Whatever you want to call it, it’s anything but “not a big deal.” Funny joke? Nope, not getting that description. Sexual harassment? More likely. Grounds for further legal action if I wanted? Probably. Unacceptable, intolerable, unwarranted, just generally not okay? Absolutely.
However you put it, this incident definitely should not be dismissed as just drunken asshole-ness, though it is definitely that, too.
But first of all, let me back up just a minute and explain what happened. This past Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011, I was woken up by a ringing next to my ear at 5 o’clock in the morning. That good old familiar Nokia ringtone instantly shook me from a solid sleep, and my first reaction was that I was being alerted to some possibility of danger. Is there an emergency? Who’s calling me at 5 a.m. if someone’s not in trouble or in the hospital?
I see that the call is from – let’s call him Douche – a friend of a friend, and I don’t pick it up because I’ve been duped by some of his stupid jokes before. For example, he’s sent me text messages in a serious tone asking to talk about one of our mutual friends, and after responding with concern, I receive this message: “So, I just have to know, how big is his dick?” At other times, he has directed lewd sexual comments at me, both in person and through text messaging, offended one of my friends for her sexual orientation, and made explicit advances toward another friend.
So needless to say, my emergency sensors flopped off a bit, though the initial flood of adrenaline was still present in my body.
I listened to the message and this is what it is:
So, just in case you can’t hear the message, I’ll write it out:
“This your boy Edwin Lopez. I want some phone sex, bitch. I hear you’re a fucking crazy ass girl, oh. (background laughing) You’re fucking done. I’m gonna pound that pussy. (laughing) Lick your clit, girl.”
First of all, this is embarrassing for you, not for me. Second of all, Douche, you’re not off the hook just because it wasn’t you. I have no doubt you were somewhere behind it, and even if you weren’t, control your shit, man. I’m sharing this because no doubt in the light of day the absolute idiocy of this message is apparent. It’s rude, lewd, offensive and inappropriate. Furthermore, the tone in no way can be construed as playful, and in fact, it’s downright threatening.
If this were the first time this happened to me, I might be less inclined to share the message with others, perhaps feeling violated, shameful, irritated, distressed, anxious or generally uncomfortable. I do feel these things, but as circumstances have it, they are all too familiar responses to situations that happen all too often. Therefore, I refuse to keep silent about this one and instead, I am inviting you to think about when you or a friend have experienced something similar. Were you the perpetrator? Did you experience any repercussions? Were you the victim? Did you speak up or keep it to yourself?
(UPDATE: Douche has informed me that Edwin Lopez actually went on a maniacal phone sex solicitation spree that early morning, some of the messages even worse. And he said it as if that would be consolation. Totally missing the point.)
If you’re in the camp that thinks something like this is funny, try protecting yourself from future problems (like being reported for your asshole “jokes”) and take a Sexual Harrassment 101 crash course. If you’re like me and don’t think it’s funny at all, you probably understand the very real consequences that arise from an absolutely not harmless joke. Despite the fact that:
- I could not go back to sleep after hearing this menacing, threatening message from a very clearly defined Edwin Lopez (Hi, Edwin. I don’t know you, but you’re in trouble.)
- I experienced physical reactions to this message, including high adrenaline, anxiety, stress, quickened heartbeat, tension and emotional responses of anger, resentment, confusion;
- I had to go to a press conference that morning and my mind was in a completely edgy, uncomfortable position for the rest of the day (to put it bluntly, I was negatively impacted in my workplace functioning); and
- My sense of trust has been violated by someone I thought was a friend;
the worst part about this message are its underlying and far-reaching implications. Let’s face it: I wasn’t hurt and nothing extremely terrible came out of this, just a whole lot of annoyances. But I’m not in the hospital, no one died, I’m still functioning.
But what about when this person takes his lack of self-control out somewhere else, on someone else?
One third of this blog post is for me so I do something about it, one third is for Mr. Lopez and others like him so they understand, and the most important third is for other girls or women who might not know what to do in a situation like this, and worst, who might direct their anger inward rather than where it really needs to go – at the perpetrators themselves.
So let’s put aside for a moment my personal reactions – anger, tension, stress, discomfort, disgust (note: not dismissing, just temporarily shifting focus) – and think about what kind of person thinks this message is funny.
1. This kind of person obviously does not respect women, specifically me, for whatever reasons associated with the company he keeps, but even more outright, it seems as if he does not respect other people in general, evidenced by the inconsiderate call at 5 in the morning. The world rotates around his schedule and the person’s reaction on the receiving end of the phone call is of no concern to him.
2. Though his exact motivations are unclear, whatever motivation prompted this phone call needs to be addressed because it’s a huge red flag for further abuse. In one scenario, he is trying to provoke a negative feeling, intentionally attempting to provoke a negative response, whether it’s for revenge or any other reason; there is intent to harm.
Possibly even worse, he was just dumb and horny, trying to impress his friends, or attempting to prove some sort of sexual prowess to himself. While these are less malicious intentions, they might actually even be more harmful because he is less aware of why he is doing what he is doing, opening up a wellspring for future “accidents.”
Both motivations, intentionally harmful or not, stem from the same well of insecurity, and in both instances, the perpetrator is so far removed from the victim’s experience of reality that he may easily rationalize this sort of behavior as acceptable.
Obviously, both are disturbed ways of thinking. Or to cover his ass, I expect he might say he wasn’t thinking or didn’t know or just thought it would be funny, but those are not valid excuses. Without this societal or personal control, it is likely that this sort of disturbed or undisciplined mind may lead to further rationalizing harmful actions upon others.
3. This Edwin Lopez is a person I have heard of but never met, so perhaps that made it easier to call me – I was a faceless, bodyless, personless woman in a sea of so many others. Not a friend. In fact, in some warped way, maybe even an enemy. But let’s think about what this means for a minute. If I am nobody, just some girl you can call up and talk to like a 1-800-phone-whore, how is this person going to interact with women he doesn’t know, women in bars or at parties or in public places that you bump into? I would imagine the same sort of disregard for the woman’s well-being and personhood would apply, and that’s a dangerous quality.
(Granted, because I know this is going to arise: some women seem like they like abusive sort of behavior, but my point is that assuming they want you to harass them is a big no-no. Some women like certain things from their husbands or boyfriends; that doesn’t mean they want you in their face.)
And on the other hand, if I am perceived as an enemy, how easy will it be for this person to conceptualize other women in his life as “enemies” and therefore proceed to validate harassing them (old girlfriends, current girlfriends, co-workers)? Again, either the woman doesn’t matter or she deserves it – in this person’s mind – and neither are acceptable. There is a definite disconnect between this person’s understanding of women and how to relate to them as people.
4. This leads into the big issue: If you have no problem calling up a girl you have only heard of through friends and leaving an explicit sexually threatening message, what other sorts of behavior can you rationalize? If you don’t know her, or if you determine she deserves it, or if you have no self-control, you might rationalize that it’s okay to drug her, threaten her, stalk her, call her a slut, beat her, rape her, even kill her.
Obviously, the social boundaries that prevent this sort of harm are missing in this person’s mind. I would warn anyone who knows him personally to be wary. If you were involved in this incident and thought it was no big deal, think again. And if you are someone who happens to be reading this and know yourself to have initiated or taken part in equal or worse harassment, I urge you to stop and think a moment about what this means to anyone on the other side, and less gently, the legal consequences that could be brought against you by a woman willing to report you to the authorities.
Finally, and most importantly, I caution all women to take notice of the men in their lives and whether it comes easily to them to cross certain boundaries. Read the warning signs. Protect yourself, and realize that although situations of this nature, where you feel offended, uncomfortable or otherwise upset because of some unwanted sexual advance or harassment, are all too common, they’re not okay and you have the right to speak up for yourself, and to demand respect. If you’re not comfortable addressing the perpetrator directly, talk to your friends and family, or seek outside help, like a Women’s Center or a Harassment Hotline. Most cities have safe places you can go.
Sometimes acknowledging the harm is the hardest part. It can be difficult to say that you were affected in a serious way, for fear of ostracization or retaliation, and sometimes it’s easy for us to put ourselves aside and say that our feelings aren’t as important, or we’re wrong or overreacting, that men will be men and this sort of thing happens all the time. In fact, it does happen all the time, though that doesn’t render it okay. This is why, if you respect yourself, you will demand that others do the same. Do not let unacceptable or harmful behavior be dismissed as a joke or as drunkenness or as your fault.
If something like this happens to you, it is NOT your fault.
Most of the time, the problem stems from the man’s insecurities about himself or his lack of self-control. Think about it: a secure, happy, well-adjusted man will see no need to stoop to such low levels to make himself feel virile and powerful. Males in most species are generally thought of as more aggressive, and power-seeking is not always detrimental, but when a man only feels powerful when he demeans and demoralizes women, there is something obviously truly weak about him, especially by today’s standards.
And women, remember: some men may seem like they think they’re the gods of the earth, but the reason they can be such douchey show-offs sometimes is because they know women are the ones who choose whether they want them or not. So don’t take any crap! It’s a little-told secret that women are the ones with the sexually selective societal power. Women are the ones who choose their mates, so only a man who isn’t desirable has to resort to physical or emotional abuse. Sure, a man can force sex upon a woman, but he’s not going to be any better off in the long run, not in today’s world. I would love to go more into evolutionary psychology on this one, but maybe that’s a discussion for another day.
Bottom line: offensive, inappropriate, menacing or threatening behavior in a sexual or intimidating way is absolutely 100% intolerable.
For further inspiration and a voice behind my own, watch Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, speak at TED about some of the good work she is doing for women all over the world:
I may be small, and I do have a clitoris, but Edwin Lopez and cohorts: if you ever call me like this again or bother anyone I know and I hear about it, you will be out of commission before you can even summon your useless flesh awake to enter the sloppy, asinine coma you call your life.
I’m fucking done? No, I think you’re fucking done.
***Update: For clarification, Douche is not being named because after I published this post, he called me begging me not to post his name on the Internet associated with this story. It involved a lot of “We didn’t mean it” and “It was just a joke” and “You’re overreacting” and “I didn’t even do anything” comments. He didn’t like his name published like this because, you know, employers could see, family could see, his mom could see, etc. Yeah, that’s the point. Your actions have consequences. Well, after letting him grovel for a while, I decided to acquiesce to his request as long as he promised to never do something like this again, to never bother me or any of those other girls again, and if he sees something like this happening, to step in and do something about it. I think I’ve made my point and if enough of us keep holding men like this accountable, they will see they can’t get away with behavior like this.