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September 06, 2006

Harlangate Groping Meme

Inspired by the Harlangate brouhaha---and especially by commentary from many that we shouldn't let this incident sink back beneath the waves but rather be the inspiration for more action, more awareness---I've decided to start a new meme. This is primarily for women, but men are welcome to participate, of course.

Definition: by groping I mean a man physically touching a woman in sexual ways or in ways that demonstrate gender power. This almost always refers to a woman being groped by a man, because groping---especially as it relates to Harlangate---is about a man asserting sexual and gender dominance over a woman. However there will be times when groping is used as a weapon by a man against a man, by a woman against a woman and, arguably, by a woman against a man. Feel free to use the meme to discuss these.

(Note: the intention of this meme is to isolate groping from rape, molestation, and other sorts of sexual assault. I'm not trying to take the attention away from more serious assault but to draw attention to this "lesser" form and discuss why it is an issue and not something we just need to grow a sense of humor about.)

1. Who/When/Where/How was the first time you were groped? And how did you react?
2. Who/When/Where/How was the last time you were groped? And how did you react?
3. Talk about the most memorable time you were groped. Why is it the most memorable?
4. We often think of the perfect response after the event is already over and it's too late to make it. What is your perfect response to being groped, perhaps one you've never been able to produce on the spot? (This can also be the perfect response to a specific situation.)
5. How does groping make you feel? (Feel free to talk about how your feelings on the subject have changed over time, or about how you hope your feelings will change in the future.)
6. What are some of the consequences of groping, some of the things that happen around it, or because of it, that make your life shit as well?
7. What do you want to say to all gropers?

1. I'm sure I was groped in college while drunk, but the first time I remember was during my backpacking "grand tour" of Europe after graduation. I was in a bar in Cork, Ireland, with a group of girls from my youth hostel. I went up to the bar to buy a round and felt someone grab my ass. I whipped around and all the men behind me were looking at me, grinning. There was no way to tell who had done it. I demanded to know who it was, but no one would tell me, all innocent looks on their faces. Later, I went up to the bar again, and again felt a hand grabbing my ass. This time, I simply reached behind me and grabbed the nearest shirt before turning around. I hauled the guy up to my face, popping a few of his buttons in the process, and yelled at him. He claimed it wasn't him (and I think he was telling the truth) but wouldn't tell me who it was, although anyone standing behind me could have seen who it had been. I apologized to him for his shirt and he took advantage of my contrition to come over to our table and hit on one of my hostel friends.

The worst part about this at the time was that the girls I came with didn't care that I'd been groped and didn't even bother to commiserate with me. And one of them ended up making out with the guy I'd caught, even though he'd been complicit in it to the extent of refusing to give up the guy/s who had done it. This is going to be a theme.

2. I don't remember the last time, either, but one of the most recent incidents that sticks out in my memory was a few years ago when I was walking down a busy street in San Francisco's Mission district on a weekend with a group of friends, men and women. We were coming from one bar and going to a restaurant and were all a little tipsy. I felt a hand pinch my ass (I was walking next to two friends and behind a few others.) I looked around to see who had done it and couldn't tell who it had been so I let it go, although I saw a guy who had been behind me speed up and pass our group. A short while later I felt a pinch again and turned around and it was the same guy who had sped up and passed me before. Clearly, he'd thought he could do it again because I hadn't said anything the first time. I immediately began screaming obscenities at him, and so loudly that everyone for half a block looked at me. The guy really speeded up at that point and disappeared around a corner ahead of us and I never saw him again. My friends looked at me for an explanation, but when I gave it, no one said anything, sympathized, expressed outrage, or anything much really. Like I said, a theme.

3. The most memorable time was walking down my street at night (early evening, but it was dark and the street was fairly deserted.) I noticed a guy following me so I stopped, turned around, and glared at him. This works with creepoids who get off on scaring you, or scarier types who are actually looking to follow you home or into a more deserted spot where they can do something. But unfortunately, this guy was a harrasser, not a scary creepoid, so being caught at it didn't put him off. He slowed down as he came up to me and started murmuring what I can only imagine were supposed to be sweet nothings in Spanish (I was all the while glaring at him), came directly at me, licked his thumb and forefinger, reached around me, and pinched my ass. I was so outraged I chased him down the rest of the block kicking wildly at his ass (I missed every time). He laughed the whole way. This was memorable because of the sheer disgustingness of his licking his fingers and then touching me.

4. My purse is always heavy, since I carry so many things in it, plus (usually) two books. I wish every time that I had reacted by swinging my purse into their faces (at their eyes, or breaking their noses) or into their balls, hard. One time, during the aforementioned backpacking tour, I was in Venice with a guy from my youth hostel who spoke some Italian. We went out and got into a conversation with some local guys, one of whom pointed at me and said something to which my companion replied somewhat heatedly. I asked him what the guy had said and he told me the guy had called me a whore. I turned to the grinning asshole, without thinking, and kneed him in the balls. Damn, I wish I had that presence of mind (or maybe lack of presence of mind) every time.

Another one I wish I could remember is to comment on their bodies (since groping is so overshadowed in my life by commenting. I can count the gropes on two hands, but the comments on my body are weekly, sometimes daily.) I wish I could remember to turn that around on them.

5. I love that saying that you're not paranoid if the whole world is really out to get you. I don't think the whole world is out to get me, but the sight of my confidence and independence (not to mention my race/s and my height) as I walk down the street is too much for many, many men. Too many men. Much of the world and I are in a contest, though not an equal one. The contest makes my body a battleground, somehow, but not their bodies. They push, and push and push against my body: daily, even hourly, with looks and body language; weekly, even daily, with out-loud comments; and every so often, they push physically. I feel like there's some way I can win, but I can't. If I notice them, they win. If I get angry, they win. If I laugh, they win. If I ignore them and let them say/do what they want, they win.

It doesn't matter what happens to them, how shitty their lives are, they can still take it to the streets and take it out on me by attacking my body. It doesn't matter how low they are, they can make me lower than them by turning me into their meat. And I can't turn it back around on them. The power just won't flow that way. Men can be private in public, as long as they're minding their own business, or staying in their part of town, just obeying the rules. Men can have their private thoughts and not be constantly bracing for the next, inevitable onslaught. But no woman can. I can't, not ever, relax in public or let down my guard. And it doesn't matter if my guard is up or not, I can't stop the next attack. I prefer to hit back, to make it a battle, to teach at least one snivelling little puke that it's not worth his while, so I do feel some empowerment. But I don't have the power to just. make it. stop.

6. Groping, in my case, has also sometimes led to a lack of trust between me and some of my (former) friends. I don't know why people think that a strong woman who can take care of her own shit doesn't need support. Just because I handled it doesn't mean that you can sigh with relief and ignore what I just went through. I'm not merely a target when I'm by myself, but I'm a target when I'm with other women, and even with men as well. And the whole point of targetting women with groping at all, much less when they're in a group, is to isolate them, to pick them out and say, "You're meat, and everybody here knows it." This is why the reactions of the people around you are so important. When I'm alone and dealing individually with some asshole, it's much, much easier than dealing with it when I'm in a group. Because being groped in front of friends is humiliating. And then to watch your friends act like nothing has happened, like you're an embarrassment to them, that's worse than everything else.

The worst, though, is when some guy you're with (and it's always a guy), who was silent and still the whole time you were being attacked, steps up to you after it's all over and takes you to task for how you handled it. Usually this is couched in language of concern: you shouldn't do that, what if the guy had turned around and hit you? what you did was just plain dangerous. But it's really because the whole thing made him feel less of a man and the only way to get his mojo back is to grind you down further. It could be how he felt watching you embarrassing some strange guy in public; that was too much power so he has to take you down a few. It could be that he felt that he should have done something to protect you and the fact that you clearly didn't need his protection, which he was too cowardly to offer anyway, requires him to stomp on you. Or it could simply be watching you taking care of your own shit, which is too much for cowards like him. It's not enough that you got no support, that you were humiliated in front of your companions, but now they're kicking you when you're down.

This is one of the worst consequences of sexual assaults: it creates distrust between the victim and her support network. This is why you're supposed to stand up for your friends. Not just to help them, but so that attacks on them don't become double attacks.

7. I'd like to tell all gropers that their pussiness is showing. Real men don't need to attack women just to feel like men. What I don't think gropers realize, in the flush of their triumph, is that not only does the woman they just attacked know how pathetic they really are, but everyone who saw the attack knows it too. Everyone knows. Even the men who laugh along with know it.


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Thank you and AMEN, Claire. Especially for shining the spotlight on the "I didn't know what to do and so I chickened out of doing anything to stand up for you and now I'm gonna make YOU feel bad to get over my own self-loathing" response. Incredibly painful, especially when it manifests in people you considered your friends, men you thought of as allies.

What kills me is when I get groped by old men under the cover of appropriate public affection. Where I SO can't believe that just happened that I don't respond at all because I can't handle the fallout. Like when I was in Zanzibar in July, at a party thrown by the head of the local Press Association. I met an old childhood friend of my father's, and another man who'd been at school with my Dad. I wanted to get a photo with these two men, my father's childhood peers, because I knew it would make my Dad happy to see it.

While we're posing for the photo, in a two-uncles-on-either-side-of-a-niece arrangement, one of them snakes his hand round my waist and pinches me. I'm in shock. As in: This man, married with 6 adult kids, my father's old schoolmate, just groped me. On camera. In front of a whole group of international writers, journalists, publishers.

My dream response to gropers would be to perfect the lightning reflex that would allow me to grab the hand in action, whip out the tiny mousetrap from my bag / pocket, with my other hand, snap it onto their fingers. All in one smooth 15-second motion. Smile sweetly, say: "You're so welcome." Walk away to the sound of his howls.

Did you ever read Helen Zahavi's Dirty Weekend?

It came out when I was in college, and I LOVED it. It's the ultimate full-spectrum revenge fantasy.

no, i haven't read it, but killings don't sound satisfying. forcing the groping perp to endure humiliation sounds better, dontcha think?

i like the mousetrap idea. too bad you can wear one on your belt for dirty old men like the one in zanzibar. disgusting.

I'm curious about your choice of the word "pussiness" In general, I have a problem with all words relating to woman's body that are used to insult men. "Pussiness" is something every groper could use, as far as I'm concerned - because if they had it, they wouldn't be gropers.

oje, that's a whole 'nother essay in itself. being a geek, i must be on the autism spectrum, right? (or some sort of spectrum...) i kind of forget that the world isn't in on my inside jokes and personal language.

in short: i reappropriated "pussy", which is not only disgusting, but vague, since it refers at various times to the vagina, all parts of female genitalia together as a package, sex with women at all, female sexuality in general, and female company in general, depending.

it now means, in clairespeak, "not manly", with heavy irony on "manly". (god, i love that word. manly!) naturally, in clairespeak, "pussy" no longer refers to anything that has anything to do with women.

mostly, though, it just fills me with glee to call sexists "pussies".

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