I had one day of work left before my week-long summer holiday (I hang out with too many British people now and so I say holiday instead of vacation. All my dreams are coming true.) I still had to pack my bag, but very little stood between me a week of doing as-yet unspecified activities with Paul and Nic in SOUTH Korea. Besides the bag, I had to get my dearly beloved e-bike fixed, because when I went to ride it to school earlier that morning I discovered that the back tire rim was resting peaceful as a toddler who doesn’t yet understand the concept of a Trump presidency.
If you ever come to China—-and please, hurry up and do it already, it’s dope and I want to show it to you—-one of most immediately striking differences in the optics (*buzzword!*) between here and a Western country is the proliferation of e-bikes or mopeds or scooters or whatever you want to call them. They swarm everywhere, constantly. No one wears a helmet and everyone drives like they have a death wish. E-bikes swerve with something resembling impunity in front of cars, pedestrians, bikes, storefronts, over sidewalks and railroad tracks, through stupidly skinny doorways and roadblocks. I had to have one.
Luckily, a friend of a friend that became my friend was leaving Kunming and sold me his. It is large, black and clunky, and rattles aggressively every time I go over the slightest bump, of which there are many in China. I love it. I’ve christened it the Volvo 2.0. It makes me feel independent, mobile, and gives me to security of an escape route at all times. Except for this one time right before my Korea trip.
After work ended, I bussed back home, and messaged my dear coworker Zach when I arrived in my neighbourhood. Zach called a nearby repair guy, spoke some of that magic Chinese stuff, and the repair guy came and met me by my bike. E-bikes get stolen quite frequently, and I didn’t have a garage under my building that was guarded by a security guy. Tom did, and he lives in the building “next door” to me, and so I parked my bike there every night. I would get a wee bit nervous every time I walked into the garage and brazenly drove right back out seconds later, afraid I would get in trouble because I so clearly didn’t live in the building but was still using the garage. But neither Tom nor his roommates have a bike and thus don’t use any parking, so we figured if anything came up, they would just claim it as theirs or whatever. Still, I did feel a little apprehensive as I stood there waiting for the repair guy to show up. But I once he came I showed him the obviously in-need-of-fixing, very flat tire—no optics problem there—and managed through body language and exaggerated facial gestures to get him established replacing and pumping. The security guard shuffled over.
Some inscrutably Chinese words were exchanged between him and the repair guy, and security guard looked up at me expectantly. I had no idea.
“Bu jidao,” I said. “Ting bu don.”
Two of my favourite and oft-used Chinese phrases: “I don’t know,” and “I don’t understand.” CRUCIAL to survival. Chinese people also find it hilarious when they pour a rapid river of Chinese over you and you stand there dumbly for a moment, then pull a worried face and say disappointedly “Ting bu don.” They are graciously amused, and chuckle with you, not at you. Or at least, that’s what I’ve decided to believe.
It worked yet again with this old, bent over, somewhat egregiously wrinkled Chinese security guard. “AAAAhuhuhuhuh!” he laughed, and then “lsbaelwibn;peoigbawoeirgb ting bu don aewoigbns.dblaehiwgn.” (I still cannot ascertain the reason that people seem to think that I’ll understand a longer and more complicated sentence in Chinese after I’ve already declared my complete ignorance and lack of understanding of the Chinese language by stuttering through a three-word “sentence.”) I pursed my lips and shook my head then smiled, which the security guard thought was hilarious. The repair guy was immersed in the Volvo 2.0, and didn’t look up as the security guard (ostensibly) laughingly remarked on the immense volume of Chinese I didn’t know.
“Mmmmm,” I muttered whilst making an “Isn’t it regrettable” face. This is where, in my experience, most people give up hope of communicating with me and smile widely and walk away.
Not this guy.
Instead, he let the river of Chinese continue to pour forth, and started lightly touching my arm as you do when you’re trying to build rapport with someone, make them more comfortable and at ease in a situation. It didn’t make me more comfortable.
AND THEN HE CUPPED MY BOOB.
My hand was pressing against my backpack straps, right below my shoulder and right next to my boob. “Maybe he just meant to touch my hand and any boob ~cuppage~ was accidental??” I thought. I moved my hand down by my side.
AND THEN HE CUPPED MY BOOB A SECOND TIME.
I took a sharp step back and crossed my arms. I uncrossed my arms, zipped up my rain jacket, and crossed them again. I looked incredulously at the security guard, who didn’t seem to be aware of anything happening, let alone any inappropriate and out-of-the-ordinary cupping of someone’s boobs. I looked pointedly at the ground and refused to even glance up as the river of Chinese continued to pour from his (probably) grinning, leering mouth. I looked at the ground until he got bored and shuffled away, back to his station at the entrance to the garage.
I paced and bounced on my toes, and sent a we-chat voice message to Zach, saying “you won’t believe what just happened.” But I kind of did. I mean, I couldn’t, but the disgusting amount of sexist gropings that grown women have to put up with on a daily basis has been made excruciatingly evident by Mr. grab em by the pussy, as well as working in a restaurant where privileged upper class white men felt that their privilege extended to my body…. and so this wasn’t horribly terribly out of the ordinary. #metoo
Zach thought it was, bless his heart, and his outrage and concern for my safety is a reminder that not all men are pigs. He told me he was leaving work to come over, to talk to the security guard, make sure that he faced the consequences. “Nooooo,” I replied. “Hold off—he’s not standing by me anymore and so I don’t feel immediately threatened and in the scheme of things this is not such a big deal.”
Last year I worked in the restaurant with a big burly guy naaaamed—let’s call him Dick. (lololhaha). Dick made all of us female workers at the restaurant uncomfortable, to the point where we talked about it amongst ourselves and with our other (male) coworkers enough that we think someone said something to the guy. And so for a couple months he laid off the slightly too familiar touchings and a little too suggestive one-liners… but then they surfaced once again. And one night after the kitchen had closed and there were a couple of us hanging out, he said something and I responded with a joking “Fuck you!”
“Okay,” he said,
and when I looked up in confusion, he made extended eye contact to let me know he meant it. It took the other people leaving the room briefly and me saying “Nothing is going to happen. You have a wife and kid” for him to all of a sudden feign exhaustion and desire to go home.
Two weeks later, when there were a bunch of people gathered at the restaurant after hours to celebrate the end of fall release weekend, he slapped my ass. Twice. As he walked behind me, so that no one else could see.
I had already told the boss about the first incident, because I was uncomfortable at work. And I’ve just started about five sentences to attempt to explain why, but I can’t, and if you don’t understand why then stop reading. After the ass-slapping, I thought for a bit because I knew that any repercussions would be severe, but then I couldn’t keep working with the guy, and so I told the boss again.
A few days later, he directed me into the back office, where the boss-boss and owner of the restaurant were. God it feels so very real still… They were firing Dick, they told me. Ohhhh oh. Oh. Wife and kid, remember? Wife and kid that were dependent on the guy, not just to not hit on young girls at work, but for a roof and food.
I vividly remember the owner saying “I know you feel badly, because you’re a good person. But this isn’t your fault.” Thank goodness he said that, because even with that refrain running through my head right now, I still have this sneaky feeling that it was my fault. It wasn’t, it wasn’t, IT WASN’T. I don’t regret reporting it at all, because as I became cold and distant to him to try and mitigate any future violations, he started preying on the eighteen-year-old busser, trying to get her into a three-some with his wife and him, making comments on her ass, and myriad other things that she wasn’t sure if she was allowed to feel uncomfortable about. Also because I met a customer who had been over-served by him and later terrified when he gave her a ride home so she didn’t drive, and drove past her house with his hand creeping up her leg. And also because it later became evident that he was stealing from the restaurant… even if I was being a weak, oversensitive female, the guy was a liability to the restaurant and every woman in the vicinity
, and he would have needed to go regardless. However. It doesn’t really sit well sometimes that my actions were the direct reason for someone to get fired, for a nascent family to be uprooted… I KNOW they were his actions, but the patriarchy twists your brain until it’s as wrung out as Barack Obama during the 2016 election, okok?
When Zach said that he wanted to come over and talk to the guy or his supervisor or what have you, this is what came to mind. While I hated being the reason* for a guy in America to be fired, that guy would get another job. This was an ancient Chinese man who had to sit by a stinking toilet all day long (and believe me, you don’t know what a stinking toilet is until you smell one in China). He works that job probably because he can’t get another one, and if I were to report the boob-cuppage and he lost this job… I literally have no clue what would happen, and yet I have a sneaking suspicion that it would be worse than anything I can imagine. I didn’t (don’t) want to do that to him.
It really was just a searing reminder of the lack of control we’ve got. This came at a moment where I was starting to feel like while I didn’t quite have the hang of China, I could at least begin faking that I did (FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT, AM I RITE). I was feeling a lil bit independent, a lil bit like I could handle things, a lil bit resigned to being happy about eating noodles every single day. But when this guy cupped my boob, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t walk away, which would be my normal recourse. My e-bike was sitting there without a tire. And homeboy knew that–even after I very clearly communicated via the universally understood body language that “I want nothing to do with you, fuck off please,” he kept wandering over and there was nothing I could do about it.
I swear I started to write this BEFORE the Harvey Weinstein stuff began, because it had been marinating as a piece for a while. It’s been sitting on my computer, waiting for me to do final edits and adjustments for a while… and I can’t believe that the world is such that it is incredibly relevant to the current moment in pop culture. Just today I had lunch with a friend and had to repeat my former boss’s words to her: “It’s not your fault.” Because she believed that it was her fault. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t hers or mine or anyone of the other trillions of women. It is men who need to eke out a feeling of power over something else, to make someone else feel small and without control in order to get off. It’s their fault. How REVOLTING is that? There are some things about the world that as much as I try to understand I never ever will. That so many men will commit such desperate and disgusting actions repeatedly and still participate in society like they are okay with who they are: that’s one of them.
And because hopefully/maybe at least one person is still reading allllllll the way down here–I would also like to encourage you to seek out some black queenz on twitter.com or elsewhere and read what they have to say. The response to Harvey Weinstein vs. the response to R. Kelly is horrifying, and is a tiny example of how much more society listens to people with white skin. Check out Jamilah Lemieux’s thread on October 13, 2017: “Meanwhile, white women are weeping and wailing over Ben Affleck grabbing a boob but had no time for R. Kelly’s victims. / Not negating the grossness of his behaviour but it is unfathomable for a lot of us to imagine getting any sympathy for fish we’ve all endured / I’m tired of standing in solidarity with women+men who don’t show up for Black women. Tired of the empathy that prevents me from stopping / Like, its hard not to be sympathetic to victims of patriarchy and racism because I have a soul and actual moral fibre / But I’m not settling for trickle down justice or sympathy for BW [Black Women]+girls, because that’s not enough.” Go look up the whole thread though, because there’s more and there’s gifs and the comments were also a revelation to me. (If I didn’t have to wait an age for my VPN to work I would link to it, but #China.)
Anyway, thanks for reading, and men? Maybe next time you think “huh, maybe I’ll slap that ass/cup that boob” maybe just don’t do it? That would be terrif.**
**Please don’t get angry, I know that there are many of you that have enough integrity to not need me telling you to not be a gross human. Thank you. Continue along that path. Please.