Rebecca Kaeser Reiss
I met my friend Kathy at university. Though Kathy and I still hang out, I do not really know any of her other friends, so when I went to her engagement party, I had to be proactive about introducing myself. I ended up meeting many people, including one of her fiancé’s groomsmen, A. When speaking to A, I mentioned that I was a law student. After some small talk, I conceded that it was quite a challenging program, “but that’s fine.” “I think you’re pretty fine,” he responded. I had known this guy for less than 5 minutes! “I must have misheard him!” I thought to myself as I turned away to sip my mimosa.
I had a weird feeling about A, so I excused myself to go sign the guestbook. My efforts at getting away were unsuccessful. After signing the guestbook, A inquired about who my date might be. I responded that, since guests were not told to bring dates, I had come by myself. He was clearly interested in my relationship status, and asked if my (assumed) boyfriend was jealous that I was at a party. A most welcomed interruption came when a friend of his asked for his phone number. “So did you take down my number?” he asked me when his friend turned away. I said no, then excused myself and went to the washroom. When I got back, A reappeared beside me instantly. Uncomfortable, I said I was hoping to talk to Kathy.
While waiting for Kathy to have a spare moment, I spoke with other people near me (unsurprisingly including A). Eventually, I got to talk to Kathy, and we were joined by A (again!). We discussed politics, austerity, and various things that interested us, though it seemed that A did not have much to say on these matters.
It started to get late, so I said my goodbyes. When I went to say goodbye to Kathy’s fiancé, he apologized for A hitting on me, and said that he hoped that it had not spoiled my day (A had been telling people about it earlier). Looking back, it is comforting to know that my instincts were right and there really was something going on. The only thing left to do before leaving was to get my coat. I did not even have an arm in my coat sleeve when A appeared from the opposite direction. He said, “Hey, I think you’re really cool so if you’re single, I’d really like to get your number.” I started feeling nervous and uncomfortable, since he was standing between me and the exit. I really did not want to deal with him again. I ultimately told him I was not dating at the moment and did not give out my phone number (not lies). He continued: “Well, like, I’m not looking for anything serious.” I had no response. “What I really like about you is how you’re so down to earth,” he added. “Well that’s really kind of you, but I really have to go now. Bye!” I said as I hurried past him and out the door.
I thought the whole thing was over. I was wrong. On Monday, I received a Facebook message and a friend request from him. His first message was: “Hey Rebecca, the sun is shining in our favour today.” Confused, I responded, “It is very nice out.” The next day, he added: “You seem to enjoy the cold.” I found this statement odd; I did not know how to respond. A friend thought that either A was implying I was cold for refusing his advances, or that he was “negging” me. Apparently, this is a common pick-up technique. Men will say something negative about women, expecting to be contradicted when the women then try to get their approval. Who knows, I responded, “I wouldn’t say so, no!” to his contention. Then, I received another message. It was short enough that I could read it in the preview: “Really, well I can keep you warm on a cold lonely night ;).” I shuddered, my skin crawled, and I had butterflies in my stomach (NOT the good kind). Then, I started to get really angry. Had I not said no? How could he think I would want to hear that? Why does he make me feel so uncomfortable and unsafe? Will he try to harass me further if I say something (or nothing)?
This is not an uncommon experience. Many of my friends have experienced similar and more frightening encounters. It is not abnormal for women to bond while talking about these everyday aggressions, which cause us worry and stress, and take up space in our heads and our hearts. Chances are, a majority of students in the Faculty have experienced this. It is not okay.
My encounter with A occupied my thoughts, but nothing in my life slowed down. Consider this, and then consider how it felt when the newspaper, not long after, discussed how Camp J bullied and belittled a young victim of sexual assault. Think how angry it made me when my classmates and professors questioned the place of feminist and other critical non-male, non-white voices in our curriculum! Unfortunately, I am not surprised.
Below, I will reproduce my response to A.
Rebecca Kaeser Reiss – 9:05pm
I generally try not to dignify unwanted advances and borderline sexual harassment with a response. I find however, that I cannot simply say nothing. It astounds me that you think this would be an acceptable thing to say to a woman you barely know. What’s worse, you said it to a woman who already told you she was not interested. Women are often afraid to be rude or impolite because they are afraid of men’s reactions and the consequences that could come of them. Generally, it doesn’t go farther than calling us disparaging names but when it comes to virtual strangers it’s hard to tell someone’s propensity to violence and anger. You following me to the coat room at the engagement party and blocking the exit made me uncomfortable. It is difficult in the spur of the moment to come up with the right words to refuse someone’s advances while staying civil and polite. I think it is this concern that makes men think it’s ok to assume a woman saying “no thank you” means “maybe, please convince me.” This is not the case. No definitely doesn’t mean maybe. Persisting in your advances made me feel unsafe. Your sideways comments about me being “fine” after knowing me for less than 5 minutes felt disrespectful and cheap, as was your abnormal interest in my relationship status. I enjoy meeting new people, but I don’t enjoy feeling like I am being “cruised,” seen as a piece of meat, or as a tool to someone else’s sexual gratification. I hope you will consider my words and my thoughts. They are not malicious, but they are honest, and I do believe they are clear.
Finally, I hope that we can acknowledge that we all come to class with full lives and experiences of all sorts, most of which many will never know about. I also hope that we can be allies to each other, and interact with each other guided by empathy.