May 1, 2015

Consent, Bar Culture, and Victim-Blaming

[Content Note: non-consensual touching, victim-blaming, misogynistic slurs]
When I am drinking, I am quick to smile. I suppose this trait was the catalyst for the proceeding events. I don’t remember how I got to talking to a tall man with sharp features and long eyelashes. Maybe we talked about how the music at the night club was not our taste. Regardless, I somehow ended up being encouraged by this man to slap his friend’s bottom who was standing in front of me. I cannot imagine what in me thought it would be a good idea to touch another person without their clear consent, but, regrettably I quickly tapped my hand against the man’s back pocket. We laughed, including the man who I had touched, yet I immediately felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. That was odd, I thought to myself, and decided not to speak to either man for the rest of the evening.

Time went by and I had nearly forgotten about the awkward interaction. Gin and tonic in hand, I was chatting with my close friend, Jennifer*. Our conversation however, was interrupted by a powerful slap across my bottom. A sharp pain immediately covered the lower half of my body. I turned to see the man  with the sharp features and long eyelashes grinning from ear to ear, “Come on, you like it”, he nearly yelled over the music.

Often labeled as the “assertive one” in my group of friends, I couldn’t fathom an immediate response.

Isn’t that always the way? The witty and stinging comebacks seen in movies don’t fly off the tongue so easily in real life. Instead, my face become red as the stinging turned to a throb where his hand had hit. I felt vulnerable, weak and stupid. I immediately blamed myself. I felt violated. I stood stunned in front of Jennifer. We moved on quickly, barely discussing the incident; it was not a big deal. Except that a small deal would not be lingering on my skin and blurring my vision as tears filled my eyes. I took a sip of my drink, and ignored the discomfort.

Again, time went on, the pain was fading and my comfort in my own skin returned. Dancing with Jennifer and her boyfriend, I was smiling again. As quickly as I had become comfortable, I caught the eyes of the man who had hit me and directed at him the darkest stare I could muster. He walked over grinning. “What’s the matter baby?” he said. Somehow, my assertive nature came up in my throat and I asked “What makes you think you can touch a woman like that?” I must add that my middle finger was in front of his face at this time, poised as you would imagine it to be. I remember some mumbling about “feminist bullshit” and the words “bitch” and “cunt” thrown in there, as he walked away. I felt a flood of relief. I felt safe with my friends behind me and convinced myself he would not return.

The next morning, I told my family about what had happened. We remembered other instances where men did or said derogatory and rude things in bars to myself and my friends. “You liked it” a family member proclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. I struggled with this thought as I reflected upon the sharp pain that had made its way across my body. The struggle was complicated with my feelings of self-blame. Was it only fair that this man slap me, when I had gently tapped my hand across his own friend’s bottom? Does non-consensual touching make right a painful slap and patronizing interaction? I still struggle with these questions.

Society teaches women and girls that their validation as loveable human beings derives from their ability to attract male attention. Was I supposed to like it, as my family member said? Was the brief attention I received from this man worth the power he dominated over me for a brief, painful, second? Was this hitting supposed to be flattering? Or was I dealing with someone who had consumed the dogma of pick up artists? These questions likely reflect experiences of other woman who are catcalled, groped, and followed home.

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