Monday, November 13, 2006

If you touch me, you will die.

Some of the themes in this posting may be inappropriate for young readers. Parental guidance suggested.
If you read that sentence and wondered if it was okay for you to read this, then you need to ask your parent or guardian for permission.
Generally speaking, I have good relationships with most of the guys on campus. The majority of them are in their early twenties, and in conversation I often refer to them as “the boys”. They call me 姐姐(jiejie - elder sister), and I refer to them as 弟弟 (didi- younger brother). Even in our lightest moments, I am given the honor that comes with being an elder, and I am ever conscious of being the 姐姐. Between us, there is laughter and camaraderie, laced with respect. Not all of the guys are young, there are also guys that are a little older/more mature, and so when they are included in the group I will say “the guys”. Between these men and myself there is generally mutual respect and trust, and some of them have become good friends. These older guys are the people with whom I spend time talking, and who are giving me an education about their countries, genocide, colonization, AIDS, and things of that nature. And so, the overwhelming majority of my experiences with the males on campus have been positive ones, and I know that many of the guys and I will still be friends long after I leave China.

Alas, this is obviously not about the positive experiences. This is about the outliers.

I think that there a number of things contributing to my experiences with the outliers. The first of these is basic statistics. It would be completely unrealistic of me to expect not to have any problems, the more people you put into a room the more likely you are to have … everything, good and bad. You all know how that works. And so, of course, out of a group of people, there is going to be at least one that is a little questionable, or worse. The second contributing factor is the way in which American women, especially black American women, are often portrayed abroad. In this case, in the music and movies often aired on the television and radio stations of many African nations. There appears to be a pervasive view that black American women are willing and ready to sleep with anyone that is bold enough to ask. Some of the guys and I have held conversations about this portrayal and its accuracy, when we talk about the Diaspora and blacks in America. Obviously, these guys are not the outliers. The third contributing factor is the population. There are five black women that live on campus; two are from Mali and under 21, one is from Tanzania, also under 21, and has a boyfriend at the school she transferred from, the fourth is from Sierra Leone and getting her MA (she is over 30), and fifth is me. This creates interesting dynamics when you take language, country ties, age and community into account. The male to female ratio is about 6:1, which adds a different dimension to the dynamics and social interactions, especially if there is a group of 7 or 8, with only one female. Perhaps the outliers are, plain and simply, horny.

And so, here I am trying to figure out how to make myself heard without having a fight. I had an interaction with one of the outliers a few weeks ago during which he used physical force when I did not feel it was warranted. Though touted as protective, his touch was aggressive. And as I stood there partially immobilized by the amount of pressure he had placed on my arm, I realized that this was not going to work. I tried to be nice, to be gentle, not to cause any problems, but I have to take care of myself. After intentionally avoiding him for a while, I saw him again one day two weeks ago while eating lunch. He waited until his friend left to get a drink, and then from two tables away, he said, “Sister, I want to ask you something.” When I told him to go ahead, he replied that he wanted to talk to me in private. With all of my usual sass, a straight face and firm tone of voice, I told him that he had no hope of ever being alone with me, and that from now on he could only speak to me when we were with a large group. He hasn’t spoken to me since.

This brings me to another outlier. I have only given my phone number to three people on campus, and so when a guy that I rarely speak to began to call, I was a little surprised. From the outset, he called multiple times a day, which wouldn’t be problematic except that 1) he doesn’t speak English well and 2) we don’t have anything to talk about. And so, when he asked me out, I told him I was busy, which I was. The next day, I told him “I don’t like the idea”. But, he is nothing if not persistent, and he keeps kept calling. So today I said, “No, I don’t want to go”, because trying to drop hints wasn’t working. “Why”, he asks. The answer to this question is fairly simple and straightforward, except that the asker doesn’t speak enough English to comprehend the response. Finally, I settled on “I don’t feel comfortable.” Too advanced – I spent five minutes trying to explain that I wasn’t sick. After that was over and he began to understand what I was saying, he told me that he “will be very angry”, and that “you can’t say no”. “Why”, he continues to ask, and he chuckles, but I am not amused. I tell him that I am going to hang up, and he shifts gears. Now he tells me I will break his heart, I can't dissappoint him, he will die. This is too much. “Goodbye,” I say, and hang up the phone. All of this from a person that is generally considered soft-spoken and gentle…well, soft spoken was gone the minute I said no. Will gentle disappear as quickly?

The outliers behave as if I should be so flattered that they have even given me an invitation, that my saying no is not even an option. They are completely offended and utterly appalled that I am not interested. And in response they seem to favor the “if a girl doesn’t like you, make her” route. Force her physically, use intimidation, or try to manipulate her (“I’m going to die.” Are you serious? I can’t even begin to get into the plethora of responses that flashed through my mind at that moment.) Well, fellas, when a woman says no, she means no. So, that means, no I don’t want to talk to you in private, no you can not touch me, no I don’t want to be in a room alone with you, no I’m not going to eat the way you tell me to, no I am not interested in having sex with you, no I do not want to have dinner with you. NO!

Last week, the Tanzanian girl with the boyfriend told one of the guys not to touch her as he tried to put his arm around her. She said “If you touch me you will die. They will kill you. I am serious, they will kill you.” He laughed, but his arm returned to his side before he finished the first "ha". I’m seriously considering printing out the picture I have of my younger brother right before he left for Iraq, the one with him in fatigues holding a large semi-automatic firearm. I’m going flash the picture and say, “If you touch me, you will die.”


Katie said...

Yeah so after my dinner experience on the field trip I may have to get a copy of your brothers photo, or just any stern looking officer with a gun and wave it around at the crzy people who keep touching me and trying to take my Picture! Let me know when you want to get off campus! things are going well at the house so if you don't mind plastic on the matresses... lol... And those pics of those girls are insane! if anything like that comes to town let me know and we WILL go! Keep the blogs coming! :)

Between the Sky and the Sea said...

I love reading your entries!!! I can literally hear your voice--and it's clever and genuine. So proud to be your best friend!! (I will read the others eventually...I promise.)