The first draft of this post was much more apologetic, and I’m not even sure why. I haven’t lied, and I don’t think I’ve unfairly vilified anyone, and, in any case, I haven’t mentioned anyone by name. These are my feelings and experiences, and I have the right to share them. There is really nothing for me to be sorry for.
And yet that doesn’t change the fact that I found myself trying to justify why I even need to write these things down. It says something about our culture, I think, that I’ve second-guessed these words more than any others I can remember writing.
It would be untrue to say that I’m not sad and angry and scared, but more than that, I’m just plain tired—tired of pretending these things didn’t happen the way they did, or that they didn’t happen at all, or that they weren’t a big deal when I do talk about them.
So here are three things that happened my last semester of college:
1) A guy came to a party I threw and harassed me, and several other girls, to the point where I ended the party early so my friends could kick him out.
It wasn’t like he was some random stranger. We had a few mutual friends and I vaguely remembered hanging out with him once or twice freshman year, so when we got to talking after one of the school plays, it didn’t seem weird or unsafe to invite him to the like-totally-awesome ’80s-themed party I was having that weekend.
On the night of the party, he showed up early in the evening, got pretty drunk pretty quick, and promptly started invading the personal space of every girl he talked to. He would get too close to their faces, touch their hair and shoulders while they talked, and try to put his arm around them at every opportune moment. I wish I had been paying more attention because, if I had, I would have noticed that something was up even though none of my friends directly asked me to make him leave. As girls, we’re trained to smile uncomfortably and move away when possible and brush off subsequent questions of concern with oh no, it’s a little awkward but it’s fine, instead of outright saying, “Yes, actually, this guy is bothering me and it would be great if you could tell him to get out.”
But nobody said that, and I was a little too drunk and a little too focused on myself to really register what was happening, even though it was happening right in front of me. As the host of the party, it was my responsibility to make sure my friends were safe and having a good time, and I take a good portion of the blame for any discomfort he caused to the other girls at the party. It’s been two years and I’m still mad at myself for not doing anything earlier.
After a while, he turned his attention on me. He started following me everywhere—to the porch, to the kitchen, to the living room, even waiting outside the bathroom for me. I was getting another drink when everyone else who had been in the kitchen moved back to the living room, leaving me alone with this guy. As soon as I closed the fridge, he backed me against it and started kissing me, trying to touch me through my dress. I pushed him away and practically ran back to the living room, where the number of people made it easy to avoid him.
Later, I walked a group of my friends outside to say goodbye, and after they had gone, I turned around to find him standing behind me, blocking my way back up the stairs. He kissed me again. And I remember being really, truly scared for the first time that night. I didn’t really know this guy and I didn’t have anywhere to go and I didn’t know what to do. I had never experienced anything like this before—and in that regard, I am actually relatively lucky. It’s a sad fact that most girls don’t make it to twenty-two without being kissed by someone they don’t want to be kissing them.
I managed to get him off me without anything worse happening. And thankfully, when I returned to my apartment, several of my friends could tell I was freaked out. They asked me what was wrong, and I told them. They promised not to leave him alone with me. They pushed him out of our conversations. They moved in next to me every time I sat down on the couch so he couldn’t. But eventually it reached the point where it seemed that this guy wasn’t going to leave me alone without a direct confrontation. So we decided the best option at that point was to end the party and ask everyone to leave, in an attempt to get him out too. It was getting late and there were maybe only fifteen people left, but even still, it almost didn’t work. Two of my friends had to forcibly tell him to leave, and one of them gave him a stern talking-to out in the hallway. Now, I am admittedly the sappy emotional type who frequently professes how much she loves her friends, but I have never in my life felt as grateful for my friends as I did that night.
Looking back, it’s almost strange that none of us knew exactly how to react to this guy. At first, he seemed relatively harmless, and asking him to leave seemed like an overreaction every time it crossed my mind. I didn’t want to cause any drama, I didn’t want to make a scene, because I didn’t want to be “that girl.” And then, even after my friends got involved, it’s true that we were all worried he might get violent. But it still pisses me off that we went to so much trouble to avoid making this guy feel bad about what he was doing, when he damn well should have felt bad. It would have been so much easier to call him out on his shit and be done with it, but nobody—not one of the ten or so of us who were actively aware of the situation—had the guts to do it to do it, so we ended up ruining the night for ourselves, rather than risking hurting the feelings of an obnoxious asshole.
2) A guy twice my age with whom I had a professional relationship tried to take me on a date under the guise of a business meeting.
He was an actor who had played a role in one of my short films, and after the project was over, he asked if he could take me out to dinner, both to thank me for casting him and to talk about several other projects he was involved in that I might be interested in working on. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to work with him again, since I was moving across the country in several weeks, but he had a decent amount of experience in the film industry, and he also wrote and produced his own work, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to hear about what he was up to, learn a few filmmaking tips, and strengthen my network of working contacts. Plus, I was a broke college student, so a free meal at an actual restaurant was not something I was tempted to turn down.
We went to dinner. We ate and talked and had a few drinks and it was interesting, and I felt like I was gaining a lot of helpful insight. So when he suggested that we hit up a bar with supposedly-awesome drinks to keep talking, I said sure. (Spoiler alert: the drinks weren’t actually all that special.) He drove me home afterwards, then asked if he could come up and try some of the weird flavors of alcohol I had mentioned buying for the ’80s party. I figured it was the least I could do, since he had paid for everything so far, and even though he said it was to thank me for casting him, I felt like I really should’ve been the one thanking him for a) sharing his knowledge with me, and b) putting up with my shitty student directing skills for c) no pay.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a naive person. I’m actually kind of a cynical, manipulative asshole sometimes, so I see through other people’s bullshit pretty easily. There was a part of me that realized what was happening pretty early on, when we first got to the restaurant. But I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe that a guy who was old enough to be my father would try to sleep with someone half his age, in such a classically sleazy way. (Especially considering that he knew I was engaged. I wore my ring and talked openly about my fiancé while we were out—just as I had done for the whole month we had been working together.) “Things like this don’t happen in real life,” I told myself. “You’re jumping to conclusions because you’ve watched too many drama movies. You’re being silly, and maybe a little narcissistic, to assume that this is anything more than professional.”
But I wasn’t being silly, and he was being sleazy, and not ten minutes later, he asked if he could kiss me. I mean, at least he asked instead of just going for it, I guess, but it was still completely weird and inappropriate. I asked him to leave, but apparently that wasn’t enough of a hint; he texted me the next day, asking if I wanted to go out again. I politely turned him down because I was “too busy moving,” because once again, I couldn’t figure out how to tell a total asshole to fuck off without the possibility of retribution—namely, the accidental loss of a professional relationship.
The two fields I’ve worked in, film and tech, are both primarily male-dominated. I was extremely lucky to find a programming job with a healthy office environment, so for almost a year, I didn’t experience any of the workplace-based sexism that I know many women deal with on a daily basis. But in the comparatively short time I’ve worked in film, I’ve already had many experiences with men in the industry (or “industry,” as the case may be—several of them participate in filmmaking as more of a hobby than a career) who have treated me as less than a person. I’ve put up with far too many sexual jokes, I’ve had crewmembers completely ignore me despite being their director, and I’ve generally been condescended to and treated like my opinion didn’t matter. I’ve already cut ties with several people I’ve worked with because they made me too uncomfortable to continue even being Facebook friends—and there are more I would ditch if given the choice, but overall, I can’t afford to burn bridges in an industry where networking is everything, especially for a young, relatively inexperienced woman.
3) After months of repeatedly calling me a slut, a guy who lived downstairs from me told his roommate that he “sometimes fantasized about killing [me].”
I had never dated this guy and, in fact, I barely knew him. So I’m still not sure why my sexual history mattered to him in the slightest. His verbal abuse had already led to me banning him from my apartment earlier in the semester and avoiding the downstairs apartment when possible—which kind of sucked, since all his roommates were my friends. I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me and the whole situation was a bit of an annoyance, but I had more important things to worry about (e.g. graduating, moving, trying to find a job), so I just figured I’d deal with it until I left.
But when my friend told me what he had said, I wasn’t sure if I could “just deal with it” anymore. This guy was known to have serious anger management issues, to the point where he had been forced to take a semester off of school to deal with them, and because he lived downstairs, he had access to my front porch, which had two large windows into my kitchen and no lock. If he really wanted to get into my apartment, there was no way I could stop him.
I actually considered getting a restraining order, but with two weeks until I moved home, I was pretty sure the all the legal bullshit and paperwork wouldn’t go through fast enough to be useful, if it even went through at all. It was a terrifying threat, but he hadn’t said it directly to me and he had never tried to physically hurt me, and I didn’t know if his words alone would be enough to get anyone to take action. (Sometimes I wonder if I might have felt better if he had threatened me directly; the fact that he mentioned it so casually to another person, like he wouldn’t give it a second thought if he killed me and everyone knew, made it that much more terrifying.)
At the time, I didn’t want it to seem like I was making a big deal out of nothing, so I only told one other person about it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how absolutely fucked up that is. A guy with violent tendencies and a history of hating me literally said he fantasized about killing me, and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want anyone to think I was overreacting. That’s not okay. It should never be okay. Nobody should ever feel like they’re overreacting for being concerned about their safety.
So this is my point, guys:
Every girl has stories like this, whether or not she’s shared them with you. These are things that happen all the time to the women you know and the women you don’t.
The men in these stories were average men. They had their flaws, but they also had their virtues. They were not obviously or purely evil. They were not “mentally ill.” They were probably not going to gun me down in the street. But what they did was still wrong.
It’s not enough anymore to say “not all men are like that.” I know that. But the fact remains that some men are like that, and those men aren’t going to listen to what women have to say. Don’t just tell me you’re different. Prove you’re different by actually listening and speaking out. Misogynists won’t listen to women, but there is a small chance that they might listen to you.