I could explain the events leading up to the comment, but I won’t, because the simple fact is that no person should ever speak to another person the way C-List spoke to me that evening. Under no circumstances, should anyone ever threaten to rape someone in front of an entire bar.
As he stood up, his chest pushing into my shoulder as I turned my body away from him, he began yell loudly enough for the entire bar to hear. “Oh, so that’s how you think it is?” he roared. “I will show you!” His chest kept bumping into me as he tried to invade every aspect of my personal being. “I will show you how it really is! I will fuck you right here! I will fuck you right here in this bar!” I went blind, unable to focus on anything but his menacing closeness and the threats emanating from him. My heart pounded with anger.
“I will fuck you right here in this bar in front of everyone and make you CUM!”
He sat down, feeling like his masculinity was intact. He had humiliated me in front of his friends, my friends, the bartender, and the patrons. He let me know my place, and my place was woman.
Anger swelled inside of me. The entire bar was silent, staring. I would not let him humiliate me that way, I decided. So, I turned towards him, raised my voice loud enough for his friends, my friends, the bartender, and the patron to hear. “Sweetheart,” I said, “You wouldn’t even get the chance to try.”
He started to get up again, his friends restrained him. “You’re the one who crossed a line,” they said. The bartender asked if he needed to be cut off. Conversations started up again in other parts of the bar.
My (male) friend Nick, an acquaintance of C-List, awkwardly offered, “Let’s talk about something else! I like Sesame Street! Do you like Sesame Street?”
C-List agreed. I gulped down my wine, and excused myself to the restroom.
This story easily could have ended right here. It could have been the story of a time some guy was a dick to me in a bar, and could have easily blended into a long repertoire of stories about men who think they have a right to my body, that my body is something that does not belong to me but is, rather, some sort of communal property, able to be owned by another man perhaps, but certainly not by the person who actually occupies it. Every woman has such a repertoire. C-List was not the first man to sexually harass a woman in a bar, and he won’t be the last.
But that was not the end. My Sesame Street-obsessed friend, Nick, was astounded by the entire situation. He was both shocked and fascinated, and the fact that C-List was a minor celebrity weighed heavily in his estimation of the situation.
“Do you know how much money he makes every year?” he asked me again and again over the next several hours. “Do you know how much his car is worth?”
“Do you know who he is?”
“Do you know what band he was in?”
“Do you realize that people recognize his name even in Japan?”
The truth was, no, I had no idea who he was. And, more to the point, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter to me. It had no bearing on the situation. He was just some guy who was a dick to me in a bar.
But to Nick, this was new, this was novel. He had never experienced anything like this. And that may have been why, several hours and two rum-and-cokes later, he claimed to have saved the day. “I had to step in for her,” he told a newly arrived friend. “I had to tell him to stop bothering her, because he was totally over the line.”
I was dumbfounded. Was he portraying me as some damsel in distress? Was he claiming to be my knight in shining armour? This guy, the guy who stood by as silently as everyone else in the bar? This guy, who tried to score free tickets to C-List’s next show after he had threatened me? Who had not stopped talking about how rich and famous he is for hours?
I yelled. I yelled for an hour and a half straight. I yelled after everyone else was bored with my yelling. I yelled so long and so hard friends tapered off, just wanting to get away for my yelling. But I was angry and I did not care. By inserting himself into a story he didn’t belong in, he was taking away any bit of agency I had salvaged. He was making me a helpless victim, and that’s not who I am. I am the girl who stands up for herself, the girl who knows she belongs only to herself, and will not let anyone else take ownership of her…not C-List and not Nick.
I didn’t realize the true depth of the problem until several weeks later. I was still mad. He was still convinced that this was some bizarre isolated incident, that occurred because C-List is rich and thinks he can act however he wants. Then it suddenly hit me: Nick doesn’t realize that this kind of thing happens to women every day.
He doesn’t realize that his friends and his girlfriend deal with men who think they have some right to our bodies every single day. He doesn’t understand that every catcall works to chip away at our sense of self, that every sleazey comment makes us feel like our bodies do not belong to us. He does not understand that we have been trained to expect men to use our sexuality against us, that we expect men who feel otherwise disempowered—economically, socially, intellectually—to use rape or the threat of it to reclaim their precious sense of masculinity.
We feel this way, not because other women tell us to feel this way or because society or the media tells us to feel this way, but because this is what our experiences have taught us to expect.
It has become clear to me that men fundamentally do not understand what women face every day. Every single man I have spoken to was shocked by what C-List said to me. And they were shocked to hear another woman say that a homeless man threatened to rape her because she told him she didn’t have any change. They were shocked to learn that another woman had recently been followed home by a pair of strange men when she refused to give them her phone number. And they were disgusted by another woman’s story of a man who exposed himself on public transportation.
But not one woman was surprised that any of this had happened.