More often than not, it’s not a free invitation.
It’s 2 am and I have just gotten back to my friend’s apartment after a night out on Chapel St. With a 9 am start looming over me, my mind is set on heading straight to bed. The options are limited, though. The couch is taken. A couple has commandeered the main bedroom. My only other option is to share the mattress on the floor with a male friend. So I slide on to the side and close my eyes. The guy, let’s call him Ben* for this story, immediately rolls over and assumes the position of big spoon. It’s odd, but hey? What is some cuddling between friends? Two seconds later I am out like a light.
Fast forward to 6.45am. Light is streaming into the apartment. I open my eyes, feeling the weight of last night’s savvy b’s pulsing in my temples. Strangely, it wasn’t my alarm that woke me, but the hands of big-spoon-friend fondling my boobs.
It takes me a few minutes to fully realise what is going, as I dose in and out of a tired and hungover haze. I reach over to check my phone, and the fondling stops. Phew. Uh, work starts in two hours, I need more sleep. Old big-spoon-friend’s hands snake around me again, and go full steam ahead, getting under my bra and kissing my neck. I’m now fully awake. I roll over and trying to wriggle out of this awkward situation. However, I find myself trapped by the force of fondling-big-spoon-friend’s lips. I get free, and smoke bomb right out of there with a simple, “I need to shower”. What just happened?!
So. Here I am now, contemplating this whole ordeal. All I can think of are all the other times this has happened to me.
There was the time overseas where I was woken up by the wandering hands of a friend. There was the time I was at a 21st and I became the subject of a dare for some guy in front of his footy friends. There was the time I was walking on the street and was slapped on the arse, really hard by the way, by a man. There was, and has countlessly been, the times when I walk through a club and feel the force of an unknown hand on my body.
The first time it happened to me I assumed it was just something normal that happens at clubs. The second time, I blamed myself and asked how I got myself into that situation? What can I do differently so this doesn’t happen again? The third time I was shocked and disgusted. Now, fourth time around, I’m saddened that and left questioning how this has happened again.
Each violation had one thing in common; they all lacked consent. None of these men asked me if it was ok to touch my body, and none had received an invitation. Each instance of unwarranted contact, however mild, fell within the definition of sexual harassment and assault.
From my experience, the mentality of all the male perpetrators is, unfortunately, not too far from recent events at The University of Melbourne. Regardless of whether or not you think the ‘Hotties of Melbourne Uni’ is a serious issue or just a bit of a laugh, it’s important to be aware of how these issues run parallel to each other.
It is the lowbrow ‘humour’ of a boys-will-be-boys dare that left me humiliated, or an inappropriate comment posted on Hotties of MU, “We’d make great babies”. It is the normalcy and casualness of the comments, actions and objectification. While many dispute this as a contribution to ‘rape-culture’, it fosters a culture that is entitled, where the perpetrators often don’t even realise they are doing anything ‘wrong’.
From personal experience, I know that many of the male offenders in my examples walked away and boasted about their ‘accomplishments’. What they didn’t, and probably still don’t, realise is that they shouldn’t be bragging. There is nothing to be proud of when you miss the most important element in a ‘sexual’ encounters; consent.
Consent is that crucial moment, that pivotal point, which changes everything. It should be as simple yes or no. It is a simple ‘just to be sure moment’. It is a simple apology if you got the wrong idea. It is where the men could have stopped their wandering hands, and asked themselves, am I allowed to touch her body without her first conferring permission?
Well, fellas, the answer would have been no. You were not entitled to inappropriately touch my body. My smile and friendly demeanour were not permission. My attire, any exposed cleavage or leg, was not an open invitation. And just because there was nowhere else to sleep, and I wound up next to you, you should not have assumed you had the green light to touch me like that. None of you had any right until you asked me and I said yes.
It is not something for you to decide. Just like it is not something for someone on Facebook to decide. Too often we find ourselves misinterpreting the veneer of casual sex cultures as free reign and then shrugging off unwarranted advances as a laugh, joke or just a bit of fun. No one likes a gatecrasher, especially if there’s isn’t even a party.
So next time you’re thinking about making a sexual advance, just think about it. Is there an actual invitation to make a move, or, are you just assuming?
It is not enough to assume, because more often than not, what you assume to be consent, isn’t. And what you might think is an invitation to touch my body, actually isn’t.
Note from the Editor:
Mackenzie’s article is one of the most personal accounts to grace SAMMPress’ pages. It’s extremely important to share these experiences to spread awareness and educate the broader community about consent. If you need help, remember UMSU‘s and Melbourne Uni‘s support services.
To learn more, watch newly appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s address to the National Press Club and the new ad addressing the more nuanced social and cultural implications of seemingly minor sexist remarks.