Content warning: sexual violence and sexual harassment
The silence that followed my story filled the room as my friends looked at each other with concern in their eyes.
“Marie, that is not OK.”
I was utterly confused by both their reaction and the thought that their memories were void of similar experiences. I began replaying every encounter and every scenario with the male gender in my head, trying to comprehend how my friends had responded in this manner.
A party story that was meant to continue the pattern of reminiscing about high school adventures and idiotic shenanigans instead left the room heavy. I soon realized that my friends’ experiences greatly differed from mine. The toxic culture of sexual harassment and assault in my high school had become so normalized that I, like most of the other girls I knew, had no awareness of the magnitude of what we had faced.
As I was growing up, boys were taught that they had a right to whomever they desired with little contest, while girls learned to give into every one of the boys’ desires. From taking advantage of drunk girls and drugging them, to barging into a room of possibly unclothed individuals with a video camera and not taking “No” for an answer, almost all lines had been crossed.
My school dances were riddled with girls grinding on whichever guy had decided to grope them from behind, with no conversation and rarely any consent beforehand. The majority of the time, I was either unable to see or didn’t know who was brushing up against the back of my short, skin-tight dress that I had thought I was obligated to wear in order to fit in.
I can hear the boys in my head like an audio recording, saying crude things such as, “They’re asking for it by swaying their hips back and forth in the middle of the dance floor.” Unfortunately, at the time, I thought nothing of this sentiment — I didn’t know any different.
When going to a party, I expected to get groped by multiple people or taunted by both my friends and others to follow a guy upstairs or leave with him. No matter how many times I said “No” in response to phrases such as, “C’mon, you know you want to!” or “It’s his birthday, you can’t leave him hanging,” the taunting wouldn’t let up.
I was rarely asked to hang out with a guy in a public setting, and when raising my concerns I was either convinced through pretty lies that nothing out of my comfort zone would occur or was told that I was being ridiculous. As expected, my fears would come to fruition. But it was always too late to turn back, and it was even harder to say “No” or enforce boundaries when I was directly confronted with him and the labels that I would be given if I went home.
What did I expect to happen if I agreed to meet at his house or at a lookout point?
I didn’t know that my discomfort was valid, and I always viewed myself as the problem. I didn’t know that I got to choose who had a right to my body. I didn’t know how to say “No,” and I definitely didn’t know that most of my many interactions with males would be considered sexual harassment or worse.
When I first had the realization after weeks of playing my experiences on repeat in my head, I blamed myself. I constantly wondered how I allowed myself to be in those situations.
Both my friends that night in Blackwell Hall and the different environment at UC Berkeley taught me the truth. My friends pointed out the aspects that were morally wrong, and as I interacted with organizations and fellow students, I witnessed acceptance and respect of others’ boundaries.
I watched as a minorly inappropriate action during an event sparked the support of an entire organization toward anyone who felt uncomfortable as a result. The organization’s members reached out to ensure that everyone was doing all right after the fact, and they encouraged going to on-campus resources such as the PATH to Care Center. Even at frat parties, brothers must express the pillars of consent before allowing each group to enter the house.
At first, each of these occurrences both shocked and confused me. I remember walking into my first frat party expecting it to be like the parties from home, but I was surprised by the fact that I was never groped or grabbed to dance with no questions asked beforehand. The reality check that the support of my friends and the environment I now reside in has guided me to learn to respect myself and my body.
I am now aware that I have the right to set my own boundaries and trust my discomfort. Though I often still find myself slipping into old mindsets and letting inappropriate actions slide, my newfound awareness has inspired the possibility of understanding how I should be treated and what I am comfortable with. If I say “No,” it is valid. If I want to take things slow, it is valid. And if anyone does not respect my boundaries, they are not worth my time or the pain.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.