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Sizing Things Up

August 25, 2009

The other night, as I walked down the street, a drunk man reached over and casually grabbed my vagina. It was late, I was drunk, I was wearing a short, cute dress. It was a shady neighbourhood, and the guy was even less sober than I was. I was walking with the man I have recently begun dating, and one of his longstanding friends. I don’t know either of them especially well. These factors collided and I felt unprepared to accurately size up the situation, predict what might happen if I called the guy on his transgression, guess how things might escalate if I were to grab his filthy hand, and demand, “What makes you think you can grope women in the street, fuckface?”

Instead, I froze, looked shocked, and informed my two companions that that man over there had just grabbed my crotch. There were a few moments spent milling about, during which my gentleman friend asked me some appalled questions, things like, “Really? For real? You’re not joking? That guy? The one over there? In the red jacket? Really? For real?” Then, he set off to set the man straight. Got halfway to catching up, paused, turned back and asked again, “Really? For real?” while I suggested he just let it go, leave it be, brush it off like no big deal.

“Unacceptable,” he told me, then resumed pursuit. The man was drunk and not travelling fast. My friend caught up in an instant, smacked the back of his head, told him that touching women at all without an invitation was fully unacceptable, and that he’d best make haste, get the fuck out of here, and never, ever pull something like that again. Apparently, the man apologised. I would like to believe he was so wasted he had simply stumbled and grabbed for the closest thing offering support, which regrettably turned out to be my vagina. But, I know that’s untrue.

The thing is, the post-grope altercation made me feel more uncomfortable than the grope did. The potential for things to have slipped out of control…that someone I care for, in the process of defending me and any other ladies this drunk jerk might decide to assault (or, whom he’d already felt up as he made his way along Bloor Street) might have ended in a brawl. A little while ago, I posted a story about my sister telling some guy to get stuffed as he came on to her aggressively at a streetcar stop. She called me after it happened, excited that she’d stuck up for herself, but also angry and disappointed with herself for letting shit like that go unchallenged in the past.

Ranked against more serious assaults, someone touching me while I was safely in the company of friends then continuing on his way like nothing had happened, this is no big deal. But, my friend is right–he explained that he’d gone after the man because what he did to me personally wasn’t ok, but also because if someone smacks him in the head the first time, then perhaps he’ll be dissuaded from doing it a few more times, or stepping up the aggression behind his touch.

And so, I struggled to reconcile my own decision to just let him away with it, to not provoke a confrontation, to be intimidated by the possibility that the guy was a loose cannon, to forget it because really, no harm done. I blamed the champagne and the gin I’d poured into myself all evening, for making me hesitant to defend myself. Now, days later, I think the weirdest part is that I don’t remember much about the grope, but I have a play-by-play movie in my head of D. shoving the guy and shouting at him to watch his step, the man stumbling away down the sidewalk, and D. just shaking his head.

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