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“No” is not “maybe later”

  • Published at 05:20 pm August 6th, 2016
“No” is not “maybe later”

I, on the other hand, am not so sure. “When will I ever need to know how to do the shin-stomp-grind?” I ask her, and then myself, as I’m strapped into the padding and handed the boxing gloves.

I was wholly unprepared to defend myself the times that my no’s, adamant or timid, gently uttered or hissed, went unheeded. At five years old, my first encounter. Thirteen for my second. I am elbow-deep in a clothes bin on the streets of Dhaka College, rooting through sweaters, and a passerby reaches over and grabs my chest. He looks me in the eye, I stare back at him, and then he retracts his grasp and continues on his saunter. I look at my mother, askance, but she has missed the encounter.

Later when I recount the story, I am told that I should have expected it. “What were you wearing?” I am asked. “Did you expect anything different in those jeans?”

In those jeans, that kameez, these shoes, that headband—every subsequent encounter, every reach and grab and attempt, every meeting in the oak-paneled office of a dean or a supervisor, explaining and recounting over and over again who said what, what happened, if the “alleged” interaction was prompted or not, makes me wonder if I had said no firmly enough.

Did I cross my arms, shake my head, did I say the word “no,” did I articulate it well, was my accent in the way, were my vocal words saying “nay” but my seductive South Asian eyes saying “aye”? Was I playing games, acting coy, biting my lip, crossing my legs suggestively, did I flash an inch of skin above the waistband or twiddle my toes or toss my tresses mermaid-style? Did I say but really mean “maybe later” because that’s what we do, we tempt and toy and then when the hands get too hands-y we bail?

In the aftermath of these incidents, in the wake of the calls, the interrogations, the reports and the hearings, I have gone blue in the face explaining what it entails to obtain consent. Friends joke that I ought to pass out permission slips at freshmen orientation. They say I take this too seriously, that the statistics are inflated, that “assault” or “rape” are easy excuses to fall back on when a romantic tryst go awry.

All the times that I was made to feel less than, weak, denuded—I did not ask for it. I said no, with every atom of my being. I gauged the difference between the bed and the door, between my feet and his sternum, and between my synapses and my vocal cords. I considered how the walls could project my screams, who to call and text in the event that my worst fears were realized, and how to bury the shame that I let it happen. I did not recall the stomp-grind-stamp techniques from self-defense, I did not dress right, speak right, sound right. My eyes were too coy. My button-down shirt was too suggestive.

I did not ask for it. This is not a feeling you would want to ask for. The self-disgust, shame, horror, shock, anger, resentment, panic are not what you ask for. The vilification of your being, your intent, your attire, your upbringing, you do not ask for. When they say, “You could have said no,” you say you did, that to say “no” was the only thing left to say. And they may still not listen. They will not listen.