In early January, I was at a party. Out of nowhere, my ass was slapped by some bro in a Seahawks jersey as I turned to walk out the door.
I turned around and told him immediately, in a cutting tone, how uncool and not OK that was, with a few expletives peppered in as well. (Of course.)
When we met again outside, I continued to give him some serious side-eye until eventually, it seemed he couldn't stand it anymore. He threw his hands up in the air, sighed exasperatedly and said, “OK, OK, OK. I'm sorry.” I told him not to be sorry, but to just not do it to me or any other woman again.
We're humans, not objects. This is a notion I find to be painfully obvious, but he hadn't seemed to have heard of it before. He responded to this wild notion of equality by laughing loudly and proclaiming, “Well, that's definitely never going to happen.” He then co-extended his arm for a fist bump from the closest guy in proximity to him.
I'm sure my subsequent, seething anger was apparent because I was immediately flooded by encouragements from new friends and fellow party-goers around me — men and women alike — to not respond. I was told to “just let it go” because “he said he's sorry.” I should “not ruin a good time.”
While the ass slap itself was annoying (to say the least) and violating (to say the worst), it's not even what disappointed me the most. What disappointed me the most were the reactions of those around me: not so much what they were, but what they weren't. The reactions I met from friends and bystanders were entirely absent of the both the understanding that I had experienced something violating, and that I was free and able to react to that violation of myself and my body however I saw fit.
I was considered entirely incapable of bearing adequate witness to my own experience. Seahawks bro expected me to enjoy it at best and to not be upset by it at worst, and everyone else thought I should calm down (as women are often instructed to do). What does that say about us?
What does it say about us, considering, a few months ago, a male friend pulled me aside while I was out for drinks with a couple of other friends. He sat me down to explain I'm approaching feminism inappropriately. He said the way I talk so openly about it makes people uncomfortable, and that I should change my approach if I want to be effective.
It was as if his personal discomfort with it was indicative of a flaw in my understanding and execution of a feminist perspective. What made him think he was entitled to enjoy everything that comes out of my mouth?
What does it say about us, considering a guy who I had dinner with once launched into a tirade about how awful the patriarchy is and how terribly women are treated, only to later explain to me that I can ask for more space if I don't like him standing so close to me? (As if I needed his explanation to realize that, or his permission to do so.)
What does it say about us that a friend of mine was asked recently, by a man she had met only hours before, whether or not she had a bag under her sweater or if she had gained a little weight during her time abroad. (As if her body is a thing open for comment, and as if his thoughts are worthy enough to be verbalized.)
The thing that all of these stories sewn together reveal about us as a culture and society is we've classified certain violations against women as small in comparison to and separate from “real” or “serious” crimes against women. We've then augmented this with the notion that, as long as we're not a part of these “real” problems, we're not a part of the problem at all.
We've reduced certain violations as unimportant and harmless. We've called them dismissable enough — acceptable, even — that they should just be let go because they're inferior to things like people enjoying a party.
I even found myself considering a version of this idea the next morning when I woke up, still troubled by the events of the night before. I mean, my ass was slapped: It's not like I was raped, right? It's not like something “serious” happened to me, right?
But there it is: the sneaky and illusive part of misogyny. This is the part of it that somehow manages to manifest itself inside of you. This is the part that, even after spending the entire night before squarely in the "that wasn't OK" camp, somehow has you reconsidering everything you believe in the next day.
But the thing is, all of the incidents I've mentioned (and most others like it) didn't occur in a vacuum. They occurred (and they continue to occur) in a context where 23 percent of women are assaulted while trying to receive an education, and where women get their noses cut off for “infractions,” such as disapproving of their husbands taking a 17-year-old lover.
They occurred in a context where the Seahawks bro presumably felt safer proclaiming outright that he had every intention of continuing to mistreat women than I do walking past less-than-well-lit corners on a regular basis. They occurred in a context where, while walking next to a rather tall and large male friend one night, a male bystander reached out and grabbed my face — yes, my face — as we passed him on the sidewalk. They occurred in a context where one evening, after a couple of particularly troubling “hola guapas," I found myself Googling, “How to teach your dog to growl and show teeth on command.”
It's so tempting to see “small” infractions against women as separate, innocuous enough events that are far and distant cries from more horrific crimes against women. But, as Rebecca Solnit so eloquently points out, the problem isn't just the actions themselves: The deeper and more troubling problem is they're part of a slippery slope upon which “What starts out as minor social misery can expand into violent silencing, and even violent death.”
In all of these incidents, it was either unrealized or unacknowledged that every infraction against women is a real and serious violation that is produced from the same system. It is part of the continuum as “real” and “serious” crimes against women; it is only closer to the other end of it.
But all these crimes are actions that result from the fact that women are either not allowed to or are constantly stripped of the right to define appropriate treatment for themselves and their bodies. In these instances, it was the men who got to decide: based on whatever arbitrary and opaque deciding factor was motivating them that day, from fluctuating moral or ethical codes to a fragmented understanding of appropriate or acceptable social behavior. The women were expected to simply receive and accept, hoping their lines of appropriateness were drawn from there.
So, Seahawks bro gets to slap my ass if he feels like it: Is that where his line is? Or is that only where his line is because we didn't pass each other on a poorly-lit street instead of at a party? Or is that only where his line is because I wasn't too inebriated to handle myself?
Even so, that's only his line. What about the belly poker? Does his moral code dictate that putting his hands on women is wrong, but that he can assault them with his words all he wants? What about the next guy, and the next? What about the guy whose line is all the way over on the other end of the spectrum, thinking that sex is a thing to be had with women at his sole discretion?
In these instances, it was individual men and their arbitrary motivations that got to dictate how women were treated, instead of the women themselves. But other times, it's entire patriarchal systems that get to make these choices for us, by regulating things like the type of birth control we can or cannot use, or the kinds of procedures we must endure if we want to have an abortion.
We fought for women's rights in the 19th century, and we're still fighting them today. They just look different and manifest themselves differently. We have a responsibility to each other and to progress to not give in and accept "small violations" if we don't want to.
By acquiescing, we only confirm that our worth is less, and our bodies and lives are not our own. Each infraction against women, no matter what end of the spectrum it's on, is an opportunity to reinforce the unequivocal demand that we are not objects to be touched, poked or lectured at leisure.
We are not inferior beings who cannot determine our own boundaries for acceptable treatment on any level, whether individually or politically. We are not going to accept being made to feel inferior or unsafe.
The connection between these ideals is no less tenuous among “small” violations than it is among “big” ones. Every time this connection goes either unnoticed or unacknowledged, the world becomes a slightly more precarious place for women.
This is a world that will continue to produce instances where justice is forgone in the interest of football, and where "Everyday Sexism" will have endless sources of material. Women continue to earn less than men for equal work, and crusades against Planned Parenthood (and women's healthcare at large) are carried out under the thinly-veiled guise of some vague notion of political justice.
So no, I won't “calm down” just so others can enjoy a party.