I’m notoriously known through my group of friends for dating shitty men. For whatever reason, I always manage to date someone who minimizes me as a person and is unable to really grasp where I’m coming from. Anyone who knows me understands the history of trauma and toxic masculinity that I’ve faced through my teens, and even now as I start to transition into my early twenties. It seems that the narrative of women constantly being sexualized and harassed is rapidly becoming more and more commonplace. There is a bond between women and femme people alike where we’re constantly being talked over, reduced, and forced to put our feelings in the backseat, in fear of our lives being taken away. The most frightening part of all of this is that we’ve become accustomed to it as a society. We’ve normalized the sexualization of women and femme people, act as if the triggers of rape victims and survivors don’t matter, and refuse to acknowledge the power that male privilege holds. This is rape culture, and unpacking the causes of it is the first of many steps for us as a society to progress forward.
Two days ago, I was waking over to the tiny mall near my school after a long day of Calculus homework, Paleontology papers, and Presidential debates. I decided to spend my evening creating care packages for my adings, considering all three of us had a long week ahead. Headphones in, blasting the newest Power Struggle EP, I strolled through the shopping centre. As I racked my brain for ideas on what to get them, I was confronted with one of the scariest moments since my rape as a 17 year old; 6’3″, with a huge, hulking body, a man came from my blindside and stopped me in the middle of the walkway. I froze; the images of my abuser slapping me in the face with his genitals, the daunting laugh that echoed through my brain, the forceful grip on my arms, racing back and forth as I tried to recollect myself. This man, twice my size with the ability to snap me in half like a twig, struck a godlike fear into me with the simple act of forcing himself into my space just like my abuser had done to me almost two years ago.
The smile that was once on his face when he first confronted me melted as it was clear that I was frightened by his presence. “I didn’t mean to startle you” he said, “but I couldn’t help but notice how attractive you were from so far away.” My eyes rolled into the back of head as rage started to build within me. Who does he think he is? I thought. What makes him think he can force himself into my space? It didn’t matter how angry or scared I was, I still knew what I had to do: smile. I forced a giggle out of myself as I pretended to be flattered by his advance. “Oh, I have a boyfriend” I said, lying through my teeth. He retreated after his statement, but it didn’t take away from the fact that I was now shaken to my core. I became paranoid for the rest of the evening and days that followed. I went home, full of conflicting thoughts and fear. I regretted wearing makeup, putting on an outfit that made me feel good, and going out past seven ‘o clock.
This idea that a man can force himself into whatever space he wants, as long as his intentions are “good”, is toxic. Women are constantly being bombarded with an array of sexual comments, that work opposite of their intentions. Being seen this way throughout your whole life is exhausting. You start to place your values on your physical appearance, and not your own quality of self: looked at as this pretty thing, instead of a human being.
This experience has lead to sleepless nights and constant paranoia for the past three days and was further compounded by the last man I dated. “Greg” and I met two to three weeks ago at a party. He was refreshing, someone who was comfortable with the person he was and not actively controlled by the standards of masculinity. Our first date, I felt myself slip into a state of ease. We opened ourselves to talk to the issues within our lives, removing the masks we would usually wear when first meeting someone. Full of beer as we strolled through the quiet chaos of Oakland, we rambled on about our favorite Hiphop artists, what albums we had to listen to everyday, and new artist potential within the genre.
It wasn’t until our second date that I started to see through the bullshit facade. Greg was blinded by his own male privilege and would swell up in anger anytime I challenged his perception of the world around him. When his housemate schemed him out of money, something I didn’t condone, he’d lash out in a fit of rage, letting his anger consume him and projected on myself. He’d viciously undermine her, glossing over her critique of him being misogynistic and verbally abusive. Cackling to himself, he said, “What a stupid bitch. Is this how all Bay Area feminists are?”
It was no surprise that Greg would reduce down my experiences as a victim of sexual assault. Greg was the first person I reached out to after the incident at the mall, not doing much as to comfort me after the fact. He knew my past of sexual assault and trauma, so when he shoved his tongue down my throat and grasped his hand around my neck only 24 hours after being emotionally and mentally broken down, you can imagine my shock. I was originally okay with being lightly intimate, but there was a discomfort that grew inside me. After everything he had said, his sexual advances scared me. The more he touched me, my skin crawled. His increasingly forceful kisses overwhelmed me; as he hands made his way to groping my chest, I pushed him as far away from me as I possibly could.
I sat there, frozen. My body shook, my head dizzy from the emotional acrobatics. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t speak. For almost an hour, I sat there staring blankly at my pile of books on the floor as I tried to process everything that had happened. Greg was frustrated with me, angry that I couldn’t give him any straight answers or explain any of my actions to him. You’re too intense, he said to me, what happened wasn’t a big deal and you need to learn to get over it.
I haven’t spoken to Greg since and I don’t plan to. His blindness to the privilege he held was toxic, and with enough time surrounding myself with a partner who held this mentally, it had all the potential to reduce me down and set me back on a path of victim blaming and glossing over the valid, real feelings I held towards my past assaults and current experiences with male aggression. The worst part about Greg is that he’s common. Greg is much more than a shitty guy with a bad attitude, he’s one of many people who uphold rape culture. Greg is toxic masculinity. He’s every judge, father, and politician who’s boiled down the experiences of women and victims of sexual assault down to “it wasn’t that bad, get over it.” He’s every boy reduced my rape in high school down to “she’s just a slut.” Greg is rape culture.
So I challenge you to challenge others. Identify your privileges, and utilize them to uplift those being pushed further. Most importantly, don’t be Greg. Listen to those trying to extend their perspectives and think critically about your actions. Know that for every Greg, there at least five people like myself who struggle to navigate through our lives due to trauma. Acknowledging privilege has never been about reducing your struggles, but more so understanding the bigger forces at work that intentionally are created to hurt and oppress others.