As much as I love New York City, I’ve never once grown accustomed to the cramped subways, where it’s a standard to have someone awkwardly pressed against your body for an extended time period. If you’re a native, you won’t catch too many arguments over being pushed during a rush hour commute–it’s just apart of the culture here, and sometimes, you won’t even get a glance your way when someone decides to brush up on you inappropriately. “It’s a part of city,” someone may tell you. “It’s just how things are here,” another might chime in.
During a ride home one evening a few years ago, several passengers made their way into an already packed train car by the dozens. There wasn’t any space, but New Yorkers will find ways to squeeze in when trains are delayed and you want nothing but to see your bed after a 9 to 5. A man proceeded to mosey his way by the pole where I stood, to smile in my direction, a nonverbal thank you for giving him what he felt was space. I smiled back and I’ve always wondered if he took that as a sign of some inconspicuous attraction between us as he then moved his fingers in a way to gently brush against my breasts. I yelled on a packed train for help and I’ll admit I attempted to attack the man. I felt violated. I was violated. And I was pushed against other passengers in trying to do so as I was told from two men near me that I “was buggin’,” and to “calm the f**k down.” No one cared that this happened to me because it was just the way things were. This was the norm of New York.
But none of what happened was okay.
Damn who girlfriend did August Alsina just freak on? pic.twitter.com/4SBP6mleSa
— Dizzy Dortch (@DizzyDortch) September 28, 2015
When I saw the video of August Alsina fondling an audience member’s breasts during a show and the tweets that accompanied it that pardoned the R&B singer’s behavior. There were jokes about his eyesight–it made it okay. There was the usual BS about body language equating to consent and how that young woman’s uncomfortable giggles instead of an outright “please stop” meant that nothing was wrong. There was the pathetic, old saying that this woman shouldn’t have wore what she did because somehow women who wear low cut dresses are implying they want to be touched even if they don’t verbalize it. I saw tweets from men and women saying it was her responsibility to stop him although no one wants to tell men it’s their responsibility to keep their hands to themselves. It was “she was on stage willingly.” It was a lot of “who wouldn’t want to be touched by him,” as if attractive men are offered passes to indulge in inappropriate behavior because of their physical attributes. It reminds me a lot of Roxane Gay’s chapter “Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them” in Bad Feminist. We’ve become a country that has fallen in love with normalizing abuse and assault. When someone stands up against unacceptable behavior, we’re told we’re making excuses or being sensitive. Even when men support our stances because wrong is wrong, they’re told they’re acting like females or bitches. Anything that relates to our wellbeing and safety goes against the very values of patriarchy. Our worth is no one’s concern because well, we signed up for it or everyone else does it. We’re still hearing this in 2015, y’all. I’m not alright with this.
To justify the August Alsina’s behavior even further, both men and women thought it okay to compare the concert shows of entertainers Janet Jackson, Ciara, or Madonna to this particular incident. If men are fine with these women sexually touching, grinding, or humping the men they bring up on stage, oddly enough, women are supposed to be okay with the same acts being performed on them by male stars. Who’s to say the men that have been the focal points of certain sets have been entirely okay with being groped on stage? Where did we get this theory that everyone is accepting of everything, all the time?
With that dress on, she was basically asking for this pic.twitter.com/kJ0MKXeBtd — #OnToDallas Pats 3-0 (@iAM_RodWill) September 28, 2015
Telling women they need to stop dressing in ways that suggest they want to have sex, or telling us that we need to stop talking a certain way in order for men to understand we aren’t interested, but refusing to tell men the same, is ludicrous. How can I gently tell someone ‘no’? How are we to respectfully tell someone ‘stop’? The fact that there are alternative ways to say one-syllable words scare me as a woman. What happened to no meaning don’t pass go and stop meaning we need to hit the brakes on something without there being an explanation? Without a man feeling like my dress is saying continue or my nervous giggle signifying yes?
I will not give August Alsina a pass for his behavior at his show–losing sight in both eyes or not. When we stop making excuses for behavior that demeans and reduces us, then maybe the world will see the effects these moments have on us as women a little clearer.