My sister's wedding was on a cruise ship. Most of my family was able to go and it was really awesome! The only downside, beside some occasional sea-sickness, was this random guy who thought it was okay to touch me.
My husband was at the buffet and I was waiting on my parents to finish getting ready so we could go meet up with him. I was standing outside the door of my parent's cabin when I felt someone grab and squeeze my side.
I immediately felt unsafe. Someone grabbing your side feels very different than someone grabbing your shoulder or forearm. It feels sexual and intimate.
As a survivor of sexual assault I struggle sometimes. I have been through a year of therapy, a really great support group, and I have a lot of awesome coping mechanisms. But I'm still really jumpy and I don't think that will ever go away. Being touched unexpectedly often startles me, but especially when it's somewhere I'm not generally touched or somewhere that feels intimate.
Although my first reaction was to be on guard and afraid, my second reaction was the same one I think most women have in a similar situation; I tried to talk myself down. I thought about how it wasn't a big deal, it was probably a friend or family member on the ship teasing me, it was probably my brother or my uncle or my husband. I just needed to calm down.
So I was surprised again when I turned around and saw two complete strangers. My gut instinct told me I should control my face, not let on that I was disgusted and upset. But that instinct couldn't quite contain the nastiness I felt toward these men. When the one who had touched me saw the look on my face he just laughed and said,
"You're welcome." His tone implied not that I actually was grateful, but that I should be. "Just letting you know what a cute chick you are." He continued before winking at me. He and his friend had continued walking and I heard him say to his friend a ways down the hall, "She's a pretty cute chick, hu?" I realized, with some satisfaction, that I had not been wrong in feeling that the touch had been sexual in nature. The man had just confirmed that he had touched me because he found me attractive.
I surprised myself by being too surprised to say anything. I just watched them walk down the hall until my parents came out of their cabin. See, I've thought a lot about what I would say next time someone touched me like that. I have a whole list of quippy comebacks for catcalls and the like. I was really annoyed with myself. As I thought more about my reactions I realized that I am still a victim of our culture; our anti-woman, slut-shaming, rape culture. The culture that tells women to put up with random people touching them. In the first few seconds after he grabbed me I had a lot of society-implanted thoughts run through my mind. These thoughts included: "Don't make a scene," "It's not a big deal," "He didn't mean anything by it," "I am wearing this little black dress..."
All these thoughts that, as a feminist, and as a rape survivor, I KNOW to be false. But still I thought them... I guess that cultural pressures die hard.
Anyway, it took me several hours to feel safe again. I kept looking around for those guys, I was jumpier than usual for the rest of the night. Which brings me to my dual-part conclusion:
First: It is NOT okay to touch someone, in an intimate way, without considerable evidence that they would like to be touched. It is not okay and it never has been and it never will be.
Second: You don't know what another person has been through. While it is NEVER okay to touch anyone like that, 1/3 of all women are survivors of sexual assault. That means that 1/3 of women out there already feel unsafe and vulnerable much of the time. That means that 1/3 of women will experience extra trauma when they are touched in a sexual way like that, and most of them will have shame feelings resurface as they tell themselves to stop freaking out; that guy didn't do anything that bad by touching them.
So, don't touch people. If you know that there's a one in three chance that by touching someone you could be re-traumatizing them, you should... uh... NOT!
Okay, rant over... But check out www.everydaysexism.com It's a really awesome project that aims to record every day acts of sexism that women have to deal with. It's very powerful and definitely worth reading through. You can also follow on twitter @everydaysexism
You can follow me on twitter @JennaRaeRudolph and instagram @jennarae_12345