It’s time to tell my story of the Mukluk Man. Well, more accurately the story is about Mr. Intense, but Mukluk Man factors in and makes for a better title. The story itself, though, is utterly representative of how women are “handled” when it comes to being treated poorly—and often criminally—by men.
Heads up: if you’re one of the men who will continue to read this because “not all men are like that,” please know that women need you to do more than just say you aren’t one of the bad guys. We need you to fight for us like a good guy. Because good guys don’t just point out that they are not bad…they actually do good guy things.
I am utterly exhausted and angry about the way women are “assessed” after coming forward with stories of assault—whether it’s Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, or….SO many others. While the MeToo movement may have moved the sexual assault/harassment iceberg a glacial inch or two, recent days have reinforced how we have SO much further to go.
This story is not about sexual assault. It’s about what a lawyer would term “simple assault.” It happened over 25 years ago at a bar…Apparently, these specifics may already call my story into question, but let me tell you: it happened. And it wasn’t okay.
I was in college, and it was quarter beer night at a local bar. A great opportunity to drink on the cheap, and it brought out some interesting characters. Enter Mukluk Man. He was wearing mukluks (thus the name), and he was dancing…well, actually stomping around the dance floor. I was with my friend, and as she and I stood off to the side of the dance floor, MM kept coming around to me and asking me to dance. Each time he asked, I politely declined. He was drunk, very persistent, and just didn’t take no for an answer.
A small contextual note: My friend and I had an understanding where we used “code names” when we were talking to guys who we knew we didn’t want to know anything about us because the vibe was bad. It was a great heads up to one another, and whenever one of us introduced the other with the code name, the other one went with it. We trusted each other’s read on guys.
When I came back from a bathroom break that night, my friend introduced me by code name to two guys who were talking to her. Heads up. One of them had a piercing stare that made him seem very intense—and he immediately turned his gaze and conversation toward me while the other guy chatted up my friend.
Mukluk Man was still at it. He continued to try to grab me onto the dance floor whenever he swung by, and so I said to Mr. Intense, “Would you mind dancing with me so that this guy leaves me alone? He’s been bugging me all night.” He readily agreed, and we had a dance. After the song ended, I thanked him and went to walk off the dance floor when his eyes seemed to burn right through me as he said, “You used me.” I thought I heard him wrong so I asked, “What?” and he continued his glare while raising his voice and saying, “You USED me… just to make that guy stop bothering you.”
“But that is exactly what I asked you to do…” I said, pretty confused as to how he could feel duped by anything when I flat out said it right up front. At that point, he became verbally abusive and called me various names. I told him I didn’t have to put up with that and turned to walk away when he grabbed my arm and yanked me right back to him. I was holding a drink with my other hand, and I promptly threw it right at him in my surprise and upset over what he was doing.
It was then that he reeled back and slapped me right across the face. I was stunned, but I went to hit him in response (fiery instincts, I know) just as the bartender did this super quick flank move over the bar and stepped right between us. I was so disbelieving and mad at Mr. Intense that I tried to reach over the bartender’s shoulder and hit him.
At that point, the bartender—who’s facing me—said, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Me. The woman who was just assaulted. “Are you kidding me?! He hit me!” I yelled.
“Yeah, I know, but you just took a cheap shot at him. Don’t worry… I’m going to throw him out, too.”
A cheap shot?? And what a great idea. Put the man who just hit a woman…and that woman…out into the night at the same time. And that’s exactly what happened. We had to leave first, and Mr. Intense and his friend were soon to follow. Thankfully, the man’s friend got him into their car and drove off. At least we knew that they wouldn’t see where we walked to.
And there you have it. Looking back at it now, I see a woman whose “no” was not heard. I see a woman who was assaulted being treated the same as the assaulter for trying to defend herself. I see a bar full of people witnessing the entire scene and doing nothing to intervene. I see the “reward” for standing up for oneself is being tossed right back into the possibility of harm’s way.
When I tell this story in the years that have followed, all too often the predominant response isn’t how awful it was for the guy to hit me but how brazen I was to throw a punch in a bar. I mean, I’m sure those who heard the story thought the guy was way out of line, but what they most often remark on is my response. Perhaps this is because the contemptible behavior of men like this is too familiar but the “spunky” response isn’t?
No matter the reason—to me it reflects the almost numbness with which we hear stories of men treating women abusively. Whether it’s the “boys will be boys/locker room talk” excuse, the blaming of women who “asked for it,” or the shaming of women who speak up, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t admit that our culture fosters excuses for men and fault for women when it comes to accountability for assault against women.
Is it any wonder why women don’t speak up at every instance of misconduct or assault?
Not to me.
It’s time to melt that iceberg. It’s time to raise up boys to know that nothing happens without affirmative consent instead of spiking drinks as their own version of consent. It’s time to change the ruling bodies from monolithic blocks of gray-haired men to ones that reflects the actual makeup of our society. It’s time for survivors to be believed and assaulters to be held accountable.
Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash