THAT GUY WHO ISN’T YOU

March 11, 2015

by Stacey Forrester

 

When I was twelve, I was finally allowed to take the city bus alone to and from Saturday gymnastics. After class, even if I took my time and helped my coach put away the mats I would have to wait sixteen minutes at the stop before the bus came. One afternoon I stood at the stop in my leotard and shorts, making puppet shadows with my topknot and the shape it made against afternoon sunlight on the sidewalk. A man crept up to the bus stop in his brown car with its brown seats and beckoned me over with his rust-stained fingers. He told me the bus wasn’t coming and that he would give me a ride. I backed away, pretending I hadn’t heard him. I stood frozen at the bus stop and stared at the line between my block of sidewalk and the next, lining my top knot shadow perfectly in the middle, like an arrow pinning me to that very spot. I pretended not to see him as he circled the block twice until the bus came. He wasn’t you though, because you and I are the same age and this was a long time ago, and the man with the brown fingers in the brown car that day was older than my dad.

I was thirteen and Amanda K had the biggest boobs in the whole seventh grade. We were all still wishing to fill our training bras, meanwhile her bra straps announced the passage to the other side, like ropes holding up the drawbridge of womanhood. There was probably an Amanda K in your school too. And maybe your Amanda K and her bra straps also got called into the principal’s office before first period was over, and got sent home, missing math and chem because exposed bra straps made it hard for boys like you to memorize multiplication. We all learned a valuable lesson from Amanda K while she was home missing class, and maybe you did too: that girls were the gatekeepers of boy’s urges.

We were fifteen and he was nineteen. He insisted all three of us; Jen, Tiff and me, squish into the front seat of the car beside him as he drove to the liquor store. Tiff stole her sister’s Revlon Cherries in the Snow lipstick, which now slicked all six of our lips. My contribution to the evening was a water bottle one third full of Malibu rum, a splash of peach schnapps, and topped off with vodka. Jen didn’t bring anything, but said she would score us a cigarette, hopefully menthol, that we could smoke behind the 7-11.

We asked this guy to buy us smokes and he said he had some at his house and we could stop on the way there and he would buy us real booze. We crawled into his car, not your car, and I quickly felt dizzy from the artificial scent of not one but two orange tree-shaped fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror and whatever odor they were trying to cover up. I watched them swing back as he started the car in second gear, slamming the gearshift between Jen’s legs, forcing his hand uninvited and unavoidably deep underneath the hem of her school uniform skirt. I felt her body tense beside me and I watched the little orange trees hit the window, and I heard her gasp and I felt queasy.

The summer before I start grade twelve, I am baptized in the streets and given the names that will be used in attempts to get my attention for next two decades: hey baby, darling, nice ass, hot stuff, and sweet cheeks.

In college I go to a party at a frat house that is floored in linoleum from the ’70s. I am drinking beer from a keg. All the girls are drinking beer from the keg, except some of them on their head and some of them crouched at the bottom end of a funnel with boys, none of whom were you, at the top who keep pouring and pouring. I go to find a bathroom and I see my roommate leaning off the back deck with a boy who isn’t you pulling on the waist of her Levis. He tells me they are fine, and I really have to pee, so I promise to be right back but then I see the babe from my Phil class and I forget to go right back.

Later in the evening, the pattern on the floor is moving like a sundial only nineteen-year-olds can see and it tells me it is time to go home. I can’t leave without my roommate, because the posters all over campus remind us that rapists will stay away if we don’t walk alone. I can’t find her so I run-walk all the way to my dorm and it kind of sobers me up. I crawl into my bed without making a noise and I realize she isn’t alone, and I hear him tell her to be quiet and I hear her say they should stop, really they should stop, and I hear him having sex with her and I don’t hear her saying no but I also don’t hear her saying yes.

I just finished my degree and I have had a boyfriend who isn’t you for eight months. We are going out and so I put on the dress I wore when I met him because it is the most flattering dress I own for how the fabric clings with all its fragile strength to my collar bone before giving up and plunging recklessly under my sternum. I meet him at the restaurant and we see a girl with a dress much more modest than mine and he makes a comment under his breath that she is just advertising her daddy issues. I assumed he was implying that her issues stemmed from a dad touching her in wrong ways, and if that was the case I could fill up one hand with friends I knew whose dad or step-dad did that, and if we extended the source of said issues to include uncles and swim coaches, or even a boss grabbing an ass, I would need more fingers and toes. The ones I know had a hard enough time whispering about it, much less advertising it.

One night, two years and a few boyfriends later, I am out dancing with my friends and men are imposing their way into our evening uninvited, and they don’t back off until we lie and say our boyfriends are coming, because they will respect an imaginary made up man before they respect us. You aren’t a journalist, so I know you didn’t write the advice in the paper about how not get raped by the creep attacking women lately. It’s all shit like don’t drink, and don’t walk alone, and don’t go out at night, but I take it seriously and decide to cab home and not walk like I usually do.

I am in the cab and two minutes into the ride, the driver offers me money for sex. I call the taxi dispatch who thinks it is reasonable to forward me to the complaint voicemail, so I jump out at a red light, and the cab driver follows behind me in his car down an alley offering me money not to tell on him. I walk four blocks past my house so he doesn’t know where I live before he gives up. Planning a “safe ride home” turns out not to be so safe.

There are women for sale in my neighbourhood almost any time, but there is more selection after dark. I make a point to know all the workers on my block by name, and memorize things like hair colour, height, tattoos and scars, so that I can vouch that somebody paid attention, if ever they don’t show up for work. Sometimes when I am waiting for the bus, or a ride, or the light to change, or doing anything that has me stopped near a corner, a car will slow and the brake lights will flash—a not so subtle way of selecting me off the shelf. You say this bothers you, and I say “yeah, me too.” Not because I think I am better than the women selling, in fact it sparks this rage because I feel that we are all the same. Purchasing sex to me is violence against women and asking for a price check tells me a man I’ve never met wants to give me two black eyes.

Since we are talking about where I live, and the place that I call home, there is a tower going up behind my house, and for three straight mornings last week, men’s voices rained from above as I stepped out of my house. I couldn’t see their faces, as they were five stories up, but I am pretty sure none were you, offering opinions about my cut-offs, my crop top, my baggy t-shirt, and my dog-walking capris.

On the fourth day I stood on my porch and imagined what would happen if the clinic where I work as a nurse was above a business, with families and neighbours walking by underneath, and what would happen if I spent my day yelling my sexualized thoughts about people passing by, getting bagels, buying coffee. I think that people would complain, businesses would suffer, mothers would not bring their children anywhere within earshot and the police would surely be called to deal with the nurse yelling “Hey hot buns” to strangers from the window.

I marched across the alley, my flip flops beating with confidence, and I sought out the site manager. He told me to relax, he told me they were really nice guys and that I should learn to take a compliment. I wonder if it’s just a friendly compliment why they don’t yell it at other men.

It’s not you telling me to smile, shake it, show my tits, or call you while I am walking to work, going to buy tampons, thinking about global warming, or wanting to be left the fuck alone. At least I am pretty sure, but things are often said from passing cars, in the part of the street with no light, in the park on a noisy afternoon, or from across the road and other places where I can’t always see who is talking to me, so I can’t be certain. Even after I have plotted new routes and added time to my walk to the bus, the voice that I am almost sure isn’t yours, still finds me.

This isn’t even as bad as I have heard it can get. When I interrupt my thoughts about important things to replace them with thoughts about the fastest way away from men who aren’t you, when I say nothing, I sometimes then become ugly-dyke-bitch-whore-I-wouldn’t-fuck you-anyways. I know girls who have been spit on, followed to their door, or had bottles thrown at their head. And worse. Not nearly as often, but sometimes, it can get so much worse.

So I am thirty-four, and this conversation starts, how it always seems to start, because I have had it at least twenty-seven times, with men who are just like you. I am ready when you to tell me that it’s not you, and it’s not all of you, and I should know you’d never do that, and why am I so angry? And besides, aren’t there more important things for me to be upset about? You are littering my exit with questions it isn’t my job to answer and you’re standing in the doorway to my equality, where you are taking up a lot of space. You mention something about a bad apple and I want to fall asleep.

Because when you say it wasn’t you, the truth is you are right. You didn’t do all these things to me, or any girl, any woman, ever. In fact you didn’t do anything, and herein lies the problem. You didn’t speak up. You minded your own business. You let it enter your mind that she deserved it. You looked at pictures not meant for your eyes. You looked away. You believed him because he is a nice guy. You felt uncomfortable but not enough to say anything. You dismissed it as a joke. You ignored all of those times you saw things you knew weren’t that right and you didn’t make it your problem, instead you made it mine, and you’re not listening to me now, you’re just waiting for your turn to talk—so yes, you are right it was not you. You just let them all take parts of us — robbed, and stripped, and on display. I know you’re a good friend and that this may be hard to hear, but I need to find a way for you to see that it’s the silence you keep that allows their kind to be.

ABOUT

Stacey Forrester is a nurse who lives and works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She has a penchant for community, DIY, social justice, misfits, harm reduction, and music. She explores these things and more in her zine, “You’re a Masterpiece.”

 That Guy Who Isn’t You originally appeared in Briarpatch Magazine.

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38 Comments on "THAT GUY WHO ISN’T YOU"

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Ann Dean

“You are littering my exit with questions it isn’t my job to answer and you’re standing in the doorway to my equality, where you are taking up a lot of space….
I know you’re a good friend and that this may be hard to hear, but I need to find a way for you to see that it’s the silence you keep that allows their kind to be.

Enjoyed this article very much.

Thank you, this is an amazingly insightful piece. Thank you for speaking for so many of us, who have put up with this shit for years. Thank you for pointing out that silence not only doesn’t help, it excuses and encourages.
The only thing sadder than this, what you, we, all women have experienced, is that someday you reach that age where there aren’t any comments. Because we are old women, and we are invisible. It’s a relief, in many ways. But still hard, because, well….invisible.

Jeff Larson
I was sympathetic to the author until I got to this part: “You didn’t speak up. You minded your own business. You let it enter your mind that she deserved it. You looked at pictures not meant for your eyes. You looked away. You believed him because he is a nice guy. You felt uncomfortable but not enough to say anything. You dismissed it as a joke. You ignored all of those times you saw things you knew weren’t that right and you didn’t make it your problem, instead you made it mine, and you’re not listening to me now,… Read more »
Jack Williams

This is bullshit. What an ass.

TK
Jeff Larson – we do not need you to be sympathetic, rather, EMPATHETIC. There is a big difference. If I may share my opinion, while the specific piece you reference relates to one aspect of how women are harassed, I don’t think that is the point. I believe the author is trying to use this piece to speak to a greater social responsibility. I personally have met many men in my life who say the same thing you say, and who I know would never catcall a women (whether they are actually sexualizing her in their minds or not –… Read more »
Cash
The author’s frustration in explaining how widespread harassment is over and over again really comes through in the writing. I myself feel like I’m going crazy when I try to explain any feminist issues to my friends. That said, I’m a guy that tries to call out sexism when I see it and it’s true that the more often you do it, the less your friends will do that kind of shit in front of you. Your friends like you and they respect your opinion at least to some degree because they are your friends. Isn’t that the point? For… Read more »
Sheila

Thank you for perfectly illustrating the point of the article.

ME

Way to argue for maintaining the norm of complicit behaviour. Congratulations on proving this article’s point.

Would you like a shiny gold star?

M
Men in suits don’t pay women equally for equal work. Men in suits speak over women in meetings, take credit for women’s work and ideas in the workplace, make jokes and comments that perpetuate oppression when fewer people hear them, mansplain to women, and don’t contribute their fare share when it comes to housework and child rearing. This isn’t about class it’s about gender. My experience tells me that men in suits don’t get a pass just because they don’t catcall in the lobby of their office building. So yeah, the answer is DO MORE. Dear Not That Guy who… Read more »
Tracey

Just because the guy in the business suit isn’t catcalling women in the lobby doesn’t mean he isn’t doing somethig else in the boardroom or the lunch room or his office. Guys working in construction have everything to lose just like the man in the business suit; just because he doesn’t wear a business suit doesn’t mean what he has to lose is any less valuable. Nice judgement buddy. Thanks for proving why articles like this still need to be written.

Cactus

Also, just because business suit man isn’t being a creep on the job (and believe me, some of them will be, though in more subtle ways), he might very well be a creep off the clock. He might be the guy in the elevator making creepy insinuations about the book you’re carrying, or the one who won’t leave you alone at the coffee shop or bar. Relative wealth absolutely does not equal common decency.

Anonymous
I’m pretty sure men are as guilty in this matter as you are about that homeless guy in the street you pass by, avoid or ignore every day, or that you know is probably on the adjacent street. What about all those poor people dieing in other countries from lack of water, disease, war or any other number of reason or even in your own city or neighborhood. How about all those people getting exploited to provide you those lovely shoes, dress, jewelry or that nice new smartphone. What about the environment getting destroyed from all that consumerism you’re doing.… Read more »
Salal
Dear “anonymous” If you knew Stacey (the author) you would definitely eat your words. I have had the pleasure of knowing her for 17+ years. One of the things I admire about Stacey besides her talented feminist writing, is her concious-raising far exceeds most. This is the girl who buys her clothing from ethical sources and second hand shops to make sure what she buys has little to no footprint both on society and on the environment. She recycles like “whoah” and buses everwhere/walks/bikes. She is a dog rescuer and would not hurt a fly. Plus, she is vegetarian, works… Read more »
Sarah Lynch

Well said Salal. I think some haters will just be haters. Stacey was very eloquent and I am so glad you stood up for her.

Dan
If Stacey was such an ethical, eloquent, talented-writing, dog-rescuing, vegetarian; that’s so in tune with other people, then mr “Anonymous” (and myself) wouldn’t find her tone to be so menacing towards men, and her friend of 17+ years wound’t have to defend her by being a cyber bully. Totally defeats the purpose of resolution, don’t you think? I’m sure she’s just great, but tension is building because men like me, who HAVE taken a stand for his sisters, and his mother, and all of his girlfriends, (even in the presence of other women trying to tare them down) still get… Read more »
ME

Walking on eggshells to avoid hurting mens feelings has had a good long run. Welcome to everyone else voicing their feelings.

Salal
Hi Dan, I am a little confused at to where I was being a cyber bully. Cyber bullying is when you use hurtful and condescending words to “bully”. There is not one point where I personally attacked “anonymous”. Try to tread lightly with the use of that term. When you throw around terms that are a real social issue without actually knowing their real meaning, all that happens is your words become discredited. Stacey’s writing clearly hit a nerve with both you and “Randy-anonymous”. When it does, you have to ask yourself why? Because for the people reading your and… Read more »
M
Dan, it’s not all women’s job to personally thank you every time you’re a good ally. If you’re doing the right thing and upset for not getting credit or can’t handle it when women talk openly about all of the men who are not doing the right thing, you’re allying wrong. You may very well belong to groups that face oppression and I strive to work in solidarity to end any oppression you face. But this piece is about gender. So the oppression you face in other groups isn’t relevant here if you are a cis-man. People with privilege should… Read more »
Lauren

Menacing?! Hahahahahaha

Kaye

Brilliant writing gets to the core of the issue. Profoundly well said. Hats off to the author.

Elisha

Amazing work. Thank you for writing this!

This essay said everything I’ve ever wanted–and tried–to say. Thank you for writing this.

Anonymous

Just call the cops. They get paid to arrest people, not me. I have no legal authority to shoot anybody. Especially not over accusations as vague as these.

rob

Go to the police with crime reports. They are legally allowed to arrest people and they have guns to defend themselves if the perpetrators get violent. Vigilante actions will only lead to violence and possibly legal ramifications for intervening.

Adam
Very much enjoyed this article and rammed the point home. In my line of work, in a small town where everyone knows each other and businesses rely on work from other businesses, there is a distinct problem that I find hard to deal with and it is this: There are a handful of “men about town”, so called “professionals” who exhibit reprehensible behaviour towards female professionals because they can get away with it. Revolting creatures who greet women at networking events and meetings by thinking its acceptable to give them innappropriate kisses and bear hugs, and spend the rest of… Read more »
Cash

I don’t think you should put your career at risk by confronting them publicly. One thing you could do is maybe send an anonymous complaint letter to their company’s HR department? Write an open letter and send it to the local paper or trade organization? In addition, if you know any of these women personally you could possibly sympathize with them about how you think these particular men are jerks.

Junior Law
We see this issue in Law, as well. Whether it be female associates or secretaries, and it is very hard for people to stand up to individuals who have power over them. The issue is also raised in a fact scenario in our legal training classes – fortunately for us, we have anonymous agencies with which we can file complaints and who will attempt to deal with these issues for you. However, I have often wondered what would happen if you actually stood up and said something about it – whatever “it” happened to be at that time. My guess… Read more »
Chris

As one of the men who have said something, and do, and always will, please do not assume we do not exist. We won’t be ignored, either.

This is so insanely good. Thank you so very much for it. It’s everything I’m always attempting to explain to the men closest to me, all the conversations that are responded to with a “not all men” speech, which also makes me want to smother myself with my pillow. This is much appreciated.

Austen Hoogen
First off, amazing article! I think it is very powerful. It is evocative and stirs up some powerful and personal feelings–on both sides–as can be seen from the comments. I can understand as well why some of the reactions to this piece, by men, have been from a place of taking offense in being glommed together in the same likes as classless construction workers, rapists and pedophiles. I have to admit that when I first started reading this article that was my first reaction as well. I have been beat across the head so many times by the “all men”… Read more »
Dan (not the above Dan)
I really love this article. I don’t know why it is so difficult for so many men to accept the reality of sexual violence against women. For the vast majority of women in our society, it is a universal experience to some degree or other. And it’s a burden that everyone bears including men indirectly. It’s in men’s interest to stand up and be counted because fear gets in the way of positive relationships between men and women – and you know, also, because it’s the decent thing to do?! Building a relationship with women (this encompasses social relationships that… Read more »
Amanda
Can anyone else just notice that this otherwise well-conceived article about not objectifying women is horribly objectifying toward sex workers? I mean come on. “Women for sale”? It’s not an act of violence to purchase sex. The violence that sex workers have to live with comes from the STIGMA about buying sex – which you’re perpetuating by using such objectifying language. If sex work didn’t have a stigma and were decriminalized, workers would experience far less violence – both because clients wouldn’t think of them as “women for sale” and because if a client DID do something bad, the worker… Read more »
Elana

The author works closely with women in the DTES who are sex trade workers. She is very familiar with their plight. The fact is that these women are being objectified. They are not in the sex trade because they want to be. They are being used by people who have power over them (pimps, boyfriends, sometimes even family). I believe the author wanted to illustrate the harshness of these women’s reality. They are basically sex slaves.

Stacey
Dear Amanda Thank you very much for your expressing your concerns about my language around sex work. I want to give you some insight into how and why I chose to speak like this, and as such am posting something I wrote to another woman with similar concerns … I hoped that this piece would ignite conversation, and even challenge people. All challenging messages I have received thus far, have not been people seeking clarification or discourse, but rather seem to be male identifying folks, with rather boring stawman style comments, which I am not engaging in. Before I explain… Read more »
A M
Preface, to situate myself: I’m white, university-educated, and middle-class. I’m also an indoor trans sex worker for whom sex work is my sole source of income and full service is most of the sex work I do. Thank you for your elaboration. It does help to see your (still outside) perspective, that you do connect to these folks as human beings in your line of work, that we all acknowledge the complex and sometimes coercive reasons why people do sex work. But language is extremely important in fighting stigma against sex workers, in humanizing us (ESPECIALLY for Aboriginal/Indigenous women or… Read more »
Sarah
This was one of those writings you can feel in your bones. Thank you for the rawness of this. I think the fact that so many commenters are arguing and getting all heated about so many related topics points to how brilliant this piece is — only something really evocative and thought-provoking could stir up this many strong feelings. You can’t read this and not feel something. For my part, the only concept I got stuck on here was the strong implication that I somehow need men to stand up for me, and to make my problems their problem. I… Read more »
robin
profound article. the comments section is revealing. Some guys who are “not that guy” are certain they’re “not that guy in the article”…. I find a thing is, at least with some guys I know, not silent acquiesce, but ignorance – they really have NO CLUE that women ever have any troubles with gender issues; they see and hear NO inequalities (well, they’re not looking or listening) and I believe their ignorance to be genuine – I remember having no clue either (mind you, I was about seven or eight…) so I know it’s a state one can exist in.… Read more »
Hrothgar

Hey! Good read.

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