Sunday, 18 January 2015

I blocked my stalker! (Internet Harassment and Street Harassment: two sides of rape culture)

About a month ago I met this guy on a stall where I was volunteering. We started talking and I could see we had a lot in common: migrants, activists, idealists. As the conversation evolved, we added each other on facebook. I thought he was a little OTT while narrating his roles and achievements in Ireland, but nothing to be worried about. Besides, I usually like to self-reflect whenever I think someone is making me uncomfortable, because that might just stem from something I find nasty about my own personality. You know. People = Mirrors. 

But then, I invited him and the whole bunch to join me in another activists' assembly. A different cause, but also related to human rights. Nobody could make it in the end, but he did. In the meeting, he began with the whole showing off stunt again, and I was definitely annoyed by them. My friend noticed that he was, indeed, strange and OTT. Meeting over, he decided to walk me home, since that was also the way to his address. As we stopped in front of my house, he appeared to be willing to get in, and I soon dismissed him saying that my place was a mess, that I'd invite him for coffee some other time, you know, NOT NOW. He was standing there trying to continue the conversation and I was massively disturbed, so I just got in and literally banged the door on his face. 

Next morning, early morning, he called me. I felt a gelid wind go up and down my spine, and decided not to pick up the phone. Then, he texted me on facebook. I replied, don't know what exactly, but always trying to keep friendliness in mind. I thought he was just being plain annoying, and that maybe he was only excited to have a new friend. I honestly relate to that feeling. You know, being a migrant, one of the first things you realize when you're away from your home country is how hard it is to make and keep new friends. As we apparently come from similar backgrounds (we are both non-white people from the Global South), I thought it could be just a natural reaction of enthusiasm. 

So I tried my best to bear with him. Like, he kept on calling for days, and I would never pick up the phone. I would, if I honestly thought he was worthy of a conversation. The anticipation of that guy going on about his achievements as an activist in Ireland made me cringe every time my phone rang. So I never picked it. I thought he would just get the message across and leave me alone. Now, there is definitely that part of me that sees myself in his actions. And I hate it. Like, I acknowledge that I too am annoying. I realize the cultural dimension of the whole "let's be friends" thing. I'm slowly learning the "Western" way, which means: keep some distance. I think I made many people cringe whenever I came across them. But you know, I realize things soon enough. And I leave people alone. I feel ashamed that I disturbed them, even though I don't think I am that level of 'too much'. After all, I've been socialized into being self-conscious at all times, and even if my culture allows for more openness, I do get back to my state of feeling inconvenient and that is good for my survival here, as I end up getting in the shell again.

Although his calls became sparse, he never really got it completely. We would chat sometimes on fb. I mean, often times I ignored him completely, but other times I just made an effort to be nice and diplomatic. Like the other day when he invited me for some seminary. I replied that I was occupied with something else, and thanked for the invitation. Never really said 'hey, but let's meet some other time'. So the other day he tried to start a conversation and I was totally not in mood for it. I couldn't, even. So I just left his "hi, how are you" hanging there, without response. 

Inside my mind, however, I always tried to be compassionate and understanding. Because I saw myself reflected in his actions. Even though I eyed the worst part of me, I did try to acknowledge and just forgive and be understanding. Sometimes we just don't realize we are being annoying. Sometimes we just don't realize we are being nosy, invasive. Sometimes we get a little attention and we are used to getting so little that we think we can overindulge in that tiny gap people give us to express whatever it is that we wish to say. It happened to me, countless times. I was lucky enough to get a few friends who sort of get it, and they set their boundaries and I am fine with that because I realize that I TOO AM IRRITATING. Some people "can't even" with me, and I took their "can't even" as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being.

But then, there is this guy. What is it exactly that made him not realize that I wasn't keen on interacting? I mean, I gave clear signals that I did not want to deepen our friendship (never picked up the phone, sparse and short replies on fb, can't we all agree those are signs that someone is not really that interested?). Well, it really puzzles me, and I cannot fathom of any explanation other than male entitlement. Am I saying he was trying to flirt me? Not really. I don't know his intentions. I honestly believe he was just excited to have a new friend, and as I explained above, I do understand and relate to that feeling. However, when I think of his actions and compare them to mine, I do feel it boils down to our socialization into gender roles. 

Again, as I explained, I too have overwhelmed people in the past. Talking to my therapist, I came to learn that I'm not alone in this. However, what I find really disturbing in this story is the fact that I usually realize soon enough (for instance, if someone doesn't reply to my messages I just leave it there) whereas he didn't. Considering his background, which I don't think it's appropriate to expose here (hint: it involves religion), I think it is fair enough to conclude that he only did that out of a feeling that he had the absolute right to do so. I do not think it is a mere coincidence that men account for the majority of stalkers. I believe gender does play a role in that, but it appears to me that society is reluctant to point to that factor. 

So I think this is it: I felt stalked. Trust me, for me to say that I felt stalked, things were really getting out of hand. I think I'm extremely cool in that respect. I am generally unassuming and my level of tolerance is way higher than most of my friends'. I think there is a cultural element to that, as well. Now that I live in the West, I realize the stereotype that Latinos are very passionate is not altogether wrong. That can convert in the way we see relationships, and I'm well aware that what is little to me may be too much to most of my (Western, usually white) friends. So yes, even with all the societal constructs in mind, I felt stalked. And intimidated. And unsafe. 

Last evening, the last straw finally hit me. I went online and saw there was a message. When I looked at it, I couldn't really believe what he was saying: "Your cover photo is hilarious one… reminds me about you :D". I took a moment staring at that word. Hilarious. I looked at my cover picture and saw absolutely nothing hilarious about it. In fact, I only decided to go for it because to me it is beautiful, artistic and serious. Not even in my wildest dreams could I ever have conceived of the image I paste below as hilarious. 

So I just asked him: "Hilarious?" 

And he gave me the answer: "Bitch in the shower - lol! ;)" "Funny picture :D" 

Driven by a sense of complete disbelief and powerlessness, I went ahead and blocked him. I managed to take a screenshot of the interaction, but now I regret that I did not capture all conversations. I mean, they weren't that many, but there was that one when he came to my inbox to give me feedback on a video I'd shared. It is basically a contemporary dance video I love. I feel it is about the struggles involved in relationships. He saw it as explicit sex. I thought it was down to his own worldview, and tried not to bother much, then. Now I realize I should have blocked him straight away, instead of just waiting for things to escalate this way. 

But yeah, that's what happened. After I blocked him, he came up with a second profile (????) to give me an 'explanation', which reads "The picture was sexy. But I was joking as a friend. I was not flirting. I think there is a misunderstanding. Good night friend :)". To which I replied "you are not my friend. Please don't talk to me again". And then I blocked this second profile as well. But at that point, I was feeling intimidated and unsafe again. So I decided to deactivate my account. I didn't do that with a detox in mind. I did that because I was afraid he would pop again and be inconvenient again. Isn't this terrible? Isn't this exactly what men are used to doing while harassing women on the streets?

Now, I understand he was telling the truth: this is not about flirting. Who on Earth would think this is flirting, anyhow? It is clearly about making the other person uncomfortable. It is clearly about power. I would easily place his actions on the same category as street harassment, which is something that has nothing to do with flirting and courtship. It is about power, about putting women in their place. When he made a comment about my cover picture, he wasn't really being my "friend". He probably thought that since I posted something 'sexy', I'm out there to take shit. That puts me automatically in the category of the 'whore', because if I expose myself that way, then I should obviously acquiesce to his nasty remarks. 

Well. I don't really know what else to say and this text is long enough, so let me leave you with my questions: Why can't we just move beyond hierarchy and treat everyone, I mean EVERYONE, with kindness and respect? Why is it that he saw me as not respectable enough in order to go ahead with his sick comments? Why do we still insist on hierarchizing women this way, deeming them as deserving respect or not according to their capacity to keep silent and hide themselves? How does the public/private divide normalizes rape culture? What does the 'perfect victim' narrative tell about our whole culture, a culture where disrespect towards those outside the norm is, unfortunately, a given? 

Was I 'asking for it' when I posted that picture?