From OK to No: Three stories

From OK to No: Three stories

Last week I was with several women friends and after a while, I said, “Now I’d like to talk about Jian Ghomeshi.” They seemed willing so I talked a bit about why I felt I was so obsessed and following the news so closely. I shared a couple of stories from my own life. Stories of saying, “No” to a sexual advance.

Since then, I’ve shared my stories and invited some friends to share theirs.

The other night, I asked a good friend, “Have you ever been in a situation where you felt at risk of being raped?”

“Oh, yes,” she immediately responded. “Only dumb luck protected me.”

I have not #beenraped. I’ve said, “OK” and I’ve said, “No.” Recently, I’ve found myself revisiting and reflecting on my own stories of negotiating sexual boundaries over my life.

Here’s a story from my very innocent youth.

I was 13. A classmate who lived nearby asked if I would come over and help her with her math homework. I went over and tried. She didn’t get it and I never tried to explain math to anyone again.

It was about eight o’clock when I was ready to leave. Her older brother appeared out of nowhere and said he’d walk me home. I said, “OK.”

I don’t remember his name; I might not have known it at the time. At that age, even one year difference in age meant you were on different planets. He was in Grade 10, three years older than me. We must have talked during the three block walk to my house, but I don’t recall what we said. When we got to my door, I said, “Thanks” and turned to open the door. He touched my shoulder to turn me back towards him and asked, “May I kiss you?”

“No,” I said instantly. I turned and walked inside.

Story 2. I’m travelling in Europe. I’m in Paris in a hotel I found in Frommer’s “Europe on 5 dollars a Day.” There’s a Nigerian man staying in the only other room on my floor. He keeps his door open most of the time and waves a friendly “hello” whenever he sees me coming and going. On my third day in Paris, I return exhausted in the July heat from a day visiting tourist attractions. I reach the third floor (no elevator) and he calls to me, “Come in and have a drink with us.” I say, “OK.”

After about 15 minutes, I put my glass down, stand up to leave and say, “Thank you.”

His friend says, “Come to my place tomorrow night. I’ll cook you an African dish.”

I say, “OK.” He gives me his address which is nearby and we agree on a time.

The following evening, I arrive at his one-room bed-sit. He greets me warmly and says he’s just about to start cooking. He gestures to the bed and says, “Why don’t you sit there and relax.” I say, “OK.”

Sitting on the bed, propped up by pillows, I watch him cut up vegetables while he asks me about my day. “Where did you go? What did you see?”

Once everything is chopped and in a pot simmering, he comes over to the bed, pushes me down and has me pinned underneath him within seconds. He pulls up my dress, pulls off my panties and while holding me down with one arm, reaches to unzip his pants.  I try to push him off and a torrent of words come from my mouth. “You’vemisunderstood Idon’twant todothis.  You’vegotitwrongI’mnotherretohavesex.” “Ireallythoughtyouwerejustofferingdinner. Stopthisrightnow. Cutitout. Getoffofmerightnow.”

As I begin to imagine the possible consequences, I say “IhavetwochildrenbackinCanada andIdon’tintendtohaveanymore.”

I’m thinking, “Would I have an abortion if I got pregnant? Should I try to negotiate something other than intercourse to avoid pregnancy at least?”

“Stopthis. Iwanttoleaverightnow,” I continue.

“You’remakingmefeelbadaboutmen,aboutParisandaboutNigeria.”

And then he stopped and got off of me.

I restored my clothing and tried to restore my dignity. As I walked towards the door, in a surprised and annoyed tone he says, “You’re quite aggressive.”

I said, “Well, yes, I can get aggressive when someone tries to take advantage of me.”

He reaches for his jacket and says, “I’ll walk you back to your hotel. It’s late.”

“No,” I say walking out and closing the door behind me.

The next day he appears at my hotel and suggests we go out for a walk.

“No,” I say.

Third scenario.

I’m in my late 20’s. I work as a secretary for a lawyer who is about 20 years older than I am. He’s married; I’m married. Where I live is on his route home and occasionally he offers me a ride when we are leaving the office at the same time. I say, “OK.”

While driving across the bridge from downtown, he says, “I don’t like subterfuge,” he says. “For instance, if I wanted to have an affair with you, I’d simply ask: ‘Would you like to have an affair with me?’”

“And I would say, ‘No’,” I responded.

He never broached the topic again.

I have never #beenraped. But I have been in situations that could have ended that way. Most women have.

Stories are being shared across the country. There are headlines and twitter posts aplenty and this spotlight on sexual violence is teasing out many stories. Women are sharing their stories on blogs, in radio interviews and simply in conversations with friends.

Most women have stories of fear or embarrassment in negotiating sexual relations. Most men, I am learning, have stories about times when they experienced confusion and misunderstandings.

I think we all need to “unlearn to not speak.”

“Unlearning to not speak” by Marge Piercy

She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as the infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage.

This national conversation is definitely one  “to be continued…”

Advertisements

2 Comments to “From OK to No: Three stories”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mary.

  2. Thanks for this, Mary. I appreciate how the disturbing revelations of the last ten days are drawing us into rich conversations about our own lives, and the prevalence of non-consensual experiences. Perhaps this national conversation will deepen our understanding of what consent means on all sides.

%d bloggers like this: