His drunk breath fogs the bare inches of air between us. He slurs out vague, sexually connoted invitations over and over again as the girl he is with shrieks with laughter. Then he laughs and lurches even closer, leaning into my face. He tells me explicitly that I can have some whenever I want.
That was my first impression of a senior who had teetered into my residential college that night. When I told the story later, disturbed, the universal first reaction was laughter. The second? A repertoire of funny stories about why he shouldn’t be allowed outside after however many drinks. If there was a third, it was that I should just try not to run into him again.
I don’t know what I expected. I still don’t know. Not an outrage and an uproar, not anything drastic and dramatic. But something other than what I got, to be sure.
That event occurred the same week I had approached a male student about a misogynistic meme he had sent to a group chat and had promptly gotten shut down by his friends for hurting his feelings. Because when I, a woman, confronted a man about his inappropriate joke and made him aware of the toxic narratives it played into, I was taking out my emotional stress on him and labeling him as a sexist and a misogynist. That night, I walked around campus and struggled to accept that I had overreacted, that what I had done was wrong. And when I finally came back to my room, red-cheeked and frigid-fingered, I was still in denial, but this time, firmly– as I am now. I denied then, and will always deny that a woman speaking up about a man’s actions is wrong, that it is aggressive, that his feelings need to be spared. Because all I will say is, “As she should!” and support her in taking the space that men have claimed for far too long.
During the fall semester, a first year boy had harassed me repeatedly and publicly about my body: it was body-shaming 101. The first time, I told him seriously that it made me uncomfortable, and he laughed. The second time, and all the times after that, I ignored his laughter, and I worked a little harder not to care. It didn’t work: I called my mother one day to talk about how I was settling in, and as I began to tell her about the events of my first semester, I started crying for the first time since I had moved in. The first time I cried at Yale, and it wasn’t even about finals; it was about a boy laughing at something he had no right to laugh about.
I’ve had guys smile and tell me “it’s not that deep” when I talk about the deep misogyny behind anti-abortion policies. I’ve had guys openly rate girls out of ten points in front of me, and make a joke out of the ones they don’t find attractive. I’ve had a guy tell me about a girl from his high school who got into multiple Ivy Leagues, then laugh and say that it didn’t matter because she was ugly anyways. All at Yale.
There’s something deeply wrong about a space where men are laughed with and women are laughed at, where men get to laugh and women have to bear the consequences. And that space exists at Yale; it is part of Yale, composed of the communities that carry this perhaps unconscious sexism, this misogyny.
And maybe I don’t know what I expected that night with the drunk senior, but looking back I know what I needed: people asking me if I was okay, how it made me feel, how I felt now. People promising to tell him that what he did wasn’t okay, drunk or not. People asking, people caring. People recognizing that it needed serious thought, if not action. Anything but laughter.
HYERIM BIANCA NAM is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact her at email@example.com.