Not too long ago, I went to a party with a few of my girlfriends. I was super hyped to go since I hadn’t been to a party in a while. You may be a little weirded out by the fact that I, an introvert, occasionally enjoy going to a party even though parties usually entail lots of people, loud music and the possibility of social interactions.
Interestingly, I’ve learned to appreciate parties in my early twenties because in my perception, they’re occasions for me to catch a break from myself. When I go to a party, I have some wine, I talk to strangers, I’m fun and easy-going and I may even dance around a little (or a lot, depending on how many glasses of wine I’ve had 😉) without beating myself up over what other people may possibly think of me and my dancing skills.
So that’s what I was doing at the above-mentioned party: dancing, laughing, socialising and a little bit of flirting, as one does at parties. There was a group of guys that seemed particularly interested in me and my friends and they were hanging out next to us for a bit. I’m not sure how relevant this piece of information is but I believe they were already quite drunk by the time they came to join us. I’m not gonna lie, I was flattered by the attention I was getting and played along in the flirting game for a bit. They then pulled me into their circle a few times while I was dancing and minding my own business, pushing me towards one of the guys (I can’t remember if I was pushed towards one particular guy). I laughed, shrugged, and went back to my girls, as one does.
Just smile and act cool.
The next thing I knew is that I was in the middle of their circle again, the guys moving in on me and squishing me between their bodies, and I was going around in circles with them because I was literally stuck like a piece of ham between two slices of bread. When they let go (this only lasted a few seconds I guess), I was still laughing just like I was before, partially because they had taken me by surprise and there hadn’t been much time for me to process what the f*ck had just happened. I went back to my friends and they looked concerned. They told me they weren’t sure whether they should have interfered. I told them I was fine, which I was. But I felt a little unsettled. I felt like I wasn’t in control anymore. I was suddenly very aware of my smallness and the fact that I could easily be pinned down or pushed around by anyone who’d want to do me harm.
I decided to let it go for the moment and went back to dancing with my friends, trying not to radiate “the wrong signals” in order not to encourage the guys to do something I wouldn’t be okay with.
The following day while processing my night out (yup, I do that), I suddenly realised something that saddened me quite a bit. Did you notice that I wrote “…in order not to encourage the guys to do something I wouldn’t be okay with”? Did you also notice that there’s something terribly wrong with that sentence?
Here I was, worrying I might be encouraging men* to engage in questionable behaviour towards me whereas they should, in fact, always make sure that their actions aren’t a violation of what I’m comfortable and okay with.
Whenever I was reading about (sexual) consent, I never felt entirely concerned by the issue. I was aware of the possibility of the absence of consent and the fact that boundaries happen to be disrespected. The more I kept thinking about it, however, the more I realised that I’ve been delusional for thinking that consent has never played a role in my life. It suddenly hit me that consent applies to a much broader field and is by no means limited to sexual intercourse. I’m aware that in the context of a lack of consent, there are far worse situations than me being grabbed and pushed around by a group of guys. What happened at that party luckily isn’t something that’s gonna leave me scarred for life, but it made me think about the issue. It made me think about how many times I’ve made myself small, stopped having fun, refrained from dancing and retreated to a different spot in the room for fear of giving someone the impression that I was interested in sleeping with them.
On numerous occasions, I (and millions of other humans), at some point of any given night, stopped dancing so that nobody would end up being turned on, for fear of seeming “too sexy” or of creating the impression that I wanted to make out / be touched / have sex. Can you believe how absurd this is?! Whenever I wanted to look pretty and feel good about myself, I needed to factor in that someone might end up interpreting my dressing up and having a good time while feeling confident in my own skin as a way of telling the world that I was looking to get laid, thus potentially endangering myself because boundaries and consent (or basic human decency for that matter) don’t mean the same to everyone.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask of anyone to respect people’s personal space and to make sure not to force anyone to do anything they’re not comfortable with. We don’t know what people have had to go through or whether they’re dealing with unhealed wounds from their past. Invading someone’s personal space, touching them without making sure they’re okay with it or anything worse than that (which I don’t want to get into here) not only potentially makes them feel powerless but can be the source of serious distress on their end.
The saddest part about all of that is how quick the victims of such unconsented actions can be to blame themselves or excuse the behaviour of others.
My skirt was too short. My make-up was too sexy. I flirted too much. They were drunk and didn’t know what they were doing. They’re good guys, I must be overreacting.
None of this is true though. It doesn’t matter how nice, respected, affluent or influential they are and how good their reputation is. If they believe it’s okay to touch you (I’m obviously not talking about them lightly brushing your arm while walking past you in a crowded room) without making sure you’re comfortable with it, then that’s not okay. And the reason why I’m writing this in the first place isn’t to point fingers or blame all men but to convince the little old-fashioned voice inside my head that I don’t need to take responsibility for other people’s actions. I don’t need to justify and/or excuse anyone’s questionable behaviour just because they are commonly known as a “good boy**”, an expression I borrowed from Shelby Lorman’s “Awards for Good Boys”, which you should definitely check out (not an ad, by the way).
Also, NO MEANS NO.
And while you can ask for one (depending on how well you’re acquainted with the no-sayer), you’re not owed an explanation.
“No” really is a complete sentence in that context.
* I’m writing this from my perspective as a female heterosexual human being and I’m not insinuating that this kind of behaviour applies to men only or happens exclusively to women.