I've just walked about five miles before finally stopping at a bus stop to ride the rest of the way to my destination. It feels good to have walked so far. My nana has died recently and that walk was a way of blowing off steam. There is a smile on my face. The bus passes some punk kids with a tri-hawk and a porcupine-do, and there is a sense of camaraderie as several of us on the bus notice and remark upon it. I get off that bus to wait for another, and when I board that one, there is a grin on my face from ear to ear, for any who wants to see. The one who wants to see in this case is a man well into his forties. He smiles until our eyes meet as I look at my surroundings, and I politely nod in his direction, the smile of my walk still on my face. He sits across from me and begins to talk to me. There is a girl beside me who watches with curiosity. He asks me if I like to get drunk and I reply that I like to walk. This causes the girl next to me to titter. As he continues to ask me questions and I continue to respond, not knowing how to get out of this, the girl next to me shakes her head. At last, the man says, "You're a nice lady," and the girl steps in. She says, "How about you leave the nice lady alone?" Caught off guard, the mans asks, "What?" and the girl continues, "She's obviously not interested, so why don't you leave her alone?" This soon erupts into a shouting match between the two of them. The man eventually says, "You don't even know her! You're not her friend!" The girl declares, "Yes, I am her friend!" He then looks me straight in the eye and asks me, "Is she your friend?" For a split second, I'm caught between telling the truth and seizing the opportunity for escape. I respond, "Yes, she is my friend." And I consider that it isn't really a lie, given that, within the sisterhood, all women who stick together are friends. Weakened by my acceptance of this girl's help, the man now resorts to petty insults, to which the girl responds, "I don't care if you think I'm ugly! Have you looked in the mirror lately? You're not exactly the catch of the day, yourself!" He angrily declares that he is going to leave the bus, but does not until another girl chimes in, "Okay, bye! Leave, please!" Once he is gone, the three of us laugh. We have never met before, but in unison we have achieved a small victory. The happiness I felt after my walk cannot compare to the elation I am feeling now. And we talk about how one doesn't have be polite if they're uncomfortable. I desperately want to do for someone else as that girl did for me.
I get my chance a few years later. I am on the bus to go to the grocery store and there are two young girls on the bus, no older than fourteen. As they move seats a grinning man follows them. Softly, they utter that they do not know him and could he please leave them alone. Still grinning, the man says that he just wants to talk to them. My blood begins to boil as I see myself as well as my younger sister in these two girls. Almost without thinking, I tell him to leave them alone. "What?" he asks. "I'm just talking to them!" "They don't want to talk to you!" I snap. "Whatever, you don't even know them!" he snaps back. "Doesn't matter," I say. "This doesn't even involve you!" he says. "That doesn't matter!" I shout. "I see it; I'm involved." The girls now chime in, "We're lesbians! Just leave us alone!" The man now steps down to leave the bus as it slows. He says, "Whatever, you girls are all on your periods." "Oh, right, because that's the only reason to tell you to leave young girls alone!" I snap. He leaves, and the girls thank me, asserting that they aren't actually lesbians; they just said that to make him leave them alone. I tell them that it doesn't matter whether they are or they aren't; nobody has the right to treat them that way.
A year before that, a mentally-handicapped young man approaches one of my friends. He tells her that she is nice and then hugs her. The group of us stand there and watch what looks to be an extended hug. A man in a wheel chair deliberately wheels towards them and tells them to get out of the way. The young man lets go and leaves. My friend begins to sob. It turns out he had kissed her and we couldn't see. The man in the wheel chair, seeing it from a different angle, was trying to stop it. I feel immensely guilty for not knowing assault when it was right in front of me.
My best friend is on the bus on her way to see me. A young woman sits a few seats in front of her, on the other side. Several drunken young men sit behind her. They make sexual comments to her and one of them drapes his arms over her. She tells him not to touch her. He says, "Come on, baby, when are you gonna let me sit on your lap?" She replies, "I'm not." He asks, "Where are you getting off?" She responds, "Anywhere you're not." He says, "Come on, sweetie, don't be like that!" "Oh, I'm not sweet," she says. Eventually, the bus driver tells them to get off, and my best friend congratulates the young woman who thanks her and rolls her eyes in their direction. They don't know each other, this young woman and my friend, but my best friend has just seen something that she admires and aspires to do, and this young woman has just received positive feedback and thus confirmation that she was in the right to behave the way she did.
I'm waiting for the bus and a man approaches me and asks me my ethnic background, a question I often get due to my dark eyes and dark curly hair. I oblige him in telling him my many ethnicities and he continues to chat with me. He talks about a store he owns and how he has a daughter in high school. When the bus arrives and we get on, he sits beside me and continues to talk to me until he eventually asks for my number. I know I should tell him that's none of his business, but politeness dictates that I have to be nice. I write down my residence number from last year and hand it to him. He sees that there is an extension and he is not satisfied. He asks for my home phone number. At this point, all I can think of is how well that's going to go over if he calls my grandparents' house. I insist to him, not untruthfully, that during the school year, I'm not at home. I state that if he wants to reach me, he'll have to call my residence number. For the next few weeks, I wear a different coat that has a hood, just in case he's at that bus stop again.
A young man approaches me at the bus stop outside residence. He asks me if I'm staying at the residence and I reply that I am. He asks me if I have a lot of friends there and I reply that I don't even know my roommate's name. He asks me if I like to get drunk and I tell him that I don't like the taste of alcohol. He asks me what I'm doing tonight and I tell him that I'll be sleeping. He says that if I get bored with that, I should feel free to come to his room. I tell him that's doubtful, but I appreciate the offer. Once on the bus he tells me his room number again, so that I don't forget. I assure him I'll remember, but that I will in all probability be too tired.
The mentally-handicapped man that assaulted my friend a few years ago shows up on the bus last week as I am on my way to internship. I see him target me from the corner of my eye as he moves to a seat much closer to me. I open up my laptop and refuse to make eye contact with him. He stares and tries to catch my attention by waving at me. He waves again, saying, "Miss." Without thinking, the politeness that has been ingrained in me since childhood forces my hand upward to wave back. The feminism I have developed keeps me from doing anymore than a slight wiggle of my fingers before I drop my hand back down to my laptop. I still do not make eye contact. "Miss," he says again. "Can I sit by you?" I shake my head, and politeness forces me to explain myself, and I say, "No. Sorry. My stuff's on this seat." Another young woman gets on the bus. I see him target her as he sits across from her. She has earphones, but removes them to reluctantly indulge him. As she looks around, I catch her eye and shake my head, hoping she will catch my meaning. She continues to indulge him, but puts her earphones back in at every pause. My stop comes and, before I get off, I whisper to her, "Don't be afraid to be a bitch to that guy. He will try to do something otherwise." She thanks me nervously and with relief. Nervously because she wonders how she can possibly be a bitch to a mental handicap, but with relief because I've given her an excuse. If she is perceived as a horrible person, she can blame me, a person she can't put a name to, because I said that he would do something.
All of these scenarios actually happened. Every spoken word is exactly as I remember it. They all happen to have taken place on buses, but this applies to any situation where a woman finds herself unable to get out of an uncomfortable situation for fear of being impolite.
Now, in another piece, I stated that there is no cut-and-dry way to avoid sexual assault, and this is true, but I would be doing a disservice if I did not also state that there are ways to be safer. No, I am not going to tell you not to get drunk because that's ridiculous. No, I am not going to tell you never to leave your drinks unattended because you've already been told that by everyone else. I'm not going to tell you to travel in groups and I'm not going to tell you to be careful about what kinds of messages you're giving off and I'm not going to tell you to never fall asleep in the presence of a man who isn't a relative or a significant other. Fuck that. You should be able to do all of that without fear of being assaulted.
It's as I said; only assaulters can prevent assault. However, we often have a sense of who these people are when they talk to us, a feeling in our gut that something's off. We're told over and over again to trust our instincts, and yet it's not addressed what happens when we actually do trust our instinct. We get called crazy; we get called rude. We live in an "innocent until proven guilty" society, and that's not always how it is. We are told from very early on that we have to trust, we have to be polite, we have to be nice, we shouldn't judge others, etc. And it isn't that there's anything inherently wrong with this teaching except that they neglect to tell that some people simply don't deserve your trust or your politeness. You do not have to be nice to everyone and it's okay to judge people as long as it's not based on skin colour or other such uncontrollable traits. You have to remember that suspicion is a survival technique that we have evolved in order to avoid the "come into my parlour" type traps.
This is important confirmation to have because it is the only thing that is possibly going to make you decide to trust your instincts in spite of the backlash you're sure to receive for voicing your concerns. I'm telling you, when you feel something is off, to forget about being nice. This is something society has ingrained in you to make you second-guess yourself, and to later blame yourself for not trusting your instincts. Yes, the very people who tell you to be nice and not trust yourself are the same people who will later tell you that it's your fault you were assaulted since you didn't act on your instincts. So why should you listen to these hypocrites? You shouldn't. It's hard, I know, as you can see with the examples I listed, I know well how hard it is. But it will serve you well when you do it.
In short, be a bitch. Somebody's asking you inappropriate questions, tell him to fuck off unless you're interested. Someone's asking you about your personal life, tell him it's none of his business unless you want to tell it. Some guy's telling you about his personal life, tell him you don't want to hear it unless you do. Fuck society and its demands that you ignore your instincts because assaulters are notorious cowards and will often back off if you stand up to them in public. Flawed as society is, they still won't tolerate a public rape, and if you loudly voice your utter disapproval, he knows that he cannot hope to continue to bother you while everyone is watching. Your silence or complacency is society's excuse not to involve themselves, its excuse to believe you just might want and like the attention. Don't give them those excuses. Put the responsibility on your potential assaulter and on them. If you don't, they'll put the responsibility on you, and that's not where it belongs under any circumstances.
Now, you'll also notice that, in many of these scenarios, a third party involved themselves. This is key. A target person of an assaulter might not know that s/he's been targeted or know how to get out of it if s/he does. An assaulter ultimately decides whether or not s/he's going to assault someone, but once s/he's decided, s/he's almost guaranteed to do it. That's where a third party can step in. For the person observing, it can be pretty obvious when someone has been targeted. You can then take the potential victim aside and warn, or you can directly confront the potential assaulter. One of my favourite instances of this involved a young man who saw an underage girl targeted and he walked up to the man who targeted her and said, "I know your name, I know where you live, I saw her leave with you."
The third party in these situations possibly has the most power because the potential assaulter isn't counting on it. It will take the assaulter off guard and possibly alert the potential victim to the potential assaulter's true intentions. As I've shown in the above scenarios, it doesn't take a physical fight to step in; it just takes a caring human being.
I've mentioned before that assaulters have to break down three barriers in order to assault someone. A third party stepping in to stop an assault strengthens the weakest barrier of all, that of society. Because if we are collectively on the lookout, how can an assaulter put responsibly for her/his actions on the victim? Being a bitch strengthens your barrier, your personal protection, and also helps to strengthen the barrier of society. As someone else said, if an assaulter's tactics don't work on you, not only will s/he have to target someone else, but the assaulter may be forced to use tactics that put hir at risk of being caught and prosecuted or the assaulter may be forced not to assault as many people, and either is a step in the right direction.
So be a bitch; be an observer. Be an observant bitch and be a bitchy observer. You'll notice in the above scenarios that they were all either prevented or stopped because someone, whether the potential victim or the third party, was a bitch, and that some of the encounters could have ended sooner had someone been a bitch earlier, been more of a bitch, or if more people were bitches. You may be wondering why I use the word, "bitch" when I'm a feminist, but part of feminism is taking back words, and bitch is my favourite example: B.I.T.C.H.=Babe In Total Control of Herself.
Stand up to potential assaulters and make sure the responsibility for their actions stays on them, bitch.
On a final note, if you happen to read this, and you willfully decide not to be a bitch next time someone makes you feel uncomfortable and you end up assaulted
it's still NOT your fault. Weren't expecting that one, were you? Once again, only assaulters can prevent assault; just because you're polite does not mean they can't simply choose not to assault you. It's just that they probably won't decide not to
Furthermore, taking this advice and being a bitch doesn't mean you won't be assaulted. Some assaulters will be even more driven to assault you when you stand up for yourself; trust your survival instincts on that one. And it still won't be your fault. The only reason I'm touting this advice over other 'preventative' tips is that this advice doesn't restrict you or make you seem paranoid. This advice builds up you. Because you are the most important person when it comes to assault. Not because it's your fault or your responsibility because it isn't, but because you aren't an assaulter and the assaulter is. It doesn't matter how the assaulter is affected; it matters how you are affected, and you will probably feel much better if you are assaulted even after standing up for yourself than if you are assaulted after being polite.