“ I mean, all men love it when their elbow accidentally touches a woman’s boob,” he starts, with little prompt.
My eyes squinted and mouth curled,
“ Well, wouldn’t it be weird if it was intentional?” I replied.
Not getting the encouraging response he wanted, he goes on.
“ Well, we don’t say anything when it happens but our minds say YES,” with the enthusiasm of his favorite team just scoring a goal.
Please, stop. I think to myself.
I’m in a semi-circle around this guy, sandwiched between two other women who are standing there, heads tilted, quietly perplexed. We are at a bar, and this is my first real interaction with this fellow.
“Well, how much pleasure can you really get from an elbow?” say’s the women to my left.
“What, don’t women do that?” he says, feeling his isolation and egging on the conversation.
“I don’t “accidentally” touch people to get a secret pleasure out of it,” I replied curtly.
“Well,” starts one of the other women, “ I mean I love arms and might try to feel them if they are really nice.”
I didn’t have the energy to get into how flirty touching with someone is different than “accidentally” (intentionally) touching a sexual part on a person.
Also, it is perceived as innocuous if a man is hit on by a woman because women aren’t perceived or known to be threatening. Where on the other end of the gender spectrum, women are raised with a subtle untrustworthiness of men because if we politely decline, they could kill us. We have normalized male behavior to a point where if a man does “accidentally” graze our bosom with the point of his elbow, we are supposed to sit there and smile.
Feeling like that was some sort of approval, he goes on.
“ The best is during the summer time when I walk behind women who are wearing sundresses. I slow down and pray for a breeze.”
Good. Fucking. God.
The women are silent. We are all wearing skirts.
I’m stunned and am resisting the urge to wack him over the head with my Gender Studies degree.
This socially inept person is, unfortunately, a big deal in the travel blogger community: he has impressive travel experience, social clout, and makes a ton of money from it. I was looking forward to asking him to be on my podcast. He had hosted a summer event to bring out all his fans or fellow travel bloggers in the city. That was where I had met him and the women who were standing uncomfortably around me.
I’m not saying that we don’t all derive unexpected pleasures from our world. That is part of being human. We live in a sexual world, and we can’t always control the sudden arousals we get from our environment. However, we can definitely control what we say and how we think about them.
The #metoo movement has been an awakening for all of us. What was once normalized behavior and treatment of women is being torn apart like a dog attacking a feather pillow. The normalized behavior that has been perpetuated for hundreds of years- believing that women are objects, that women’s highest value is their fuckability, and that men are entitled to women’s bodies- is a mess and won’t be cleaned up overnight. We will still find random feathers around our house for years to come, no matter how many times we go through it.
I took a moment to collect my thoughts in the awkward silence that followed his predatory statement and instead of going femininazi on his ass, I walked away. I felt that it would ironically be inappropriate to call him out on his behavior at his own party.
As I walk away I hear him say, “I guess she’s not into shoulder-boob touching,” painfully hoping that someone will offer him a sympathetic chuckle.
I confided in a fellow female travel blogger that he had just said some fucked up shit and that I wanted to leave.
As I left, I still had the need to express to him that he had made me uncomfortable, so I sent him an email thanking him for the party but also expressing I was made uncomfortable by his statements.
He was fortunate to respond and apologized for his behavior and stated it was intended as a joke.
I thanked him and reinforced that sexual assault isn’t funny.
Travel on its own is a risk for women and the female travel bloggers and male allies should be working hard and mindful to make the world a safer space for women to navigate without fear.
For someone who has been everywhere and seems to have everything, he clearly doesn’t have much awareness.
Photo of Tarana Burke, the badass who started #metoo.