Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Someone left their hand on my lap. Does anyone know who it belongs to?

2018 . 02 . 01 - Comments / Commentaires (4)

It was a faint tickle on the skin over my ribs. The touch itself was innocent enough, but the context lent it a sinister feel. I was in a darkened movie theater, and a stranger had just sat down next to me.

I knew immediately that he was trying to grope me. I knew it in that way that you always know these things; I denied it in the way that I always deny it at first when someone is violating my boundaries. It’s like a light switch in my brain. It flips automatically to the stark clarity of “danger” but everything in my upbringing forces the lever back to the gloomy muddlement of “this is not happening” that is also known as “you’re overreacting.”

I leaned away from the stranger, towards K. Our friendship was still pretty new. It was the second time we were out together, just the two of us. Twenty years old and living in Paris for a semester, K and I were eager to enjoy the superior cinema that the City of Light had to offer.

When we’d entered the theater a half hour before, pairs and singles dotted the seats here and there, with plenty of space isolating the separate movie-goers in that nice way that keeps things comfortable in a darkened room holding a handful of strangers.

There it was again: a faint tickle. On my bicep this time.

I scooted a little more towards K, completely taking over the armrest between her seat and mine. If she reacted to the encroachment, I never noticed. I was too busy fiddling with my internal light switch, my whole right side alive in anticipation.

When the weight of his hand landed on my thigh, it startled a memory to the surface of my thoughts. “If a stranger touches your leg when you’re at the movies, just say really loudly: ‘Someone left their hand on my lap. Does anyone know who it belongs to?’” How old was I when she’d told me this? Ten maybe? And who was she anyway? An older kid? Someone who’d experienced a moviehouse molestation?

I stood up, stepped over the stranger, and exited the row. After pausing for a moment in the aisle to be sure he wasn’t following—to see if K was?—I started a new island of personhood in the ocean of seats closer to the screen. For the next two hours, I stared at the projected pictures, watchful but not watching.

K would tell me she had had no idea why I moved. She’d explain that the stranger took off soon after I did and that she didn’t connect my actions with his. I was astonished that she hadn’t thought to follow me, and she was flabbergasted by my astonishment. Our dueling disbelief left little room for discussion, so we changed the subject.



Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait as a strong person with good self-esteem
2004
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

Like so many bad films, this little drama has had multiple remakes. I’m talking about all the times women in my life belittle my experiences with misogyny. Sometimes they do it directly, saying out loud the things that are already floating through my mind. “It didn’t really happen that way” or “you overreacted.”

But mostly the snub is more subtle: they just don’t care. They’ve experienced worse or they’ve never experienced anything like it. They’re unimpressed or unaware, bored by my explanation or scared that what I’m saying will require them to alter their understanding of the world. Either way, they definitely don’t want to talk about it. So we change the subject.

But I remain painfully aware of the hand in all our laps. I know exactly who it belongs to, and I’m not walking away from it anymore.


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CATEGORIES: - English - Feminism - Philosophy -


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(4) Comments / Commentaires: Someone left their hand on my lap. Does anyone know who it belongs to?

-- libby fife -- 2018 . 02 . 01 --

Gwenn,

How very odd that your friend didn’t get up and follow you. Is there anything cultural maybe at work there that I missed?

It’s a good reminder to be a little more careful when a friend (or stranger) tells you something that has happened. When did we stop giving each other the benefit of the doubt?

Libby

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-- Gwenn -- 2018 . 02 . 01 --

@Libby: In my experience it’s not that odd. Many women react in similar ways. I’m sure I’ve done it too. We all have ways of coping, include ignoring the problem so we don’t even have to believe that our behavior is a coping mechanism…

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-- P -- 2018 . 02 . 08 --

Abhorrent behaviour to say the least. I cannot, and will not ever understand or begin to understand the level of thinking that some people seem to possess.

This whole “entitlement” attitude toward other peoples bodies is something I find disgraceful and should never ever be allowed to exist in our society.

Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that while many of us in this world will encounter things, places, people and of course actions that we do not like, we cannot simply change it. We do not hold the power.

I find your writing very interesting, and I came here after I decided to stop reading BBC News. Where I find a huge support for women of all groups, but little support for the men who are affected by this too.

I will not disclose my gender, as I feel it has no importance here. And I do not wish to disclose any personal information about me, I like to think of it, as being as unbiased as possible.

The real issue is, we - as a society, as a people and of course - as a group MUST work together to end this kind of behaviour in any and all facets of life.

Touching another individual, without permission - whether verbal or visually given, is not acceptable.

I am sorry that you experienced this kind of negligence, and I can only understand and sympathize fully with you and support your right to speak out about this.

Please, continue writing.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

My apologies for my English if there are any failures, it is not my native tongue.

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-- Gwenn -- 2018 . 02 . 08 --

@P: I appreciate your adding your perspective, but I admit that I find your pessimism hard to navigate and a little confusing. You say we cannot change things, but then you also say that we must try. I agree with the second half of that statement, but not the first!

This violence must stop. Towards women, towards men, towards non-binary people. But, as I allude to at the end of the article, I know exactly whose hand is still in all our laps. In most cases, it’s a man’s hand and in every case it’s a hand that feels entitled to be there because of the patriarchy.

You may feel that not revealing your gender identity makes your argument stronger, but, for me, it makes your argument less interesting. People can choose to remain anonymous on the Web—there are lots of valid reasons to do so—but that choice doesn’t ever make them or their arguments less biased…

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