When You’re Too Fatigued to Feel Violated

When You’re Too Fatigued to Feel Violated May 14, 2018

I suppose I’m lucky that getting groped at belly dance gigs is so rare that it surprises me when it happens. But when I’m too tired to care, that’s probably a bad sign.

One of my typical restaurant gig costumes. Which somehow apparently invites groping?

This semester has left me in such a state of burnout that I’m experiencing compassion fatigue much like activists do… which is troubling, when the contested site is my own body.

See, I take on a lot of gigs as a belly dance soloist, in addition to performing with my troupe Indy Tribal. Dancing as a soloist at restaurants and hookah bars is fun because it lets me experiment with costuming, music, movement, and props outside the usual American Tribal Style® structure, and I get to play with stuff more in the fusion realm (for example, I recently discovered the song “Myth” by Tsar B (Youtube link here) and fell in love with it, so I was able to dance to it at a hookah bar, when it’s not normally something I’d pull out during an ATS gig). It’s fun to interact with the patrons, get them up to dance with me, and show off the skills I’ve attained in 20+ years of dance experience.

But sometimes I get those nasty reminders that some people view a belly dancer’s body as a sexual object.

I’ve tackled this topic before, pondering whether if someone can’t respect me as a belly dancer, can they respect me at all. I doubt the guy who groped me during a recent performance would have done so if I were in non-belly-dance clothing on the street, and yet I fail to understand how being in costume invites that kind of touch (reminder: victim-blaming comments won’t be tolerated here).

So, I got groped at a gig. It was brief, I pulled away, angrily clacked a finger cymbal in front of the guy’s face, and moved on with my set. It was unpleasant, obviously not the worst violation ever, but still an icky reminder that some people don’t see consent the same way I (and most feminists, and most decent humans) do.

The first thing that bothers me is that I didn’t have a good response prepared, since I wasn’t expecting it at all. The dude was at least smart enough to not pull that crap when I had my sword out (I’m not saying I would’ve stabbed him or anything). I don’t want to get the venue in trouble, or me in trouble, but I’m wondering if I could have “accidentally” knocked whatever beverage was on his table onto his lap, or stepped on his foot, or something like that. Repay a microaggression with a microaggression, ya know?

(having conferred with the management since then, I now know that if I report that someone inappropriately touched me, they’ll ask them to leave… so it’s good to know that I’ll be backed up here, because I’ve been disbelieved in other situations when reporting abuse, and that’s one of the worst feelings in the world)

The second thing that bothers me is how numb and blasé I feel about the whole thing. It almost doesn’t feel worth bothering with, which in itself bothers me.

This leads me to wonder: should we be bothered about every microaggression? Should we let every sexist act get under our skin? There’s something to be said for not letting the actions of assholes bug you, but at the same time, consent is important, and actions that transgress consent need to be called out and challenged.

I’ve written about the fear that women will use #MeToo as an excuse to respond hysterically to every tiny slight, and yes, I use “hysterically” deliberately here, to evoke its historical context of manipulating women’s self-confidence and belief in their ability to accurately report on their lived experience. Which is to say, obviously I don’t feel a need to call the police or file a lawsuit against a dude for groping me; c’mon, I’ve got a sense of perspective after all, which I think is what a lot of the backlash to #MeToo wants to blow out of proportion.

Anyway. I’m feeling a little less upset now that I’ve had time to process it. It helps to know that the management has my back, and that I had a bunch of friends at the venue who checked to see if I was okay right after. I could do with fewer reminders of the inevitable intrusions of rape culture in my life, though.

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