I very recently went on an outing with someone who struck up a conversation with me at the airport. He had been on the same flight as me, and asked how my trip had been as I was yawning my way towards the exit. It was because of how politely he inquired that I engaged, and the dialogue progressed to exchanging contact information. He wrote the next day to invite me to a poetry reading the following Sunday afternoon, which I deemed appropriate enough to accept — and it was, until he felt entitled to my body.
It came from behind, a patronising tap on either side of my waist, so fleeting that for a moment I thought I had imagined it. My brow furrowed in that instant, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and proceeded to join him for drinks as had been planned. At numerous points during the evening he touched me in an overly-intimate manner, and I was silently hoping that he would quickly notice my lack of reciprocation and therefore refrain out of common decency. But it turned out this was too gracious an expectation.
That he could just invite himself into my personal space, going as far as tickling me, is not surprising of someone who described me over drinks as “business on top, party at the bottom”.
Who revealed that he only approached me because he noticed the outline of my underwear through my skirt — and admitted that one “had to be looking really hard to see it”.
Who said his reluctance to reconcile with a previous partner was because she’d since had children and he “didn’t want to take on someone else’s baby weight”.
Who felt it necessary to voice that he was “a heterosexual male”, as though that had been in question, and describe in detail how his grip was so firm that another man had once winced in pain when he shook his hand.
I’m still reeling from the crudeness of it all.
And I feel regretful and angry — at myself for having afforded him chance after chance to self-correct when the first problematic statement could’ve been my exit cue, and at the systems that feed this embodiment of masculinity. I also feel guilty, for not having put him in his place on the spot. I wrote this from the comfort of my bed, having taken the next day off work after bursting into tears when I realised exactly what else I was feeling: violated.
There was a misinformed time in my life when I would have responded such attention in a positive manner, interpreting it as a sign of interest. Not in 2018; not at this age, not ever again. I had already made up my mind, even before the evening was over, that I would not be accepting any future social invitations from this man. I did inform him of my displeasure later that night, in no uncertain terms, from the safety of my apartment after he dropped me off (and attempted to kiss me to which I turned my face away). Here is how he replied:
That, my readers, is how not to respond when someone raises such an issue. That is the same deeply flawed logic by which people claim sexual assault victims “asked for it”, that people who were raped could’ve prevented it for themselves. Let it be clear that agreeing to go out with someone does not automatically confer upon them permission to touch. That enjoying a conversation and feeling uncomfortable are not mutually exclusive experiences. If you’re finding that difficult to fathom, imagine a garbage truck driving by periodically as you eat a delicious meal: you’re enjoying the food, but there’s something unpleasant in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on. And then later, after you’ve finished eating, you realise what the odour was…but the truck has since left, so it sounds like you’re complaining about an imaginary issue. And then have whoever you were dining with vehemently try to invalidate your very real lived experience.
Like many a woman, I’ve been no stranger to unwanted contact since very early in my life — some forms quite invasive. This is, however, the first time that I have written about it for a public audience and that is how I know my tolerance has died a final death. I will not name, but I will shame. Let it be known that misogyny can arrive driving a Mercedes, embellished with all the checklist chivalry moves. Read this and share it far and wide, so that mindsets may be shaken up and so that it hopefully lands on his screen and makes him mindful to do better in future encounters. Though even that might be hoping for too much from a man who commented, looking at my chest, that I was “shapely for a slim woman”.
Fed up but ever optimistic,
~ Read the sequel here.
My earlier writings can be read on my bilingual blog, Mkalimani. ~