If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember a post I did a couple years ago called “Excusing Rape Culture.” I wrote it in response to Trump’s rage vomit-inducing “Grab ’em by the pussy,” video and in it, I told the story of a guy I met in a local bar. I recommend going back to read my full post, but to summarize, a hardcore Trump supporter aggressively came onto me, even after I told him I was not interested, married, and had a child. Then, when he finally accepted I was going to sleep with him, this guy bragged about forcing a Mexican man onto his knees at gunpoint for littering.
“He was disrespecting my land,” he said. “I had to. He was disrespecting my land.”
The guy then tried to segue his story into hitting on me some more but at that point, I was fucking terrified of him. I knew I was safe in the bar but I also knew that I would eventually have to leave the building. I was afraid of doing something that would make him angry and make him want to follow me and possibly hurt me. He clearly had no problem using force and intimidation and I was afraid that I was going to be the next person forced onto my knees.
Since then, I thankfully haven’t seen that guy anywhere in town. However, I’d be lying if I said didn’t check for him, especially when I’m out alone, because I do. Or, at least, I did. Nearly two years has passed since that incident, and I’d finally started to relax. I wasn’t constantly checking over my shoulder and I felt braver.
Of course, as soon as I stopped worrying about seeing him, I saw him again.
A couple of months ago, I visited my friend while she worked at a local dive bar. It was late afternoon and we were chatting, just like any other day. Then I noticed an electrician working in the bar and I froze. He has a beard now, but I still recognized him. He kept glancing at me, like he couldn’t quite place me, but there was recognition there. I hadn’t expected him to remember me; I’m sure I’m not the only woman he’s scared the shit out of in a bar and he got pretty drunk over the course of our last conversation. Not that the latter quality justifies how he behaved before, but it does explain why my face might not ring a strong bell for him.
“Hey, is that guy staff here or an outside hire?” I asked, trying to suppress my rising anxiety as I gestured towards the guy.
“Outside hire,” my friend said. “Why?”
“What’s his name?” I asked. But, of course, I already knew. My friend confirmed it for me and my hands started shaking.
“Do you know him?” she asked. I explained that that was the guy from the post I’d written about rape culture, the one who had bragged about forcing a guy onto his knees at gunpoint. “Oh, god, are you sure?”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said quickly, even though I wasn’t. She knew I was lying, but she didn’t push it. I tried to slowly sip my drink as I reminded myself I was safe. I was in a bar during the day with a friend on the clock who already knew the situation. I had other friends in the bar. I was fine.
Except I wasn’t. My hands were violently shaking and I could feel I was on the verge of a panic attack. I wanted to get away from this guy before he remembered why he knew me, but part of me wanted to stand my ground. Why should I have to be the one to leave when I hadn’t done anything wrong? I felt a surge of anger that I should have to modify my behavior because some guy had previously behaved like an asshole, but that anger cowered in the face of my fear. When the guy went into the back of the bar and was out of eyesight, I left.
It’s been two years and I still feel afraid of what that guy could do to me. Some people might read this post and think I’m being ridiculous; he wasn’t drinking this time, he wasn’t actively threatening me. Hell, he might not have even remembered me. Maybe I wasn’t in immediate danger this time, but that fear doesn’t just vanish. If you get bit by a dog, you’re likely going to be wary around that dog when you see it again, even if it isn’t snarling at you.
I hate that I left the bar because I was scared. I hate that just seeing that guy again was enough to trigger my anxiety. I hate that my plans for that day were impacted just by the presence of one racist asshole–but they were. I was. I also hate that it’s taken me two months to write this post because I just didn’t want to deal with this guy. But I think it’s important for me to write about this because even though I was afraid, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a voice. I also think it’s important for me to write this because women’s voices need to be heard. As I said earlier, some people might think I overreacted to seeing that guy again. But this is what it’s like for women to live in a society that excuses rape culture. Despite a change in setting and circumstances, I didn’t feel safe around this guy because he’d already informed me of what he’s capable of doing–and willing to do–to another person. And if I hadn’t left, if I hadn’t removed myself from the equation, and something had happened to me, then those same people who think I’m overreacting now would likely blame me as the victim because I should’ve known better. Women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We’re either overreacting or we didn’t react enough. Perhaps–and here’s a crazy idea–it’s not our fucking fault.
Since my last post about rape culture, a lot has happened. The #MeToo movement has sprung up alongside the Time’s Up campaign, TIME magazine declared the “silence breakers” as the people of the year, and yet things still aren’t fixed. I’m glad to see more open dialogue about sexism and sexual harassment and assault, but that’s only the first step. Real change is slow and one cover of TIME magazine isn’t the end of the journey.
Hold people accountable for their behavior. Call them out on sexist comments. Remind them that rape jokes aren’t okay. Most importantly, speak up about your own experiences. Women need to tell their stories. Just because shit has happened to all of us doesn’t make it okay or acceptable or right. I can’t guarantee I won’t ever feel afraid again if I encounter that guy again or if a man flashes a gun at me in a bar again, but I’m not going to stop talking about my experiences. My voice is only one of many, but together we can work to destroy this ugly, infectious rape culture.