By Olivia Legere
Editorial introduction: Olivia Legere, UNH ’16, carried out an independent study in the Sociology Department under the supervision of Dr. Sharyn Potter, PIRC Executive Director of Research that focused on manifestations of rape culture in the University of New Hampshire (UNH) community. Legere supplemented her work with cartoons that reflected her experience at two bars on Durham’s Main Street that are popular with UNH students. We are publishing Legere’s research in two parts. Part 1 was published last week and Part 2 is below.
The most common recurring practice I observed was the use of physical control by men. Every time I went to Bar #1 when it was sufficiently crowded, men would feel my hips and body, sometimes with both hands, before they walked by and said, “Excuse me.” Most of the time they would even physically move me over so they could get by while feeling my body, which I did not want. I called those people on their behavior every time this happened. I also observed men doing this to other women, who often did not call them out, and therefore left an impression that they did not have a problem with this behavior by the men. This would happen on the dance floor, as well as near the tables and bars. I saw this to be an important depiction of rape culture because first of all, in each of these instances, the men could easily have gotten by me or around me without touching me at all, and without me even noticing them. The fact that they felt like their touch is not only acceptable, but wanted, is problematic. They feel that since I am there, I must want some sort of attention. Most of the men who touched me did so with pressure and intention. I believe that they wanted me to feel their grip on my body, which disgusted me and made me uncomfortable. I also believe that it was making them feel manly and in control.
This is an obvious indicator of gender inequality. Heterosexual men wouldn’t touch other men’s hips and bodies when they needed to get by them. They would make themselves smaller, and if needed they would tap them on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me.” Women, when they need to get by someone, make themselves smaller to fit through the space and try to do so without touching anyone. If they do touch someone, they apologize and say, “Excuse me.” Men approaching women from behind is central to a lot of the themes in my research.
False Friendliness and Chivalry
When men would approach me and try and engage in small talk, I could see right through their intention. Often, men would use my arm tattoo as an excuse to touch me. They would ask me personal questions, but they would do so in a friendly and innocent manner, implying they were just trying to be nice. Sometimes I did think that they were just trying to be nice. On other occasions, they would lead the conversation to them asking me where I lived, or if I would like to “hang out with them after the bar.” At 12 am? Or, they would start touching me in ways that I did not want, invite, or appreciate. Sometimes, when I would express disinterest, they would get defensive, saying “I’m just trying to be nice,” when their behavior was getting aggressive.
Also, men would often bring up drinking in conversation by asking me what I was drinking, and if I needed another drink. I always said no, and sometimes they would still insist on buying me one. This theme outlines the idea that men’s perception of chivalry is that, if they are not vulgar and demeaning, then they are nice and chivalrous, and that all women should appreciate that they are somehow different than most men. This cartoon is based on an encounter that I witnessed between two friends and two men who acted like they wanted to dance around and have a good time, but then immediately started grinding with them and groping them. The two friends respectfully stopped dancing with the men, and the men walked away calling them sluts.
Going to the bar while doing this research made me realize just how unaware most of us are of our surroundings and our behavior. The problems that I observed were seemingly invisible to most, since they have their alcohol blinders on while they are out at night. The men that walk by and grab women, the men that grope you as they try and get by you, and the women who watch and judge other women—having internalized sexism that leads them to “other” themselves from other women, particularly sex positive women, by calling them sluts—all of these people are unknowingly adding fuel to the fire that is rape culture. Alcohol is a big reason why rape culture is so invisible in society, because it blurs people’s inhibitions and feelings on consent, making it difficult for them to act the way that they would if they were more aware of their own actions and their impact.
Olivia Legere is a recent graduate from UNH with a Degree in Sociology with a focus on Women’s & Queer Studies. She grew up in Newmarket, NH but has recently moved to Portland, Maine to work with immigrants and refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries as a case manager. In her free time she likes to draw, play in the woods, critically assess her socialization to the world around her, snuggle with her cats and deconstruct social norms. Her big goals in life are to spend time on every continent, and eventually change the world.