What would you do?
This happened to me in the lobby of a Loews hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. I reacted by jumping up and pushing the drunk man away from me. His friend, rather than apologizing for his handsy pal, remonstrated with me to “just let him order” and rolled his eyes at the (white) bartender and waved his AmEx and ordered more drinks, which the bartender promptly served him, while calling security over. Naively, I thought the arrival of the security guard meant assistance for me. Not exactly…
So imagine you’re back in that bar and not 60 seconds has passed since you pushed the drunk guy away from you. Imagine a security guard approaches you and tells you he will forcibly eject you if you don’t leave voluntarily, while the two white men laugh and the bartender continues to serve them drinks. You haven’t had a drop to drink and have probably been present in the lobby bar for under 5 minutes total. What would you do?
This happened, too. I had no interest in being forcibly ejected so I walked myself to the front desk, followed closely by the security guard, and asked for the Loews manager and the Atlanta PD. I explained exactly what had happened and the hotel manager looked confused and the security guard, well…
Imagine a tough, brawny security guard who weighs at least twice as much as you standing right in your face trying to stare you down. Imagine him basically saying that the bartenders called him to remove you because the white guys looked “respectable” and were “good tippers” and had ordered lots of alcohol. It didn’t matter that one had laid hands on you and you deserved to get kicked out for daring to push him away from you. Then imagine a police officer from Atlanta Metro shows up…
All that happened as well. Luckily, this is where the story takes a turn for the better. The Atlanta Metro Police Officer did what the security guard should have done; he calmly listened to my statement, politely asked me to wait and then went over to the white men and calmly listened to their statements. He then determined the men were not credible and were posing a risk and he ejected them, professionally, from the bar.
Now, imagine you’re still in the lobby and the drunk man shows up again and accosts you again and the security guard does not intervene. The police officer has already left the vicinity and can’t help you. The security guard thinks this is your fault and is furious the police officer defended you and ejected the drunk white man. So, you start videotaping the drunk man on your phone, which scares him and he takes off and finally leaves the building for good.
That all happened, too. What was even more amazing was that I was actually a guest at that hotel. Although I complained multiple times, the hotel brushed me off. Almost a full day passed before I got a call back from a manager and it wasn’t even the General Manager, Mark Castriota. It was a housekeeping manager. The whole situation reeked of sexism and racism. Yes, the security guard was African American, however, merely being a person of color doesn’t protect you from having your own problematic biases against others based on race or gender or your perception of how “good a tipper” that person may be at the bar.
To me, this story is primarily about gender, but race plays a role as well. In 2011, nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States had been sexually assaulted. In 2014, the CDC reported 1 in 5 women have been raped. Globally, “[b]etween 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the available country data.
Quoting the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs:
• Somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 2 minutes.3
• National surveys of adults suggest that between 9-32% of women and 5-10% of men report that they were victims of sexual abuse and/or assault during their childhood.
• 22% of victims were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 32% were between the ages of 12 and 17.4
• The majority of male and female rape victims knew their perpetrator.5
Of surveyed college women, about 90%of rape and sexual assault victims knew their attacker prior to the assault.6
There is an incredible Jan. 24, 2017, piece in Aljazeera detailing the impact of the 2016 U.S. presidential election events on sexual violence.The journalist argues that:
“[a] new far-right universe has come to power in the White House, and whether you listen to Jeff Sessions, nominee for Attorney General, or examine leaked Trump team proposed budgets, funding for the Violence Against Women Act will cease. That means 25 grants focused on "reducing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by strengthening services for victims and holding offenders accountable" will disappear. And in scrapping The Violence Against Women Act, the new president, one who prides himself on being pro-police, will also be cutting grant programmes which teach law enforcement staff how to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Trump's convenient demonisation of immigrants, minorities and Muslims will mask a real epidemic of sexual violence against women - largely perpetrated by white, middle-class men. Think of the Vanderbilt University football players who gang-raped an unconscious young woman. Or former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, found guilty of multiple felony counts including penetration of an unconscious person.” There are many other news sources also detailing the far-reaching and significantly negative effects on women of having a high level politician openly bragging about sexually assaulting women and an administration that would repeal the Violence Against Women Act.
Think, too, about the Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation and the devastating after-effects on many women (http://time.com/5413109/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-survivors-trigger-ptsd/). This kind of thing has the power to shape our perceptions within our society and to direct how we perceive ourselves and others and how we think we “should” act within our society – in other words, is it normal and ok to grab a woman, like the man in the Lowes Hotel in Atlanta did, or not?
But what about race? Women of Asian descent, so often portrayed as sexual objects in entertainment media and as timid creatures who will be easy to dominate and who won’t tell anyone if they are attacked, often encounter a dangerous perception that can lead to higher incidences of sexual violence against them.
The drunk white man thought he could just bump me and grab me and it was totally fine. The friend – who didn’t appear obviously drunk – legitimized and normalized his behavior by not stopping him, not intervening, and proactively defending him when his bad behavior was called out. The bartender choosing the potential for big tips further normalized the man’s conduct by the eye rolling, by continuing to serve the men and by asking security to remove me and not the men. Security and hotel management continued to enable, normalize and legitimize the bad behavior.
Society tells us, as women and especially women of color, that we should be sweet and docile; that when a man – especially a white man – puts his hands on us, the default is that’s his right and, if we object to it, we ought to cry or cower or submit. When we defy these cultural norms and stereotypes by, for example, pushing the man away, we are met with shock and hostility.
Personally, I think if a man puts his hands on you, you ought to break his hands and let him consider the time during which he rests them to mend to be considered a gift during which time he can reconsider the wisdom of his actions towards you.
**Of course, I mean FIGURATIVELY break his hands ... maybe. But seriously, SPEAK UP. Men and observers, most of all. This kind of thing is on you. You ignore it, you just legitimized it.**
See, e.g., http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/donald-trump-end-violence-against-women-grants,http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/14/politics/trump-women-accusers/,http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-and-the-truth-the-sexual-assault-allegations,http://www.refinery29.com/2017/01/137406/trump-violence-against-women-grants-cut
See, e.g., http://www.countercurrents.org/bhargava060709.htm