Why I Am a Feminist (or, Applied Examples of the Prevalence of Rape Culture)

Here’s a true story. Last night, I was hanging out at a pretty chill bar, having some beers and just having a nice time. Three guys and a girl came in and sat near me. They seemed to be about college age, and I paid them little mind. One guy seemed to take notice of me, came over and started talking to me. I already had a good feeling where this was going, believe me.

“Who are you here with?”

“Myself.”

“Ohh!” he grinned smugly and reached a friendly arm around my shoulders. I stiffened, but attempting subtlety with this guy was like playing a Mozart concerto for a warthog. He continued to have a distinct lack of regard for personal space during this entire encounter. I pulled away, and kept having to, again and again, as he pressed his body “casually” against my side.

I had been talking to the bartender about how I’m moving to a different part of the city. The guy next to me started saying, don’t move, I’ll cry, we should hang out, we should get married, hahaha. You know, in that joking-but-not-really sort of way. I said no, I don’t think my girlfriend would like that.

He stared at me in disbelief.

“I’m gay.”

“Are you really?” he seemed dubious. You know, just because I don’t fit whatever the damn stereotype of a lesbian is, doesn’t mean this shit doesn’t piss me off after a while. But I was amiable enough still, even at that point.

“Yes, really.”

Then came the questions, the utterly unoriginal and predictable questions…

“Hypothetically, if you were straight, would you find me attractive?”

“Hypothetically, if you were gay, would you find your friend attractive?”

He guffawed and made a joke of it. I settled for telling him there is no hypothetical, because I’m not straight. He was good looking enough for sure, but he was also smugly self-assured to the point of intolerable cockiness, and that is SO unattractive in anyone, regardless of sex.

“How do you know you’re gay? Are you sure?”

“How do you know you’re straight?” I retorted. Another offhand joke.

“So you’ve never dated a guy?” I didn’t find this worthy of answering. And so on and so forth.

I shot him down, again and again. Apparently, though, “you’re so pretty” is a valid excuse to ignore increasingly not-so-subtle hints to go away. Because, apparently, pretty women NEED to be convinced, cajoled, and outfoxed despite what they may have to say in the matter. Too bad for him, it’s a rare person who can run any sort of intellectual circles around me.

“So can you give me tips on how to make girls like me?” I wasn’t sure whether this was some kind of facetious reverse psychology, though now, looking back, I really don’t think he was clever enough for that. I just sort of rolled my eyes in answer.

There were plenty more questions, liberally interspersed with complaints that I was mean, an asshole, and that I should be nicer to him. I pointed out dryly that no one forced him to come over to me, and that despite my “meanness” he was still glued to my side. Yet another hint for him to go away, and it was laughed off: “Yeah, well you’re pretty.”

I was there first, though, and other than him, had been enjoying my night, so I didn’t feel like I should be the one to have to move. Hey, I’m stubborn like that. He was annoying, but somewhat tolerable in a “look at this dumb asshat” kind of way. Until.

“Have you ever kissed a guy?”

I didn’t answer. It’s none of his business. (Yes, but I wasn’t about to encourage him. I know more than well enough from experience.)

“So,” he pushed, “would you like to try?” I’d had enough.

“You’re disgusting and rude. Get the fuck away from me.”

He tried to play it off as a joke; then, seeing that I was having none of it, turned to one of his friends and called me a “feminist” in a decidedly mocking tone. I tartly informed the lot of them that “feminist is not a pejorative, and neither is gay, for that matter.”

Blank stares. They didn’t know what “pejorative” means — big surprise — and I had to explain… yeah.

Then another guy in his group joined in on ganging up on me, saying condescending things, and I was really starting to get mad. Meanwhile, Douchebag #1 was making little comments about what an asshole I am, and that I didn’t need to be so “mean” to him and his friends.

Throughout this, their female friend meekly tried once or twice to tell them to leave me alone, with little to no effect. They ignored her, and the three guys kept up the hateful diatribe. The kicker was when Douchebag #1 called me “this feminist idiot.”

REALLY??

“Get the fuck away from me before I punch you.”

“I’ll call the cops on you if you touch me.”

“Oh, so a big man like you can’t handle a little ‘feminist idiot’ like me?”

He kept making little comments to his friends, just loud enough for me to hear. It was clearly a case of sour grapes, and I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so angry.

“No wonder straight girls don’t like you. It’s because you’re an insufferable douchebag.”

“Oh, I can get all the girls I want, it’s easy.” I raised an eyebrow, remembering the query for help with said girls not too much earlier.

“Ha, is that so? Why are you bothering me then? Go find one of them and leave me the fuck alone. You’re disgusting.”

He got pretty huffy at this. “Me, disgusting? You’re disgusting.” This from the charmer who was trying to make out with me ten minutes before. Sour grapes, indeed. I was fed up, and turned to the bartender.

“Get these fucking misogynist assholes away from me, please.” Thankfully, the bartender had my back at last and told them to get out. Douchebags numbers 1 and 2 went outside, along with their mouse of a female friend. Finding himself left alone, the third guy came up to me, vaingloriously trying to defend his comrades-in-misogyny.

“They’re not usually like that, they’re just drunk, you don’t have to be mean. Don’t take it out on me, I wasn’t saying anything. But I guess you’re in hostility mode now. But don’t be mad, they’re good guys.” I really had no patience for him and his lame apologies for his disgusting friends, and I told him as much.

“Maybe you should get better friends who aren’t assholes, drunk or sober. Ever heard of guilt by association?” He wouldn’t leave me alone, though, and bugged me for several minutes until I deigned to placate him with an offhand comment just to shut him up. Still, he kept at it until I flat out told him to go away and leave me alone. He didn’t like it, but at last he left.

There are more details I’ve left out, and choice epithets I was called, but I don’t really feel like typing out the whole play-by-play. Needless to say, this is probably the worst treatment I’ve had as a gay woman in Philadelphia in a long time.

After they left, I broke down crying. The bartender was very apologetic, saying nothing like that has happened there before, and that those particular people are regulars. Ironically, he told me, the owner is a gay man and he’s never had any trouble with them. Bitterly, I pointed out that the owner is not an attractive woman whom frat boys would just love to talk into bed in order to show her what a “real man” is. The bartender was nice enough, but I really think it was a case of too little, too late. I have to wonder if that is because they were, in fact, regulars. And I’m upset that this fact made a difference.

He walked me out, effusively apologizing, telling me that he hoped I wouldn’t pass judgment on the bar due to a few unruly patrons. He stayed with me as I unlocked my bike, looking worried. As I pedaled briskly home, I had to keep fighting back tears. Later, it was a long time before I could get to sleep, playing the whole scene back in my mind, seething with rage. It made my stomach turn. To be honest, it still does.

If there is any question in your mind that we are living in a rape culture, a culture in which young men think they can say and do anything to a woman in pursuit of sex, just because he finds her attractive, regardless of whether or not she is interested, and feels perfectly justified — nay, entitled — in hurling verbal (or physical, or sexual) abuse at her when rebuffed, simply because his pride and ego have been hurt, think again.

This is rape culture. This is why Steubenville and a million other similar and unreported cases happen. This is why the media has such crocodile-tear sympathy for the high school rapists for their lost scholarships and “ruined lives,” and not a word of concern for the victim, whose life is the one which is truly ruined.

This is what women and girls put up with, all the time, gay or straight; and by lieu of lifetime exposure, are led to believe that it is normal and right. This is what boys are taught is their due and their right. She was asking for it, she was drunk, she was pretty, she was dressed “like a slut,” she was alone, ad nauseam. Nor does it end at women — gay boys and men, as well as trans* people suffer parallel, if not completely similar, fates.

The worst part is that I feel guilty that I should be “thankful” that it didn’t end up far more tragic, far more dangerous, far more lethal. And that may be the most enraging piece of this whole scenario.

I am thoroughly disgusted. Rape culture must end, and it is everyone’s responsibility. Let’s start a revolution.

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8 thoughts on “Why I Am a Feminist (or, Applied Examples of the Prevalence of Rape Culture)

  1. Becka says:

    Thank you for sharing that story. I wish it was the first time I’d heard such a horrible thing but unfortunately, it isn’t. I have no idea what has inspired a generation of fratboys who use sexual conquest as a basis for their self-esteem and see nothing wrong with rape to get what they want. Blaming it on movies and rap music seems too easy. I also wish I could say they grow out of it. Many do not. With the latest flurry of reports that ivy league schools promote the attitude by silencing the victims and siding with the attackers it seems they have ample support.

    My only thought is that as representatives of 50% of the population (according to the latest census it’s a 50/50 split) women in the US need to make it blatanly obvious this behavior is intolerable. We are not as powerless as we once were. We need better laws, stricter sentences and a radical change in the way the justice system handles these cases. We get those by standing up, speaking out and living with the title of “feminist” if we must. There is a time to be a “bitch”. I’m pretty sure rectifying this attitude is one of them. If we wait for the men of the world to come to our rescue and defend our honor we’ll be waiting a very long time.

    • Lula Lisbon says:

      Thanks for your comment, Becka. I agree that it is disgusting, and I hear more and more about colleges silencing victims, leaving perpetrators of violence unpunished and even lauded for their places in the community.

      Things desperately need to change, and if a country like India can rise up against misogyny, rape, and violence, then I think it is possible here too. Enough people need to get sufficiently angry, and need to take action.

  2. clivechip says:

    Sometimes, like now, I’m ashamed to be male. I hope writing about this disgusting behaviour will help you put the incident behind you.

    • Lula Lisbon says:

      Please, don’t be ashamed to be male. There is nothing inherently wrong with your sex. You (and all of us) should be ashamed of the culture which insidiously teaches us from birth that this is acceptable.

      My motives for writing this were cathartic at first, but the more I wrote, the greater the hope that I could possibly turn a negative into a positive, and that I could throw a bit of light onto the disgusting morass that is rape culture.

      Maybe an account like this will make people think twice, will make parents think about how they are socializing their children to respond to situations like this, even from very young ages. A lofty goal, to be sure, but so is anything worth doing.

      Thanks for your comments, clivechip. Much appreciated.

      ❤ LL

  3. John Carcosa says:

    That is horrible and unfortunately not the least bit surprising. We need to get in the mind set where men shame other men for behaving in that way.

  4. Thank you for this post. I hope that we can find a way to change this – you are right about the culture – that as a society this type of behaviour is seen as acceptable or just “boys will be boys”. That is the problem, We need to teach children and learn ourselves to be humans – with purpose and compassion and love in our hearts rather than snide in our dicks.

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