I’ll never forget this 16th day of December 2016. I spoke up against a friend’s brother who repeatedly tried to kiss a young womxn on the couch at my gran’s house. Each time he leaned in she recoiled, pushing him away, though never “hard enough nor convincingly enough” and merely mumbled “no, tomorrow”. All the while awkwardly smiling at her friend (his younger sister) in that universal code for “get this creep away from me” without being too obvious that we often exchange at clubs or parties. This boy’s younger and older sister were both sitting on the couch saying nothing. One of my cousins and two other friends were also present and remained mum.
The second time round, I was more persistent. I was met with harsh retorts saying that I should stay out of it and that the girl did not protest. To which I yelled in an escalating frantic frenzy, “Is pushing him away ambiguous? Can’t you all see she’s uncomfortable? What will it take for you to realise she means no? Must she kick and scream? No is no! WHY MUST I STOP TALKING? Because he’s a man? Because he’s drunk? He obviously can’t tell that no is no. Why the fuck are you protecting him? Why did you all sit there like you don’t see her struggling to break away from his grip? How far must he go until you reprimand him, until you take her side? How far?!”
My appeals were met with indignance & were reduced to insinuations that I was a jealous previous lover of the boy or that I wanted that attention for myself. A while later his older sister then conceded that he was in fact wrong but that I had said it rudely and should’ve spoken “properly”.
I erupted in response, “This girl was polite enough and you all ignored her, including him. My rude response was 100 times better than your silence! I wasn’t going to be polite about this nonsense”. And the defence for the accused to be cleared of the disrespectful “nonsense” label was launched.
“He is a man and you should respect him”. “The girl was smiling so she obviously enjoyed it.” “It’s none if your or our business.” “For the sake of peace let’s all be quiet and just have a good time”. “Cousin, you have anger issues” ×20 “This girl is old enough to speak for herself, he wouldn’t do anything to her”…. and on and on and on.
My last words tumbled out of my mouth like alcohol induced retching. “Why do you defend him! Womxn get hurt everyday because you all sit there and let these pigs do as they please and you protect them! I don’t care if she’s old enough, grown womxn don’t get raped?! You all acted like you didn’t see her & you’ll say she was smiling though. And when she gets hurt and you’ll all still be saying “but she was smiling & didn’t say no so she enjoyed it” to protect him. Carry on! Carry on because you’re all such trash!”
So the girl was questioned, aside, by the older sister where she apparently said “she was fine with the guy”. Under immense pressure where her discomfort had been repeatedly overlooked, where I, in her defense, was in the minority, where she would be cast as the false accuser who didn’t protest or complain but “smiled in compliance” & simply played hard to get… she was expected to have been able to say “Yes, I didn’t want him and he was annoying me”. To people who had already made it clear whose side they had taken and would support. She mumbled something which was relayed to me as her concession that “everything was fine”.
Through all of this, I was furious and sad. Furious because the two people who had said close to nothing throughout all of this were the boy and the young womxn he was harassing. His case was staunchly defended by his sisters and friends (all womxn) while he left the house as soon as things got heated.
And I was sad because the girl I was defending had not said anything either. I was angry at myself for taking ownership of that space on her behalf and assuming all the circumstantial factors which made it impossible for her to do so – legitimising my own dominant voice over hers without even consulting her.
Yet, another part of me, in the throes of heated debate, had for a split second considered asking her and decided against it. To further subject someone to explaining what she meant by pulling away and turning her face away from kiss-attempts (reinforcing that as a society NO means MAYBE) was a kind of victim-blaming and humiliation I absolutely refused to part take in. And as I sit typing the last bit of this piece, I’m convinced that my reaction (35min ago) was not liquor-induced and had I the chance to go back – I wouldn’t take back a thing… not my anger, not my tone, not my vulgarity and most certainly not my opinion.