I know this guy. He likes to hug me a lot. And kiss my cheek. And blow me kisses, and pick me up, and generally get very much in my personal space. But I’m not an affectionate kind of girl. And that aside, I don’t like being pawed at or having my personal space invaded without my consent.
The other day, I stopped by his shop for a quick chat on my way to get my morning chai. He came over and, despite my obvious protests, wrapped his arms right around me and held on to me. Tightly. It was the first day of my period, I was very grumpy and even less affectionate than normal. I not very kindly told him to get off me. So, as is his penchant, he only held on tighter. The young kid he had working with him at the time was quick to sense the mood and said “uh, I think that’s a big lack of consent there, man”. And his response? “I don’t need consent”.
I’m just going to say that again, let it really sink in; I don’t need consent.
Those four words are the reason I, as a young woman, feel the need to keep a pen in my hair as a weapon when I go for a walk at night. Those four words are the reason men think it’s ok to touch me, or make crass comments about me when I’m at a bar with a friend. Those four words are the reason there were ‘21,380 victims of sexual assault recorded by police in 2015’ (Recorded Crimes – Victims publication 2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics).
My situation should be a simple one. If I don’t want to be groped, I shouldn’t be. I should be free to say hello to someone without being worried that I’m about to have my personal space invaded by that someone. Just because one person wants to hug, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person does. But that’s the thing about consent. You have the right to give it or not, and yet people seem to simply assume that’s it’s freely given in any and every situation. Because if they assume consent, or alternatively, that they don’t need it, then they believe have carte blanche to do whatever they want. And therein lies the problem.
This guy is kind of a friend, but the truth is, he’s sleazy. Whenever I am around him, I feel objectified and icky, to be honest. Aside from the unwanted physical contact, he freely stares at my chest and my ass, makes sexual jokes and inappropriate comments about me and on more than one occasion, has suggested that we get drunk together. Of course, my answer has always been no. I don’t know that he means any malice; in fact I think that’s just the way he is with a lot of young women. But that doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make me any more comfortable to be around him.
There are only so many times you can say no before it becomes clear that that answer simply won’t be accepted. And what then? Am I entitled to physically defend myself against unwanted advances? Am I within my rights to introduce my knee to his balls in order to stop him from grabbing at me? It shouldn’t have to get to that point. He should have respected my personal space right from the beginning. And he definitely should have backed off when I told him to. Consent is one of the most important words in the English language. And it’s about time people started paying attention to it.