Thursday, September 08, 2011

Male Allies as a Defense Against Sexual Assault

When he walked into the party, something about him seemed suspicious. His smile looked more like a leer and at no point was he ever not smiling. Within a few minutes of introduction, he interjected himself into the middle of a conversation I was having with someone else. Someone else happens to be a good friend of mine, a woman who is very physically attractive. Like a bullying defense attorney, he decided that putting me on the defensive by means of the third degree was a good strategy. I was telling a story at the time and he debated every detail. His intentions were to get me to leave in frustration, so that he might talk to her alone.

If I was a different sort of person, this sort of conduct could have led to a fight. But I’m not, and I genuinely feel like taking the high ground in these sorts of situations is best. At any case, his own ineptitude made the solo conversation with my friend very short and unsubstantial. He floated from woman to woman, not making much headway anywhere. Later during the night, we gathered to recite poetry, and his selection naturally concerned an eager man trying to convince a married woman to engage in an affair. I was shocked that no one else made the connection, but perhaps they weren’t aware of what he was implying.

Another friend of mine is sweet, trusting, and somewhat na├»ve. She’s one of the most genuinely compassionate people I know, but she doesn’t understand the way certain men can act. The Metro station closest to the party was closed for repair, so I knew I’d need a ride. In a city where many people don’t even own a car, I was glad that she had driven there. As is true for her nature, she offered me a ride, but she also offered him a ride, too. I was not sure I was comfortable with this arrangement, but I didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t want to cause a scene, though I’m wondering now if I should have made a big deal out of it.

His conversation during the trip was sneaky, as was his habit of dropping both hands into her lap quickly, pretending it was just a harmless form of body language. By now, I was harboring considerable enmity towards him. My friend never made the connection. Part of me was wondering whether I needed to call it out, as I was seated in the back and privy to everything as it happened. But then again, I told myself that my friend could handle herself. A diplomat’s daughter, she’d lived overseas for most of her life, and in parts of the world where creepy behavior like this would be considered tame.

I was to be dropped off first. This made me uncomfortable. I did not want to leave him alone with her, fearful of what might happen when I was no longer present. Against my better judgment, I again said nothing and got out of the car, walking towards my apartment. But I could not get the situation out of my mind and I felt guilty that I had departed when I did. If you have read this far into my story, you might be expecting something awful to happen next. This was also my fear, but at least in this case, it was gratefully not to be.

I sent my friend an immediate e-mail, expressing my concern for her safety and wellbeing. The e-mail asked if he’d made a move on her and how worried I was. Her reply was very nonchalant. She’d had no problems, but appreciated that I had been protective. What do you say to someone who doesn’t understand sexual harassment unless it is obvious? Maybe by virtue of being male I recognized the subtleties. I’m not sure she’d even understand if I tried to underscore all of the ways that men try to use subterfuge to disguise their real intentions. In any case, this story is not a tragedy. Not every male with sex on the brain is prepared to resort to sexual assault or rape, though circumstances change. Caution can be exercised without paranoia, but I still wish I knew how to inform a few of my female friends about the tricks and slight-of-hand that some men use to get what they want.

4 comments:

lukewarmsi said...

Sexual assault is unwanted sexual physical contact. No female in your story even tried to stop him or tell him to leave them alone. I think you are just scared of females enjoying sex. Do you think that because no one else noticed his predatory behavior maybe it was all in your head. I think you are repressing females. You are going against the very values you claim to uphold. Is it impossible to think that women enjoy sex like a man? You are truly hindering equality of the sexes. You should be ashamed of your ignorance and arrogance.

Vol-E said...

Kevin,

I wouldn't put it anywhere near as strongly or judgmentally as lukewarmsi did, but it did occur to me as I was reading your post that maybe your friend was attracted to Mr. Pushy and would have been more than happy to "invite him in for a nightcap" after dropping you off.

I have had experiences like this, from the woman's POV. As a teenager, I went on a blind date with a guy named Ed. I was pretty naive and inexperienced, but I did think Ed was attractive. True, years later I acknowledged that he was a loser, but that wasn't the case at the time. We made out a little on our date, though at a drive-in with another couple, there wasn't much besides kissing. Later, he told his friend that he didn't have much interest in a real relationship with me, but would be more than willing to "use" me if I was willing. I only heard about this YEARS later. The male friend made it a point to discourage Ed from asking me out on any more dates because supposedly I was such a "nice" girl. Um, excuse me? I am capable of managing my own life, for better or worse, without intervention that takes the choice away from me. It's been over 35 years since that incident, and you know what? It still makes me very angry to think about. I've been in plenty of bad relationships and never once thought (even in my teens) of saying to any third party, "Why didn't you pwo-tect me? Sob!" Let adult women handle their own lives. Your friend, as you said, spent time in Europe and is probably much more worldly than you imagine.

Comrade Kevin said...

If you knew my friend, you'd understand that she had no interest in him whatsoever. And even vocalized it.

Lukewarmsi is a troll who enjoys trying to bait me, so just ignore him/her.

I didn't have any desire to interfere with my friend's choice in men. This is why I didn't say anything. She may be innocent, but she is not the sort of people to not voice her feelings. And she's spent time in Asia and the Middle East, not Europe. Women get groped there all the time.

What the troll and you, my friend, may not understand is the full context of this post. Most columns like these are designed for a feminist audience and a particular website. They are quick to use the term "sexual assault" and "rape".

Does this leave any room for freedom of choice? Well, maybe. But if it'd been me, I would have have been glad that someone was watching my back. I don't expect to protect anyone, especially if they don't want to be protected.

So look beyond meddling men who feel as though they know better. I didn't know better. That was what was terrifying about it. I was walking a tightrope between wanting to respect a friend's personal decision, while still fearing for her safety.

Forget I was male for a moment. If I was female, would that remove your reservations?

Vol-E said...

Forget I was male for a moment. If I was female, would that remove your reservations?

No, but for a different reason. I'd have assumed you were merely trying to get the guy for yourself. Sadly, that's yet another of my bad teenage experiences.

I suspect the underlying theme here is the fact that women often "go for the bad guy." The punk, the guy with the leather jacket and the crooked smile, the guy with a shady past -- they can ruin a woman's life but a certain kind of woman craves that. Everyone around them, especially other guys, understand immediately what he's after. On some level, the woman often does, too, but she's willing to give it to fill some area in her life that's lacking. It's not always a cut & dried matter of "low self-esteem," either. In my case, I liked the guys with the big mouths and loud opinions because they made up for my shyness and expressed what I couldn't say. A "cad" can make that naive girl feel less like a girl and more like a woman. A nice guy can be too much like a brother or a dad. It's a very complex dynamic and it varies from one individual to the next. I'm sure you already know all this. If Mr. Pushy had succeeded with the diplomat's daughter, there's no telling what sort of drama might have ultimately transpired. It will be interesting to see if he pops up at another gathering. Glad nothing bad happened to your friend.