What comes to mind when you hear the term “rape culture”?
What do you feel?
As you read the following true story, pay close attention to your experience:
A woman went to her friend’s house to watch TV. She knew that he carried a torch for her, but he assured her that he was happy to just be friends. She did her best to ignore the romantic energy she felt from him so as to maintain the friendship, but she always felt the pressure.
That night, he started being what he called “playful” with her in a way she wasn’t comfortable with. He tried to get her to put her hand on his leg. She refused. Yet he continued to try to coax her into doing it. “Come on, just right here,” he said, grabbing her hand. “No,” she said, pulling her hand away.
He seemed completely unwilling or unable to attune to her body language—her arms pulled into herself, her legs pointing away from him, and her body leaning in the other direction. He continued to push toward and into her on the couch, and then started touching her face. She attempted to meet him at his “playful” level by saying, “no means no,” with as much light energy as she could muster at the moment. But she was feeling anything but playful.
In that moment, she recalled an incident a few weeks prior when he started being “playful” with her to the point where she uncontrollably slapped his hand.
As he continued, she told him to stop. Then she told him to back off. He persisted, wanting to know why. “What’s the problem?” he asked. She repeatedly told him to stop, but he wouldn’t relent. He was still physically pressed against her and she felt her anger begin to rage inside her.
She spoke forcefully about needing him to respect her boundaries and listen to her. He didn’t understand why she was upset. He kept trying to get her to explain it further. With an internal “fight or flight” response brewing, all she could say was, “Back the f*ck off!”
By the time he did, it was several expletives later and far too late. She was furious and knew she needed to leave. They sat in silence for a moment, and then she stood up.
“I’m leaving,” she said plainly, and grabbed her bag. He stood and blocked her path, standing in front of the door. She kept repeating herself, asking him to step away from the door—her anger rising with every passing second.
She pounded on the door next to him and demanded he stand aside. He refused, trying to convince her to stay. She pounded again. Still, he refused. She tried to show him her level of rage by gently grabbing his neck, threatening to do more, trying to get him to see how desperate she was to leave. Still, he ignored her.
“Move or I’ll move you,” she said. He ignored her request, still trying to talk to her.
And move him she did. She grabbed him, then pushed him aside. She opened the door and walked into the hallway, turning to look at him one last time so that he would know the fury inside of her. As she walked away, she told him that she would never put herself in that position again.
On the drive home, she started to question herself. Is this my fault? There is actually a long-established pattern of him not listening to me. Maybe I deserved this.
She shook her head and reminded herself that “no means no,” regardless of history.
She accepted full responsibility for her actions. She knew she had put herself in a bad situation. She knew it wasn’t in her, or his, best interest for her to be in that house. And while she didn’t think it was her “fault,” she quietly apologized to him for her role in all this—and to herself, as well. She forgave them both and vowed to do right by both of them by never making the same mistake again.
How did you feel while reading this? Did you blame one or both of them?
This story is true in every detail save for one: The gender roles are reversed. The man in this story is actually a woman, and the woman is actually a man—me.
Now how do you feel about it knowing that I, the man, was the one who was assaulted? Am I now more or less “to blame” for this situation than I was when you thought I was a woman?
Were my actions now more inappropriate? Did I overreact by hitting a door and grabbing her neck, even lightly? Are her actions now somehow less offensive because a man can easily defend himself against a woman?
What would you think of a woman who hit a man who was refusing to stop his advances? And while I didn’t do it, what would you think of me if I had hit her?
The truth is, me being a man who can easily defend himself makes the situation more difficult. I was in a fight or flight response mode. Flight was removed from my options by her blocking the door. And because I’m a man—and as a man, should never engage in physical aggression against a woman—my fight response was removed as well. My nervous system was responding as it is physiologically designed to, but my learned acceptable behavior was in direct conflict with it, leaving me with no solution or resolution.
This was a violation of me in every way. My physical being, my energy, and even my options were assaulted.
I remember seeing a video where a man abuses a woman in public and people quickly intervened. Then, they reset the stage later so that the woman abuses the man in public, and people laughed.
Violating someone’s boundaries is no laughing matter, regardless of gender. Man or woman, it’s important to attune to the person you’re with and listen to and honor what they are saying, even when you don’t like it, agree, or even understand.
I knew I shouldn’t have been there. I didn’t honor myself and I have to own that. I lost a friend that night and was reminded of an expensive lesson: The first person who must honor my boundaries is me. The same is true for you, man or woman.
And no one, regardless of gender, has the right to violate them.
Author: Chis M. King
Editor: Nicole Cameron