Fresh out of college, I started renting a one bedroom apartment with my friend. Shortly after we moved in we started looking into getting internet for the apartment. Once we had found a plan that we liked, she and I were trying to maneuver our schedules so that we could both be in the apartment when the internet person came. My (now ex) boyfriend was with us during this conversation. He seemed confused and a little put off. Finally he turned to me and snapped,
“Not every guy is going to rape you; you’re being really sexist.”
My friend and I were both silenced. I didn’t know what to say. He had never said anything like that before. I didn’t want to start a fight in front of my roommate. My roommate changed the subject. When he and I went outside to move something else into the apartment and I asked him why he would say something like that. I told him that I knew not every guy was going to rape me but that I had to be careful. I reminded him that he knew I wasn’t sexist and that I just needed to stay safe. He said, “I know, I know, it was a joke. I was being sarcastic. I’m sorry” I thought that it didn’t feel sarcastic…I thought that just hearing the word “rape” come out of his mouth was jarring. But trying to avoid a fight, and since he apologized, I dropped it. We made up and continued with our lives and he said nothing as my roommate and I later picked up the conversation.
A few days later, I was doing some work at McDonalds. We didn’t have internet yet, there were no Starbucks around and this particular McDonalds had Wi-Fi. A man sitting at the table behind me was talking. I could not see him so I assumed he was on the phone. I was checking my balance with Bank of America when he said something about Bank of America. All of a sudden I realized he was talking about what was on my browser. I fake stretched so I could glance behind me and he did not have a phone and no one was with him.
He was commentating about my time online, to himself and me.
I pretended to look at the time, calmly packed up my things and walked out of the McDonalds.
He followed me to the car.
I didn’t realize that he had followed me until I heard him yell, “Hey! New Jersey!(referring to my liscence plate)” from across the parking lot.
I shouted, “Go away!”, as I jumped in my car, slammed my door, locked it, turned on my car and bolted. Thankfully he didn’t try to pursue me further.
As I drove away I saw him in the rear-view mirror pacing and rubbing his hair.
I drove to an ice cream place and parked. Shaking, I called the police and reported a suspicious person. After the call I was still shaken so I did what most dating people do; I called my significant other. I told him what happened and cried and cried. He asked me some questions, made sure I had called the police, told me that I had made the right choice going to a public place, told me to stay in said public place for awhile and get some ice cream and to take deep breaths, to take back roads home and text him when I was safe in the apartment.
Now, I don’t know if this event actually affected him, or if he directly connected it to his previous comment, but I do know that he was never “sarcastic” about my safety ever again.
Just thinking about that day at McDonalds still gives me the chills. But in terms of threatening experiences, it could have been worse. Amy Poehler talks about sexual harassment in her book(“Yes Please”), and after listing the harassment and assault that she has experienced she says, “I’m lucky (Oh my god, I’M LUCKY?!)…” So true, Amy! True, but messed up. What I’ve noticed that people don’t realize is that; that’s reality for women.
It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and goodness do we need awareness. A lot of people criticize “awareness” movements, saying, “Everyone is AWARE it exists, geez”. To an extent I get it. All awareness and no action means nothing in the long run. But with sexual assault there’s an honest lack of awareness about A)The precautions that I (and other women) must take to be safe and B)The constant potential threat to our safety. How can you prevent sexual assault if you don’t even know how bad it is when it’s “not that bad”?
For example, I asked a male family member where I could buy mace and he honestly asked me, “Why would you need mace?” A friend once asked me if I would act in a video about how sexual objectification was wrong and it obviously did not cross his mind that this offer would make me uncomfortable. My guy friends (for the record, wonderful, protective, sensitive men) are shocked and genuinely confused when I tell them about unwelcome advances that I’ve experienced from strangers. While it would be easy to demonize my ex for his insensitive comment or to say, “Well, NOW he knows better haHA”, the truth is, I don’t think it’s that simple. There’s an honest lack of awareness and disconnect surrounding sexual assault, harassment, unwelcome advances and jokes. His comment was a more jarring because he directly addressed rape and blatantly called me sexist, but I’ve heard comments that were just as ignorant.
Or maybe unaware is the better word.