Commonly used as a reference for sexual violence prevention, "no means no" covers more territory than rape awareness. Street harassment, any violation of one's personal space, or persistence beyond reason also ventures into this territory.
Last month, I gained a new understanding of "rape culture". The incident itself was minor. But the a-ha moment that followed will not be easily forgotten. I was at a social gathering when a guy that I knew approached me. He was a bit flirty. I had other priorities to attend to, and didn't respond to his advances. He persisted - even bringing his face close to mine with a "you know you want me" air about him.
His behavior didn't bother me immediately. It wasn't until the next day that I became uncomfortable with the situation. My body language expressed displeasure. Failure to respond to those cues appropriately disrespected my rights as a person. I tried to shake it off by telling myself that I was making a big deal out of nothing. He's my friend, and probably didn't mean anything by it. The sobering reality, though, is 2/3 of rapes are committed by people who know the victim.
You might be wondering how I got to rape from a guy annoying me with his persistence. Admittedly, I would have thought the same thing about a year ago. What bothered me was the lack of respect for my personal space after I made it clear that I did not want to engage him. As I deliberated on the topic further, I recognized "won't take no for an answer" is part of rape culture. Furthermore, I reflected on my own previous assertions on the topic. In a previous post on singer Robin Thicke's music video for "Blurred Lines", I lambasted feminists for being too darned sensitive. Yet Thicke's line "you know you want it" taunted me as I sorted through my emotions. I was wrong. And I get it now.
Another incident occurred last week that resurrected my desire to write this piece. Walking from my building at work to the parking lot is a bit of a trek. I was heading to my car when a gentleman walked past me and said, "You're beautiful." I responded with a customary "thank you", and continued walking. He asked for my name, to which I shook my head "no" and waved my hands back and forth (to give him a visual cue) letting him know that I wasn't interested. He proceeded to walk toward me, and ask if I was married.
Leave.Me.Alone.Dammit. I could not have been more clear. Again, I found myself annoyed at the lack of respect for me. For all women. Now, I don't mind receiving compliments from strangers. Sometimes it serves as a confidence booster. Compliments followed up by blatant harassment when I am obviously disinterested is problematic. I challenge anyone reading this article to research and educate others on rape culture. We all play a part in ensuring women are respected, and seen as equals in society. Let's start the conversation with the basics: NO MEANS NO.
S/N: I talked to my friend about the incident, and how it made me feel. He was very receptive to the feedback.
For more statistics on rape in the United States, click here.