A few months ago, I received a Kickstarter perk for being a contributor to FORCE’s fundraising campaign. As someone deeply passionate about feminist, anti-sexual violence efforts, I was proud to be a supporter and was excited to not only get my perk, but to also share it with others in hopes to spread the word about an organization that does admirable work. While I was excited, I do remember having a small bit of hesitation sharing an image of the perk — it is underwear, after all – but I felt that the people in my networks would see why I would share this photo, so I did. In short, I felt safe in doing so. Unfortunately, I later came to regret sharing it.
A few hours after posting it online, I was on campus finishing up my work day when I got a series of text messages that literally stopped me in my tracks.
George*: Lol jus seen ur fb post about those force undies
George: I’m tryna see those in person
George: And subsequently remove them
George: With my teeth
George: Only with CONSENT of course lol
A myriad of feelings and emotions ran through me. Disappointment. Nausea. Disgust. But finally, anger. I was infuriated that consent was the last thought he had in response to a post against rape culture. I was insulted by the “lol” as if the idea of asking for consent was some sort of joke. And worst of all, I felt violated because something that I did as a public declaration in support of consent culture was used as a catalyst to create a moment that literally sucked every positive feeling out of me
I tried to remain calm because I was out in public and I did not want to further upset myself. In an attempt to be diplomatic, I expressed my surprise at his uncharacteristic texts, emphasizing how they came seemingly out of no where. He explains:
George: I logged on to fb n saw the pic and jus text u wut came to mind
George: Kinda forward but thats jus how I am…hope I didnt offend u
Me: it isn’t my thing to talk that sexual with someone when i have no history of that nature with them
George: I feel u
Me: Yeah…next time probably best to ask for consent to talk that way first…it def makes me feel uncomfortable
George: Asking before hand jus makes it awkward…but my bad for make u uncomfortable
Awkward? We don’t truly know whether he would have felt awkward if he had taken the time to establish whether he could speak to me in that manner. However, in this case that really doesn’t matter. What I do know is that I was stunned by his decision to essentially place his personal desire to share his thoughts about undressing me over my own feelings. In short: thanks for making me feel uncomfortable and violated just so you can avoid feeling awkward. The idea that an individual *has* to share certain thoughts by any means necessary is problematic at best and truly harmful at worst. And no, saying that you are a “forward” person is not an excuse. One can be forward and still choose to respect boundaries and other individuals – even ones that you are attracted to.
Just a few days later as I was heading to bed, I received a text from an ex-boyfriend out of the blue. “When was the last time you masturbated?” The experience with George quickly came to mind; it helped me realize why I was so upset at the exchange a few days ago. This ex-boyfriend is the same person who has continually ignored requests to stop contacting me. He is the same guy who reminded me that the restraining order I had against him had expired a few months prior. During and after our relationship, this person continually refused to respect personal–and legal!–boundaries established between us. George’s texts and the subsequent exchange replicated lack of acknowledgment of boundaries, lack of respect, and the feelings of violation in result of these.
One of the most traumatizing parts of being a survivor on a college campus was the violation of my safe spaces–my body, my room, my campus. A place that I thought was a place of growth and joy was revealed to be yet another place that was not safe–and now I realize my phone is not exempt from that unfortunately reality, too. Consent isn’t just about sexual physical activity. As we are in a new digital age and we see new laws arise to protect individuals, there is one thing we need to remember regardless of the technology available the presence of consent is not the default. This is why the model of enthusiastic consent is so valuable: instead of avoiding the awkward no and offending (or triggering) someone, we know the person on the other end is just as into the exchange as we are. Are these feelings about the texts an overreaction because I’ve connected them to my experience as a survivor? Maybe. But getting unsolicited, sexual messages seems like it’s able to have an impact on people in all walks of life. Just ask this man who deleted his fake OKCupid profile after two hours. These type of messages can really wear on the soul.
One organization of which I’ve been a longtime fan, Hollaback, supports the right to navigate in public space without being harassed. I just want to right to look at my own damn private cell phone without feeling like I am going to be violated.
*name has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
Wagatwe is now less fearful of the text message inbox on her cell phone.