I couldn’t read the details about what happened in California. I suppose it is insensitive for me to not want to know the victims’ names or what exactly happened. I suppose that’s because I’ve known too many women who have met similar fates at the hands of men who couldn’t allow their egos to be disrespected by a woman saying “No, I don’t want you”. I did not want to see how this young white male’s mental health is being called into question because I already know that he was sick. And though he expressed his dissatisfaction with life in violent and deadly ways, I cannot fully blame a glitch in his mental hard drive for his actions. I have to blame everyone in this situation. Now, I could comment on how I resent this young white male being dubbed mentally ill while countless Black and Latino men who have committed similar crimes are NEVER mentally evaluated and just branded violent animals. But THAT, gente, is an entirely different post. What I want to talk about instead is how the idea of this young white male being just mentally ill can soften the blow and blur the reality of what is really going on.
This situation made me think of so much more than just that sad, angry, little white boy with a gun. I thought about all of the instances where my “No” just wasn’t good enough for the men who pressed me hard for attention. The countless times I am cornered or my space violated by a man swinging his metaphorical dick at me. I thought of friends who showed up to hang out with me with stripes of crimson bruised on their necks, fingerprints branded in purple on their arms who told me “He just shook me, Angie, no big deal.” I thought about my own experiences of relationship violence as a teenager. Thought about being sixteen and going so far as to hide that this guy was in my life from everyone including my closest friends because I couldn’t bear to see people’s reactions, to see them acknowledging that I wasn’t as smart as I looked, that I had fallen for a guy who on a night where I said I was too tired to make him dinner, that it was late and I had to go home to my family, threw a can of Goya habichuelas rosadas at my head and called me a lazy bitch. I was sixteen and I thought to myself, I’d much rather just be the pothead drinking friend, the one that had the potential of being something more but stuck to her joints and her 99 Bananas. Boy, oh boy, can I get into who I was back then…what happened to me, what I allowed myself to do and experience, what I still cringe at. Again, an entirely different post.
I thought about Michelle, a young woman I went to high school with, who, the year she was supposed to graduate with us, was murdered on Valentines Day by the father of her child and how that affected all of us who knew her, all of the young women approaching adulthood who were forced to come face to face with that sort of violence. I thought about the weight of it all, the heavy weight of having to navigate that kind of thing. I thought about her daughter who is probably a teenager now, who may or may not know that her mother was a victim of domestic violence…I thought about her, at such a young age, having to navigate that. I thought of Gladys Ricart, dying in her wedding dress at the hands of a man who couldn’t deal with her “No.”
Let me paint a picture. During my clubbing daze, my best friend and I went into our regular haunt and were ready for a night of fun and dancing. I’ll never forget what I had on, because honey, I was fierce. A flowy kelly green top, a pair of tan leather boots with light blue jeans tucked in, gold jewelry, and a tan leather clutch that I had spent too much money on that had the most amazing metal framework in it. We went to this spot so often that we knew all of the bouncers and on this particularly frigid NYC winter night, we had gone so far as to purchase a thermos and make the bouncers standing outside some hot chocolate. It was like that. Needless to say, she and I were ready for some fun.
Standing on the coat check line, my best friend started hopping from foot to foot, the universal sign for “I have to take a whiz.” I told her I would wait on the line while she went to the bathroom, both of us aware that the line to the ladies room would be just as long as the coat check line, if not longer. She texted me that she was in the VIP bathroom, that one of the bouncers we knew had allowed her access to it. The VIP section was accessed by a small flight of stairs by the regular dancing area of the club, so I waited at the foot of those steps for her, leaning against the banister watching people move to the music. As I waited, I bopped my head trying to ride the wave of frenetic energy of a nightclub on a weekend. A huge, drunk white dude came up behind me suddenly and started grinding his dick against me asking if I wanted to dance. I said no, putting my hand on his chest to get him to move out of my personal space. Now, I am 5 foot 10 inches, I’m pretty tall already and with heels, I am a good 6 foot 1 inch, maybe more. This guy was a few inches taller than me, despite me wearing heels, and brawny. An imposing figure that I remember having to look up at to say no to. I don’t give a fuck if he was bigger than me….I still don’t….I didn’t want to dance. I was waiting for my homey.
He didn’t listen to me and again pushed himself on to me. Again, I said I didn’t want to dance. He grabbed my elbow and said “Come on, baby, you know you want to dance” and gyrated some more, pushing me hard against the banister that I had been leaning against until I was almost ass up in front of him. I forced myself up and elbowed him, shouting “I said I didn’t want to dance!” and turned to get the attention of one of the bouncers who I knew to get this drunk fuck away from me. Big mistake. As soon as I turned away from him, he pulled me by my hair to the ground and slammed my head on the floor sticky with liquor. His friends pulled him away from me and hustled him towards the exit. I, infuriated, stood and ran after him, beating him over the head with my too-expensive clutch, ruining it’s beautiful metal framework. He easily slapped me to the ground and that’s when the bouncers came. With the bouncers holding him by his arms, I screamed in his face, “Why did you hit me? Why did you do that? I just said I didn’t want to dance.” He smirked and replied, “You hit me first.” I slapped him in his face with my purse. He attacked me again and it took three bouncers to rip him off of me.
There I was, beautiful kelly green top ripped open to reveal my bra, hair wild from being yanked at, with tears streaming down my face, when my best friend frantically runs up and screams, “Oh my God, baby! I was in the bathroom, are you okay?” As I was telling her what happened and we were gathering our things to get the fuck out of there, a female friend of the drunk white guy came up to us and said, “I’m sorry he did that, he was just drunk. He’s not that violent.” I stared at her for a moment and could only get the words “Get the fuck away from me,” out before my best friend said what would always stay with me. “He wasn’t just drunk and he is that violent. Get the fuck out of her face now.”
I waited two weeks before I returned to that club. I walked in with a small pair of golden gloves attached to my belt loop. My mother was distraught and said, “Why would you want to go back there? What if the same guy shows up?” And I replied, “Because that’s MY spot and me not going back says I’m scared. What he did was NOT okay and I refuse to let fear of something like that happening to keep me from living my life.” Golden gloves champ, right here. LOL.
I tell this story for a few reasons. When he first attacked me, stunned and on the floor after his friends pulled him off, I saw them retreating and getting away from the scene. Everyone else around me didn’t help me up, didn’t ask if I was okay, didn’t bother with me. They were LAUGHING. Too many times, when a woman is being violently violated, we brush it off, say “it’s not our business,” or “she’ll just go back to him,” or even laugh at her. Why? Why do we brush it off? Why do we find this shit comical? This is how the violence is perpetuated and it is how we are ALL accountable for the persistence of rape culture, of violence against women. Furthermore, his female friend apologizing for him, saying he was just drunk and that he was not THAT violent to the woman that was standing before her with a ripped top and a clump of hair pulled out of her head is infuriating still. Why do we feel it necessary to excuse or apologize for this kind of behavior in the men that we know simply because we know them? They are and can be that violent and let me tell you, if one of my boys EVER was to do some shit like that, he would no longer be my boy. Simple as that.
The reality is that I shouldn’t have had to deal with any of these thoughts or experiences and neither should ANY woman. Women are taught as little girls to be protective of their space. Don’t sit on a man’s lap, watch your drinks, don’t wear that skirt, don’t go out alone because you NEVER know what these men will do. And my take on it is this: Saying that equates men to sheer animals, to mentally ill fucks that can’t take the word “no” and use their bruised egos as fuel to hurt women. NO. I will not and DO not accept that. I have two brothers and they are NOT animals. I have men in my life who I love dearly and they are NOT animals. That’s too easy. That is just an excuse for the bigger problem here. The problem is that teaching girls to protect themselves is not necessarily a bad thing considering the patriarchal bullshit we have to endure but at the same time, it also coddles the male ego. Once his ego is bruised enough, he can attack because he is just an animal and that’s that? He is just a brute? Because he was just drunk? Fuck that, yo.
We should be teaching our boys about boundaries, about a woman’s personal space, about respect for women as HUMANS not orifices to plug their dicks in when they want. We should be teaching boys that NO means NO. We should be teaching our girls that, while in the world we live in, you have to protect yourself no matter what, that they have the right to say NO and not be attacked for it. We have to teach our boys that they are not animals that can do what they want to women and that their rejection does not justify or excuse misogyny in any capacity. We have to teach girls not to encourage this behavior by excusing violence in the men they know. It is the way we have ALL been conditioned. It needs to stop.
It plays a part in the reason this young white male who is now just considered mentally ill was so angry that he killed women who just said no.
That’s what I think.