like a book in a shelf he was welcome to take out and browse, or a chocolate in a box, instead of a human being like himself. That’s the true meaning of that old sixties word, objectification. Objectification in action.
Can you imagine– I’m talking to a hypothetical female reader here, I guess– being so engorged with privilege and dominance that you’d think you had permission to wrap your arms around a complete stranger and whisper lewd comments in their ear? Me neither.
If you think the personal isn’t political, I’m sorry, you’re dreaming. “…[T]he harm of sexual harassment as a harm to women’s citizenship or personhood….We are degraded … when our ‘sex’ is defined, symbolised and treated as antithetical to equal personhood and citizenship.” I’ll also mention that from the little I know about this man, he chooses to portray himself as fully conversant with and sympathetic to the goals of feminism. For which all the more shame on him. It just reinforces what the world has tried to teach me, with so little success: Trust nobody!
I think another ingredient in my state of shock was the fact that my friend and I are over forty, and so we usually fly under the sexual predators’ radar. It’s been a while since I worried about this sort of thing happening to me or my friends. But it brought back the memory that yes, when we were in our teens and twenties and even thirties, we had to put up with this kind of low-level menace all the fucking time. Maybe I lost a lot of my useful anger. Maybe I needed a recharge.
The next day, I rediscovered the wonderful Crimitism, who very much gets it, and read through the comment thread on the YouTube page for the Girls Rock! documentary trailer. It’s disheartening. We all know these attitudes are as strong as ever and there’s still a cohort of boys growing up in the FHM style of relating to women.
Laura has had a different kind of scary brush with bizarro man, too. Different behaviour, same idea: entitlement, entitlement, entitlement. I wish I’d had the guts to respond in the way she did.