At a recent holiday party, I was talking to an older acquaintance when out of the blue, I felt him rub his junk on my hand. I was already on my way out. My husband was a few feet ahead of me, and I’d just grabbed the sauté pan that had contained my potluck dish. As I chatted with the creep, I held the pan against my torso. My right hand was on the far side of the pan, out in front of me.
I don’t remember now what we were talking about. What I do remember is an awkward feeling suddenly overcoming me. Something was out of place, but it was so very wrong that it took my brain some extra time to register what the hell was happening.
What was happening was this — the scumbag was rubbing the front of his pants against my hand. By about the third time, my brain could no longer question the sensory inputs it was receiving. Oh. My. God. I looked straight at him. He smiled back at me, and for a moment I questioned myself. Did that just happen? I may have smiled back or even laughed a little, my nervous habit in awkward situations.
His behavior was so brazen that it didn’t seem possible. There were people all around us. The room was bright. His wife was a few steps away. Paralyzed with cognitive dissonance, I kept politely talking to him as I slowly backed away.
When I got into the car, I was overcome with a compulsion to disassociate myself with the hand. It felt filthy and contaminated. I told my husband what had happened, and he was appropriately upset. But neither of us felt it was serious enough to go back inside and confront the guy.
On the drive home, I replayed the incident in my mind and rehearsed alternative endings. In one version, when he smiles that repulsive smile, I look him in the eye and ask, very loudly, “Why are you rubbing your dick on my hand?” In another, I drop the pan and scream when I feel him brushing against my fingers. Or maybe I just humiliate him. “Hey dude, is that a Chapstick in your pocket?”
Of course I did none of these things, and that’s how perverts like him get away with it. It wasn’t my fault that he rubbed himself on me, but once he did it, the onus was on me to call him out and that’s an uncomfortable duty — especially when you’re naturally inclined towards niceness. Jerks like him have figured out that you can get away with some pretty revolting moves as long as you execute them in a way that getting caught or punished requires your victim to take on the role of the accuser.
Because no one wants to be the one who makes a scene. I was grossed out, but I was also tired and I wanted to go home. It’s easier to raise hell about the most flagrant acts, but when the behavior in question is mundane, fighting it can feel almost as annoying as the offense itself. Which is a problem, because as small as these individual misbehaviors might seem on their own, they add up to a sexist culture that should have ended long ago.
Fighting misogynists is tiring work, but it’s worth doing. Because each time we let it slide, those bastards get the message that it’s ok. It’s not.
Images by Shutterstock