Stop. Just stop. This goes for you, Mr. Three-Sheets-to-the-Wind Chuck-Norris-Wannabe on US Airways to Cleveland, snatching my tiny cup of raspberry vinaigrette out of my hands to open it for me without a word, but especially for you, Pervfesser Dickhead, sitting next to me in class today. Who said you could, I’d like to know? Class started two hours ago and you’re patting me on the shoulder like I’m your golden retriever? The cold stare you netted the first time you went there obviously wasn’t enough for you, since you did it again and I had to ask you to stop.
“Don’t touch you?”
“I was just being friendly!”
Well don’t be. If that’s being friendly, be unfriendly. I don’t know you, you don’t know me, you don’t know if I want your friendship (I don’t), and I’m certainly not going to let you pat me at will throughout the next four hours. And I’m tired of being nice about it.
I’m tired of acting apologetic and making up excuses.
I’m tired of spending the rest of the class fending off the bruised aura emanating from your enormous ego.
I’m tired of spending my lunch hour trying to imagine circumstances under which I would touch anyone I’d just met, male or female, the way you touched me, and coming up blank.
I’m tired of trying to imagine what it must be like to go through life honestly believing that your hands belong anywhere you want to put them, such that you’re offended when you’re told they don’t.
I’m tired of being reminded how much I am still a woman of this culture because I’m worrying about what I did to make you think it was okay—was I too nice? Did I smile too much? Should I not have responded when you made that comment about my shoes?
Do you know what would happen if I touched you that way? I do—you’d think it was a come-on. So why is it that I am not supposed to suspect your motives?
If I touched you, and you welcomed my attention, and I then said, “I was just being friendly,” do you know what you would call me? I do—a tease.
If you didn’t welcome my attention, do you know what you would do the rest of the afternoon? I do—ignore me, pretend I didn’t exist, since nothing’s scarier than an obviously desperate fat girl!
So why is it that I’m being rude if I try to get on with the business of learning—which after all is what I paid to be there for—by trying to forget you’re sitting there, trying to stop steeling the right half of my body against further onslaughts from your direction?
Why am I rude if I tell you not to touch me? Why is it that the woman is always wrong?
Here’s a primer, dudes. You know how you’re so frustrated because you don’t know what to do about sexism and male privilege? Keep your frickin’ hands to yourself. And tell your buddies to do the same.
Because if a woman wants you to touch her, she’ll let you know. I can guarantee a woman you met in a class two hours ago does not want you to touch her.* It’s pretty easy not to touch women you don’t know. You just— don’t touch women you don’t know.
But even if it’s someone you do know, there’s an easy way to avoid all this unpleasantness—ask. Say, “Is it okay if I touch you?** If she comes back with anything less than, “Yes, please,”*** then back right the hell off without being a prick about it. You were wrong; act like it. Say, “Sorry,” and mean it, and don’t hold that grudge.
Even better, just wait until she touches you first. I’ve worked in the medical field for 15 years and I have never heard of anyone’s dick falling off from failing to make the first move. It won’t kill you. Trust me.
If you really object to being classed with the mugger/stalker/rapist du jour, then stop acting like him. Stop demonstrating that you share his fundamental ideology. Women’s bodies, even our shoulders, hands, heads, hair, or other “harmless” parts, are NOT yours for the patting or squeezing or groping anytime you should feel the urge. If you don’t have explicit permission, you DON’T HAVE PERMISSION, and we’re not wrong for explicitly demanding that you respect our bodily integrity. YOU’RE wrong for making that explicitness necessary.
*That’s why mommy should have taught you to say “Excuse me,” when you brush someone in the store. Because in this culture it’s UNACCEPTABLE to put your hands all over strangers.
**If it’s a romantic encounter I promise you that asking will only enhance the mood.
***Including but not limited to: No, no way, I’d prefer you didn’t, please don’t, maybe later, stop, I don’t feel well, go away, leave me alone, thanks but no thanks, I’d rather have a sharp stick in the eye.
Originally published on FR on 07/09/2006.