When is a hug not a hug?

25 Mar

Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape culture, sexual assault

 I’ve been thinking about rape culture a lot lately. Fun, right? But with Steubenville (and its appalling coverage) in the news, it’s kind of hard to avoid. I’ve been thinking a lot about the advice I’ve given and received over the years about being a single gal in the city. Don’t walk around drunk by yourself, stay out of dark alleys, be aware of your surroundings, always have a weapon (or something that can be used as a weapon) handy. Don’t make yourself a target. To some degree, this is just common sense to try to avoid any kind of assault/mugging. And while I don’t want to support a society that actively tolerates rape culture, I also thoroughly enjoy not being assaulted. How do I find the balance between not making myself a target, and feeling like that shouldn’t be solely my responsibility? I’ve been thinking about this even more after a recent incident.

A couple of weekends ago, I found myself having a delightful late-night stumble through the alley behind my apartment building, clutching a box of freshly-procured pizza. I had moved in earlier that day, and celebrated by having some friends over for drinks.  By drinks, I mean that I single-handedly consumed an entire bottle of white wine, leaving me pretty incredibly wasters.

Within sight of my door, I heard a slurry male voice, “Hey, can I have a hug?”

I turned to see a dude (dare I say bro?), arms slightly extended, ambling towards me. Let me restate, I was drunk. So drunk that I was literally hugging my pizza box flush to my chest in order to avoid dropping it. And the first thoughts through my head were, Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is the night you get raped. This stupid fucking asshole is going to grab you and rape you in a dark, puddle-y alley, and probably steal your pizza. I could barely walk straight, yet I was trying to see if he had a weapon in the hand that was angled away from me.

Spoiler alert: I did not get raped.

I backed away as quick as I could and made Wolverine claws with my keys (years of leaving campus after midnight have made me especially good at this). I told my new pal Huggy McInappropriateReactionsToSocialCues that no, he could not have a fucking hug, and that it was really creepy to lurk in alleys asking people that. He in turn told me I was a hateful person.

“Why, because I don’t want a complete stranger invading my personal space? Because I don’t know you and don’t want you anywhere near me?” (I’m a surprisingly articulate inebriate – ask any of my friends, the drunker I get the more impressive my vocabulary becomes.)

He stopped walking towards me. “Why are you so hateful? Your heart is filled with hate.”

I know, I know. Don’t feed the trolls. But I find it hard to keep my mouth shut when confronted with them in real life. I told him to go away and stop harassing innocent pizza-carriers in alleys. He continued to yell after me that I was a hateful human being who would never find happiness (which apparently only comes from hugging creepy strangers at one in the morning).

At this point, I would like to hop back on my rape culture-point with a handy graph:

What I drunkenly thought:

What Drunk Bro drunkenly thought:

Oh fuck, a random dude is approaching me, asking for close physical contact. Will he back off if I say no? Probably not. Where are my keys? Can I swing them at his face and run before he has time to grab me? If I give him my cash will he leave me alone? I shouldn’t have come back this way even though it’s a half-block closer. If I scream, will anyone hear me? Will anyone help me?

Hey, it’s a lady. I want a hug. If she doesn’t hug me, she’s a hateful bitch.

I’m not sure this graph really needs explaining, but I’d like to expound on a couple of points. First, I have grown up in a society so deeply entrenched in rape culture, that if a random guy asks me for a hug, I will automatically assume that his intention is to hurt me. This is dangerous because it makes my adrenaline flow. Because if he hadn’t stopped walking towards me, he would’ve gotten a complete janitor-ring of keys in the face. Or a kick in the balls. Or pepper-sprayed. And this makes rape culture dangerous for everyone.

Second, Drunk Bro has grown up in a society that is so permissive of rape culture that he is incapable (at least while drunk) of seeing any woman who does not want him touching her as anything but a hateful bitch. I’m assuming this would be the same guy who would, in a more sober state, tell me to smile when I walk past him (What if my dog just died? What if I just don’t feel like smiling? My facial expressions are not here for you aesthetic amusement). Who would not stop hitting on me until I said the magic words (“I have a boyfriend”) because he couldn’t fathom a woman who would be able to pass up his manly charms unless she was already spoken for. And I know I’m making a lot of assumptions, but damn it, I should be able to walk home without dealing with this shit.

I don’t think that Drunk Bro is representative of the males in my neighborhood, or men in Denver, or men in general. The friends I was drinking with were all guys, all of whom got just as shit-faced as me, and managed to not invade my personal space. My boyfriend was appalled when I told him this story, interrupting when I related that Drunk Bro had asked to hug me to say “You mean grab you? Because when a stranger wraps his arms around you that’s not a hug, that’s a grab”. And maybe Drunk Bro didn’t have any intentions past hugging the random lady he saw walking by. But it didn’t occur to him that I would perceive that as a threat, and I couldn’t afford to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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