Because You Let Me

A chubby, misunderstood kid, Boy pretended not to care what others thought of him. He was a smarter than everyone around him, or so he liked to remind himself (and those of us within earshot). An underachiever, he loved the surprised facial expressions he received from high school teachers whose classes he ditched but tests he aced.

Boy was mean to everyone except his close friends and his crush du jour. Through the few years that I knew him, I managed to alternate between all three of the friend-crush-outsider roles. Many of the other girls in our friend group did, too.

He also liked to touch the girls in our group, but in more ways than just the usual hugs. Boy would frequently grab breasts and snap bras, then grin. He even put his steel-toed boot between my legs in gym class and threatened to kick my vagina. Then, he replaced his boot with a metal-tipped umbrella, laughing all the while.

He most frequently targeted the girls least likely to speak up.

Our friend Girl was his usual victim. Girl was shy, kind-hearted, and more physically mature than the rest of us. Boy had tried to court her many times through the years of their friendship. I think they even tried dating once. It didn’t last long, but she kept him around as a friend, instead. When ever Boy decided he was going to “accidentally” brush Girl’s chest or give her a back rub that was a little too friendly, she would smile uncomfortably and wait for him to stop, rather than directly telling him off.

But why didn’t I, or any of the other girls he harassed, ever say anything? There were plenty of justifications.

It’s no big deal. I’m overreacting. He knows it’s wrong; I don’t have to tell him. Maybe this time is different. He doesn’t mean it. He’s trying to prove a point. He’s just “being a guy”. He has a crush on me. He doesn’t know any better. He’s showing off to the other guys. It was only a tickle. He means well. It’s a compliment; he thinks I look good today. It’s sexual tension. We’re friends, and friends touch each other. He just wants to get a rise out of me. I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that he got to me. I don’t want to embarrass him by calling him out, either, and look like an oversensitive bitch in front of my friends. I’ll just wait and hope he stops on his own.

He didn’t stop, no matter how much we girls tried to not react.

Boy exerted his physical dominance over us, demonstrating that his desires were worth more than ours. I seriously doubt that Boy ever consciously thought, “Okay, mankind, how can I help us keep this oppression going?” But, even if harm was not his intention, the damage was still done.

When he finally surpassed my “jerk” threshold, and I decided it was time to break the silence and play ambassador on behalf the girls of our friend group. I started with a rant about about how him touching Girl made her uncomfortable, then escalated to how the rest of us didn’t like his harassment either and wanted it to stop. He shrugged.

Furious, I asked why he persisted when he knew we didn’t enjoy his advances. His reply? “…because you let me.” 

I let him?

Apparently, in accordance with some of history’s most popular rape myths, withholding a big fat “NO!” signifies absolute consent. Lack of an attempt to fight back seems to go hand in hand with the she-wanted-it argument.

I never mentioned what I said to any of the girls in our group who he was victimizing. I’m not sure if he did, either.

What I do know is that the touching finally stopped, for all of us. Had I known confronting him would stop his tirade, I would have spoken up months before and spared us all a little anxiety — and nipped his little spurt of entitlement right in the bud.

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