Evil in tent [may contain some triggers]
If there is one thing I have learnt from the Internet – apart from how to understand the finer nuances of American English as opposed to British English – it is the sheer horrifying prevalence of what I think I’m going to call “rapescale behaviour”. In other words, all forms of unacceptable or “creepy” behaviour on the continuum ranging from off-colour remarks, through such things as stalking or inappropriate touching, right through to outright rape. And it quite clearly is a continuum – let there be no doubt about that. By this I don’t mean to imply that everyone who makes the odd derogatory joke about women is, or will at some point in the future be, a rapist. It may be more helpful for some people to think of it as not so much a continuum but as the Pyramid of Creepy Stuff. In other words, there’s an awful lot of very low-grade creepy behaviour at the base, a bit less at the next level, a bit less at the next, and so on, until you have stuff at the very top of the pyramid that even the people lower down the pyramid wouldn’t want to imagine happening. And neither do I, so I’m not going to think too hard about what it might be.
It’s also worth pointing out that not all Creepy Stuff is necessarily sexual, although it is specifically the rapescale Creepy Stuff that I will be talking about here. Any behaviour that oversteps someone else’s boundaries, whether or not there is anything sexual in it, can legitimately be counted as creepy, and I think it helps to do so for a moment because it means that we can almost all recognise that at some point we’ve done that ourselves. And most of us, I’m sure, aren’t proud of that. So this gives us a means of looking at rapescale behaviour which doesn’t “other” anyone who engages in it, much as we dislike the behaviour itself and want it to stop happening right now kthx.
OK. So now we’ve defined the Creepy Stuff we’re talking about, let me tell you something very odd. I have personally suffered very little of it.
This is absolutely not intended to be some kind of boast, and still less the introduction to some kind of formula (“hey, this is what I did, you too can be free from sex pests if you do the same!”). I really don’t believe it works like that. It’s true that I don’t go to a lot of parties, except the ones my best friend has, which are atypical anyway (he’s even more introverted than I am, so he has introvert parties, which are a great deal more fun than you’d think). It’s also true that I generally dress very modestly because that is how I feel comfortable, don’t normally walk around by myself late at night, don’t get drunk, and so on.
But it’s not relevant. At all. Statistics show time and again that the majority of rapists rape people they know. Rapes by strangers are the ones which get the most prominence, but they’re not the most common. I do not know the statistics for harassment and other kinds of rapescale behaviour, and it is hard to see how they could be measured, but it seems reasonable to take it as a first working assumption that at least the one-on-one forms of rapescale behaviour follow a similar pattern. It would seem odd if a rapist adopted a gradually escalating pattern of creepy behaviour mainly towards strangers before eventually raping someone they knew. There is nothing in the way I habitually behave which would be an obvious deterrent to rapescale behaviour from someone I knew to some extent. Therefore, even if I were so foolish as to think the onus was on the victims of such behaviour to prevent it, I would not be in any position to give advice on doing so.
Let me tell you how things have been for me. My first experience of objectionable sexual behaviour – the only one ever from someone I actually knew – happened when I was maybe about thirteen or fourteen, and came from a youth I knew slightly who was a few years older. He was someone I occasionally bumped into in the street; I didn’t know him well enough to have a name for him. He started talking dirty, and I think I must have looked at him as though he’d just grown another eye and a pair of purple antennae, because that was pretty much how I felt. I can actually remember thinking the boy must have lost his wits. Anyway, he soon gave up, and he never tried it again.
Then there was the time when I went to a disco at university (I did this occasionally, provided it wasn’t over-loud; I’ve never been a huge fan of pop music, but I liked to dance), and there was this chap who started dancing at me. I backed off and started dancing elsewhere. He followed. I gave him the “what do you think you’re doing?” frown and backed off again. He followed again, leering in a particularly creepy fashion. I backed off a third time. As soon as I saw him start to follow, that was it. I was out of there and back to my flat. The next morning, I was approached by another young man who wanted to know why I wouldn’t dance with his friend. I just stared at him. “Because he was acting like a creep,” I replied. “Wasn’t that obvious?”
And the only other such incident I can remember was the character who came up behind me while I was in an open phone booth and put his hands round my waist while I was talking to my mother. By the time I had turned round to give him an earful, he was gone. But then I don’t imagine he’d have been picking up many signals from behind.
That’s it. That’s it for 48 years on this earth. I’ve been remarkably well unhassled, and I am starting to come to the conclusion that it is not by chance. And I swear that if I knew exactly what it was that made the blighters generally back off, I would be sharing it with the whole world, totally free of charge. As it is, I don’t, but I’m going to try and explore it a bit here.
Today, for the first time, it occurred to me that it might in some way be linked with my asexuality, especially given the fact that nobody who knew me well appeared to be remotely surprised when I finally realised and told them I was asexual. I’m pretty sure I must give off some kind of vibe. But now that I’ve just typed out the rare incidents of rapescale behaviour that I have had to deal with, I’ve noticed something they all had in common, and it is this.
In all three cases, I thought that man was weird. And it would definitely have showed in my face.
I wonder if I may have hit it here. You see, it’s a fairly unusual reaction when you start to think about it, especially given the fact that we all know rapescale behaviour is disturbingly common. How do people usually react to it? From what I’ve seen, there might be fear, discomfort, anger, a feeling of helplessness (if the offender is someone who has already established a position of control), all sorts of things. I’m not saying that nobody else ever reacts by staring at the offender as though they’ve not only grown an extra head but are starting to dribble ignominously out of the corners of their second mouth, but I am saying it’s probably uncommon. Especially, sadly, with people who have been on the receiving end of this sort of thing a lot. They are not going to be thinking “this is totally weird”. They’re going to be thinking “oh damn, here we go again”.
And this attitude probably really is linked with my asexuality. Let’s look at a parallel here. Imagine you have two landowners. One of the landowners has a lot of land which is suitable for camping and picnicking, and is happy to allow people onto their land to do these things as long as they keep to certain rules. The other has land which isn’t particularly good for either of these things, but it’s great for, say, keeping sheep; however, very occasionally they will allow a close friend to camp on the land, knowing that they can be trusted not to frighten the sheep. Both of those are legitimate and reasonable attitudes to take. Now, suppose you’ve got a crook with a tent who wants to intimidate these landowners by damaging their land. To the first landowner, the crook won’t look out of place at first – they are just another person with a tent. But the second landowner is immediately going to be on the alert, because their criteria for camping are so much tighter.
And that’s exactly how it is with sex. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being sexual, and I am absolutely not one of those asexuals who wants to make out that there is. After all, if nobody was sexual, we wouldn’t be here. 🙂 What I am saying is that the tighter the boundaries you’re born with, the easier it is to spot someone who is trying to breach them. And I think spotting such behaviour early is an important part of dealing with it. To continue the analogy, it’s much harder to challenge the rogue camper once you’ve allowed them to pitch their tent; in the same way, it’s harder to deal with rapescale behaviour if you’ve already established some kind of relationship with the perpetrator (not necessarily a sexual one) before realising what they were trying to do.
It would be totally unrealistic, not to mention unreasonable, to conclude from this that people need to change their boundaries in order to make it easier to spot rapescale behaviour early. I’m not sure this is even possible, and, even where it is, nobody ought to have to adapt their own boundaries to cope with someone else’s bad behaviour. However, there may possibly be one thing that sexual people can use here, and that is the fact that, from where I’m sitting, yes, rapescale behaviour is actually really weird. You don’t have to be asexual to stare at the next person who makes an inappropriate remark to you as if they have totally lost it. It’s not an expected reaction, and I think it is disconcerting. Let’s face it, they’re looking to assert power over you, and it’s a lot harder to assert power over someone who’s clearly just concluded that you have lost your marbles.
I’m not guaranteeing this is going to work for everyone, because I have only my experience to back it up, and obviously – should go without saying – if you are in a dangerous or abusive situation, you’re going to need more than a what-the-heck stare. This is an approach for nipping stuff in the bud, not dealing with severe established stuff. If you’re dealing with that, please get some help, and understand that you are not on your own. I simply offer it as a possible extra tactical weapon, the sort that will be needed until the strategic battle is won and everyone understands that We Don’t Do Rapescale.
One day, I’d like to think that this kind of behaviour will be as outright weird to everyone as it is to this particular asexual.