When I lived on Forbes Ave, we used to watch people on Saturday and Sunday mornings walk down our tiny part of Oakland between CMU and Pitt. Our toll was mockery. We would add commentary to their walk of shame, sometimes rating them, and on one occasion holding up Olympic style numbers.
We were not entirely nice people.
My walks of shame–all after my year of judgement–have been a mix of shame, pride, and nausea. In recent years, these frequently occur between the hours of four and six in the morning where shame, pride, and nausea are replaced with a solid sense of “still drunk.” These also include bikes, which makes the whole thing seem less bad somehow.
In general, biking makes a walk of shame seem less bad. Sure, I feel like I’ve just been run through a washing machine (tossed, spun, filled with liquid only to be left damp rumpled as it was squeezed out of me), but this suffering is limited because I only have to feel that way for as long as it takes to bike from Point Party to home.
Saturday morning I had a solid ride home which I think of more as a “ride of mild embarrassment.” For the first time in a long time of overindulging [outside of the house], I had done nothing especially stupid or poorly thought out other than walk from Central to Powderhouse. While I was talking a lot–but not saying anything–none of it was really bad. I did not vomit, hurt myself, or make out with someone inappropriate. I still felt the shame that comes with having done something wrong.
We went dancing and I’d worn the first pair of girl shorts I’ve owned since 2005. People–strangers–flirted with me and I tried to be friendly, or at least polite.* More than once someone talked to me, leaning in too close. When I would take a step back, they would follow, even closer. Two different people put a hand on my waist. I hated it.
I like touching and being touched by my friends, by people I like, by people I am close to. I tactilely interact with the world and those in it. I do these things when I choose to, even if it is not explicitly stated that it is okay to hold hands or hug or kiss. To place a hand on an arm while talking. To brush hair out of someone’s face. Unexpected, unwelcome, unsolicited physical interaction frequently makes me physically jump, make noises, and generally react negatively. It was, in my opinion, a wrong thing for these strangers to do.
I still blamed myself. On the ride home, I realized I blamed myself. I was dressed in short shorts and a shirt that showed off my back. I have a tendency to wildly glance around a room, looking at who and what is there (probably checking for monsters or enemies), and sometimes my eyes meet those of someone else. That could have happened. I talked to people. Maybe they thought I was flirting back. I kept dancing when they’d come up to me. I didn’t tell anyone to fuck off. It was my own fault I was uncomfortable because I did not say no.
This is called “victim shaming.” Or at least is an internalized version of victim shaming
When someone–generally the voice of society at large–blames the victim of a sexual assault, we call it victim shaming. My thoughts fell into a common thread of victim shaming rhetoric: The way she was dressed was too sexy. The way she danced/spoke/carried herself welcomed it. She didn’t say no.
A person who is raped is a victim. Something has been done to them. They are a victim of an action. Rape is widely considered one of the worst things a person can do to another person. It is one of the worst things a person can do–full stop. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) gives a statistic of 207,754 sexual assaults a year in the US. On average. Somerville has population of 76,500. Pittsburgh has population of 307,500. These are numbers I try to use to comprehend the scale of sexual assault in America. Approximately the population of Spokane, Washington.
While I was not raped, I was still made uncomfortable and I blame myself for that. I am just beginning to understand how victims, how actual rape victims, feel. It breaks my heart to realize that people who suffer one of the most painful violations and serious indignities a human can force onto a person blame themselves.
*Dear gods I feel like such a weirdo just saying that people flirted with me. It’s like some nerd-conditioned negative reaction to what is perceived as gloating or egotism. My non-coupled friends (myself included) are generally not the kind of people who get flirted with, according to their explanations. I feel like I’ve betrayed my non-coupled ilk or something.