If you identify as a woman, you’ve likely been subtly or overtly conditioned to always be polite, to smile, to take up as small an amount of space as possible, to not impose. And with that, you’ve probably had your boundaries crossed or not respected by a drunk dude at a bar, or a sober dude at a bar looking for drunk women to impose himself upon. It has happened to my friends and it has happened to me, and I can’t fucking stand it. When these situations arise, it can be a challenge to overcome a lifetime of training that teaches us to not offend, especially in a culture that often treats women as objects or public property. I am 31-years-old and I did not start actively putting my needs, wants and boundaries first until I was 30. That’s a lot of time spent trying to wriggle out of uncomfortable situations with excuses, or worse, being stuck in a situation that I felt like I could not extricate myself from. But the thing is, we don’t have to be polite, and it is totally and completely okay for us to state our boundaries and expectations and to demand our space.
Last week, I was having dinner with my friend, Kevin. Prior to his arrival, I was sitting alone at the bar, drinking a cider and catching up with one of the bartenders, who it ends up I went to 3rd and 4th grade with. This dude kept coming up to the seat next to me and yelling at the bartenders. It seemed that he was trying to flirt with them, but his method of doing it was to continuously insult them. He kept looking at me after he made comments to them, trying to get my attention, but I have no interest in engaging in conversations with people who think it’s funny to put other people down. When Kevin showed up and sat down next to me, the guy came over and started poking at the piercings in the back of Kevin’s neck. ‘I know you probably think it’s normal, but did you know you have a bunch of metal shit in your neck?’ he half-shouted, his hands resting on Kevin’s shoulder. ‘Um, yeah, they’re piercings.’ Kevin replied, never turning to fully face the man. The man stayed positioned half behind Kevin and in between us, using his body to occupy the space that would have allowed Kevin and I to continue engaging in conversation. I was about to ask him to please remove himself from our space so that we could keep talking when he put his arm around me and leaned closed to my face and shouted ‘Do you know the bartenders name?’
‘No. I haven’t asked her yet’.
‘Well how are you going to have that bitch run and fetch you shit if you don’t know her name!?!’ he bellowed, blowing his beer breath in my face and leaning in closer.
A few years ago, uncomfortable by his proximity and my own cultural conditioning, I would have tried to shrug it off, to move myself out from under his arm and to make up some excuse as to why I had to go to the bathroom, hoping he would be gone before I got back. This time I put my hand up in the air in a ‘stop’ position, palm outward and said ‘I am not your friend. I do not want to talk to you. The things that you are saying are degrading and inappropriate and I need you to move away from me and get out of my space right now.’ He looked down at the ground and said ‘I’m sorry,’ and began to say something else, but I don’t know what his next words were going to be because at that point I interrupted him to say ‘It isn’t okay, and you don’t get to say anything else. You are not entitled to my time. Move yourself away from me right now!’ and I pointed firmly toward the door. He moved off to the other side of the bar and didn’t bother me or Kevin again that night. When he needed another drink, he went to the opposite end of the bar to get it and stayed away from us.
I find it to be scary as hell to be in a situation where my physical space is being imposed upon and my body language or boundaries are being ignored. I’ve never felt this to be anything other than another person acting on their own sense of entitlement and assuming that I will be too ‘polite’ or ‘friendly’ to tell them to back the fuck up off of me. And for most of my life, that’s been true. I’m not supposed to be argumentative, demanding, aggressive, or to feel entitled to my own space and time. God forbid anybody should think I’m a shrill bitch who can’t get along with others, ya know? But the thing is, demanding that your space be respected, that your person be respected, is not argumentative, demanding, or aggressive. It doesn’t make me or you a shrill bitch or an asshole or any other negative thing. It just means you’re a person who exists in this world and has a right to manage your own space and nobody has a right to impose themselves on you.
There can be negative repercussions from not speaking up, and there can be consequences from speaking up. I’ve been lucky so far in that every time I have asserted my boundaries in this way and demanded that whatever dude is in my space move away from me, they’ve done it. I think it is largely in part due to the public nature of them being called out and that in general, it is not expected that I or most women are going to tell somebody directly that they are crossing our boundaries and to move away from us and stop speaking to us. I would rather everybody in the world think I’m a shrill bitch who can’t get along with others than spend one more second of my time with somebody I don’t know feeling so entitled to my time, space, body, or smile that they think it’s okay to yell in my face, to touch me, to follow me around a bar or concert, or to occupy any of my mental or physical space.
I don’t think it should be a radical notion to believe and enforce the idea that women, as human beings, are entitled to be left alone when we want to be and that we should be able to state our needs and wants and have them respected. But seemingly, it is, and I want that to change.
What about you? Have you ever felt cornered by some dude you didn’t know but you didn’t know how to get out of the situation or what to say? Are you somebody that demands your space be respected? Do you want to be? If you saw a woman at a bar in a similar situation, would you support her? Would you want to be supported? What can we do, together, to help empower each other in these situations? Meet me down in the comments section, and let’s talk about it.