I Know You Want It
Pretty girls in see-through vinyl writhed across the laptop screen. “I know you want it! You’re a good girl!” blared from the speakers. I couldn’t tell whether the girls, whose white underwear was exposed by the plastic, wanted it or not. That didn’t seem to be the point. The video focused on the men. They sang lyrics that spoke for the girls. Whether they actually wanted it or not was a moot point. One of the girls cradled a lamb. Another mouthed, “Meow.” A third sucked her thumb.
Once the spectacle ended, we silently digested it.
“That was fucking rapey,” someone finally blurted.
I asked, “Surely you only know they want it if they tell you they want it?”
Others, all men, protested that we were missing nuance.
“Come on, you can feel when someone wants it! The video is sexy. It’s provocative.”
We rolled our eyes.
“It’s fucking gross,” said my friend Ronan. “Why are the men in suits and the women in underwear? Either everyone is on spring break, or everyone is getting ready for the opera. The difference is sexist.”
I agreed with him. I usually did. We lived on the same page. We loved Britney and the Girls Aloud documentary. We hated how the press covered rape trials.
“Who cares what she was wearing or drinking?” one of us would say, and the other would nod.
We piled into taxis an hour later, still debating that video. “Why was he talking about ripping her bum in two? What girl would want that?” somebody slurred. “Some girls do want that. Don’t kink shame!” By then, we were all laughing, drunk on cheap wine and cheaper debate.
I met Tim 20 minutes into the house party, when he handed me a cup of warm beer. He was a friend of a friend, so there was no proper introduction. We spoke for a few minutes. I didn’t connect with him. He had a sense of humor a few degrees off mine. He talked about himself too much.
“I am a writer,” he said, as if not being a writer was the worst thing you could do. I nodded while avoiding eye contact.
I didn’t fancy him. He had a long scraggly hipster beard. I prefer baby-faced boys. I accepted the beer he offered, waited a few beats, and then turned away from him. I laughed with my friends, drank more warm beer. At 4am, I announced my departure. Tim asked to share a taxi with me.
“We’re in the same direction,” he offered.
I agreed, happy to split the €30 fare. I didn’t think to ask him how he knew we were in the same direction.
We sat in the taxi in silence. When the car pulled up to my house, he handed the driver the whole fare. “Lovely,” I thought, feeling like I had come out on top. Evading a taxi fare felt like a win against capitalism. My dad had driven a taxi and since I’d spent so much time in one, free of charge, paying for a lift felt unnatural.
As I got out of the car, I heard Tim’s door open.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked.
“I don’t have enough to get home. It’s ages away. I can stay with you until the first bus?”
I checked my phone. First bus was in 95 minutes. I hesitated, then agreed. It didn’t feel like my choice, but what else was he going to do? I couldn’t just leave him stranded, in the middle of my road at 4.45am.
“No funny business,” I instructed, as we walked into my house. In spite of his imposition, I still felt in charge. That changed once we were indoors. I absolutely did not want him going upstairs.
“Let’s watch a movie,” I said. “Pick one out. I’ll make popcorn.”
My unwelcome guest picked a film I’d never heard of. I heard the opening credits as I stood in the kitchen, the pop pop pop from the microwave punctuating my discomfort. I returned and sat on the couch. During a sex scene, he edged closer to me. I jumped, nearly knocking over the full bowl of popcorn. “I’ll make more!” I blurted.
An hour later, before the film was over, exhaustion overwhelmed me. I said, “I’m going to go to bed. You can sleep on the couch.” It seemed generous to let someone I hardly knew, but already disliked, stay on a piece of my furniture.
“Oh come on,” he said, “don’t be a freak. Let me stay in your bed, I promise I won’t do anything.” I looked at him. Every part of me screamed no. I hated sharing my bed, and I didn’t want him trying anything with me. I just wanted to sleep. N-O was steaming out of my pores. “Come on,” he urged, his eyes burning into mine. “Don’t be a bitch.” He spat out bitch like it was the worst thing a person could be.
“Fine,” I eventually said. I didn’t want to be a bitch, at least not in the way he meant it.
When we got to my bedroom, I told him to look away. I changed into pajamas much too thick for the summer night. I wanted to create a tangible barrier between us. “Thick cotton is something, something more than nothing,” I decided. I got into my bed and scooted towards the wall. “Goodnight,” I told him.
As I was falling asleep, his hands touched my waist. He grabbed, trying to rock me over to him. I pulled away. “No,” I said, my face now looking at his, his arms stronger than my no. More softly than the last time, I repeated, “No.” His hands continued their advances. One reached into my pajama bottoms. I moved to grab his hand when he forced his lips onto mine. I shook my head. “No,” I repeated and pushed his face away. My bottom half now unguarded, he stuck his hand inside my knickers.
“No,” I said again, this time with force.
He smiled and said, “Your mouth is saying no, but your body is saying yes.”
As he spoke, the video we’d watched earlier came to my mind. I cursed my body for betraying me, for somehow telling him yes when I definitely meant no.
“My mouth is part of my body,” I told him. “And I’m saying no.”
He leaned in again to kiss me.
Something broke inside me. Maybe it was those song lyrics. Maybe it was my fight finally kicking in.
“GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME,” I screamed. “NOW. NOW!” I kicked him away from me, my feet thumping his shins. I slapped his face, lightly. I wasn’t trying to hurt him. I wanted him not to hurt me. “GET THE FUCK AWAY.” Eyes wide, he released me. I jumped off my bed, pointing to the door.
“GET THE FUCK OUT NOW.” I was surprised at what I’d done, embarrassed by it. I still didn’t want him to think I was a bitch.
Three weeks earlier, I was scrolling through my phone in bed, at 4am, wondering if bangs would suit me, when I heard footsteps downstairs. I texted my roommate:
I think someone has broken in, unless your boyfriend is downstairs?
My phone lit up a second later:
No, we’re both here. And I think I hear it too.
I laid in bed, frozen, hoping the threat would vanish. Footsteps grew louder. My bedroom door opened. A man’s face peered in. I sat up, pulling my duvet to my chin. I was shaking.
“Get out, please?” I said, my voice soft and pleading. The man looked at me and turned away.
His footsteps grew softer and softer.
He’s gone back downstairs. Call the police.
It turned out my roommate’s boyfriend had let a friend crash in our house without telling us, and this friend was prone to sleepwalking. The next day, the boyfriend apologized to me with a box of chocolates.
“This isn’t your house,” I said to him, opening the plastic wrapper. “And I was really scared.” After shoving a chocolate into my mouth, I spat it out. “Why do they make coffee chocolate?”
“I really am sorry,” he repeated. Since I was already eating his apology, I accepted it. “It’s fine,” I said. “I guess it was nothing.” And yes, it turned out to be nothing. Still, at the time, it felt like something. I now keep a knife near my bed. Something can be nothing but feel like something to you. That something might linger. It might never leave.
“Okay, okay,” he said, raising his hands in surrender. “Relax you crazy bitch.”
As I pointed a finger at the door, Tim slowly dressed. I followed him down, opening the front door for him. “Get out.” The open door made me feel safer. Nothing bad could happen with a streetlight lamp shining in on us. He exited but then turned to face me.
“I suppose there’s no point in me asking for your number?”
I slammed the door in his face.
Two weeks later I told our mutual friend what happened. I was embarrassed to admit it. It hadn’t really been anything, but it had been giving me nightmares, his lips forming the words, “Your mouth is saying no, but your body is saying yes.” I thought of him every time I heard Blurred Lines. The song played everywhere. That it affected me so much made me feel weak. Other women go through much worse, every day. Right now, a woman is being raped. Right now, and right after that, another woman is being raped. Who was I to complain about an event so trivial? I told my friend about it casually. I didn’t want to make a fuss. And I wasn’t sure she’d believe me. I was someone who was very comfortable, very open, about her sexuality and having sex. Why would I turn this guy down? Why would the way he acted make my skin crawl for so long after he did it? It didn’t add up. But I told her, because I needed to tell someone.
“Weird, another girl I know said he did the same thing. I think because he was in a relationship with a girl for 9 years, he’s just not sure how to act around women.” I nodded. I don’t know what I expected. I was glad she didn’t question my account of things, and mad he’d done it to another girl. Maybe more. I felt impotent when she brushed it off as a relationship hang up. Telling her gave me nothing. Instead, telling took from me. And I didn’t like how that felt. Like I was less than.
It happened again, but with a different person. Andrew was my friend. He was also gay. I’d been staying with him in his London apartment. We got drunk and went out to a bar. He met a guy he liked and they tongued on the dancefloor.
“Let’s go,” I said, grabbing his arm. “I’m tired.” He’d set up an air mattress for me, but we slept in his double bed, like we had done the previous three nights.
I woke up to a noise, a fluttering near me. “A fly,” I instinctively thought. Except it wasn’t a noise I woke up to; it was a feeling. I woke up to his hand down my underwear. “What the fuck,” I thought and quietly removed it. I inched further across the bed, until I was hanging off the side. I tried to fall back asleep. His hand touched me again.
I was always someone who fought and scratched and yelled. I was a loud person, the type who complained when someone overcooked her steak and screamed at men who catcalled her. But there, in that bed, I froze. I’ve never been so disappointed in my body as I was that night. Shame coursed through me as I froze.
For 6 hours, I wordlessly fended off his hand. I never left the bed, never shouted at him to stop, never reached out and kicked him awake, assuming he was doing this while asleep. Gently, I removed his hand from my underwear, and pinched myself. I feared what might happen if I fell asleep. It was up to me to stop anything bad from happening.
The next morning, I acted like nothing happened. So did he. To this day, I’m not sure if he doesn’t remember. He might also be a great liar.
On the way to the airport, I called my boyfriend and told him what happened. I made excuses. “He was probably asleep. He probably didn’t realize what he was doing. He probably thought I was the guy he had been kissing…”
“He assaulted you!” my boyfriend screamed, cutting into what I’d been saying.
I laughed out loud on the train. The anger of a man when he has no real stake in something is always so dramatic.
“No, he didn’t. He’s gay!” For 15 more minutes, he shouted, telling me that I was wrong and he was right. Finally, I hung up.
I was afraid to tell our friends, knowing how nuanced the situation really was. I didn’t want them to have to take sides because I knew which one they’d take. I was promiscuous, loud, and attention-seeking. Why didn’t I try to stop it? Maybe I wanted it to happen. In the end, over the course of 3 years, I told 4 friends.
“Why don’t you confront him?” one asked, the skepticism apparent in her voice. I didn’t have an answer for her. When you don’t have an answer, it makes you not a victim. It makes you complicit. “I don’t want to do that,” I offered, even though I knew that wasn’t good enough. Me not wanting to confront him stemmed from the same reason I didn’t kick him awake and scream while it was happening.
I didn’t want to acknowledge it.
Every boyfriend I’ve had has been outraged on my behalf. I’ve been annoyed at their outrage. It’s easy to get angry in the abstract. “You don’t get it,” I told them all, “it’s not as black and white as you think. He was my friend, and he didn’t just suddenly stop being my friend because of what he did. I don’t even know if he knows what he’s done.” They always ignored what I told them. Instead of listening, they told me what I should feel. “I’m not comfortable with you hanging out with him,” one of them said. His discomfort became paramount to every contradictory emotion warring inside me.
“You don’t get it,” I said through tears.
He called me unreasonable.
Andrew is gay. That seems definitive. If he doesn’t want to fuck women, it means he didn’t really want to fuck me. So, I respond to his texts, and make plans, but never follow through. I don’t want to be in a room alone with him. I don’t want to feel powerless again. But that feels more like a me problem than a him problem. I wish it didn’t affect me. But it does. Like Tim, Andrew half took something that I didn’t want to give, and I sort of let it happen, and it’s nothing, really. In the grand scheme of men hurting women it doesn’t even register, and yet I haven’t been able to shake off the residual ugliness of it. I’m embarrassed that I continue to care, but some concerns you don’t get to choose. You don’t get to choose what others do to you, and you don’t get to choose the scars those choices leave.
If you stick a hand up a girl’s skirt on the train, she might laugh about it with her friends. That happened to me, at 19, on the subway in New York. The 6 train, going downtown. I didn’t even feel it happen. My friends had to tell me afterwards. “That man put his hand under your skirt as you were talking about fucking someone!”I laughed. And still do. It didn’t scar me.
If you put a hand down a girl’s pants when she doesn’t want you to, she might laugh about it too. She also might have nightmares about it for the rest of her life. You don’t get to decide the effects of your actions. None of us do. We all have to live with what we do to other people. If someone tells you you hurt them; listen to them. But what happens if they don’t tell you? Does pain only exist if we confess it? Does pain exist if it remains unspoken?
(This is my quiet revolution. Writing it down is my way of screaming. It exists now, because I’ve brought it into being. And if you read this, then you’re complicit; you’ve made it exist too.)
(And I know you want it.)
Marise Gaughan is an Irish comedian and writer(ish) living in London. She has a weekly radio column on Lyric.fm, a national radio show in Ireland, and has contributed to Hobart, journal.ie and The Irish Times. Her debut book, a memoir chronicling her father’s successful suicide attempt and her unsuccessful one, will be published in Spring 2022 by Octopus Publishing (UK).