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Katie Steen: The irony of ‘gentlemen’s night’

By Katie Steen, Columnist
Published January 24, 2013

Last week, we had a “gentlemen’s night” at my co-op. Just wait for the irony of that statement.

Gentlemen’s night is essentially a Thursday night our co-op designates for fancy vests, unfortunate fedoras and good beer. Female house members are invited, too, although we’re technically the gentlemen’s “dates.” Basically, it brings in the weekend with a modest gathering of well-dressed gals and gents. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

This particular gentlemen’s night ended up being a bit larger in size than I’m used to. I leaned against a doorway, surveying my gentlemenly kingdom, and I felt a hand on my waist — a grab. I hardly noticed it until I saw the hand that touched me wasn’t attached to my boyfriend. He walked by without turning back. It was as if it didn’t even happen, and for a little bit, I believed that it didn’t.

Then I saw him, again, come up behind a female housemate and clamp her body like bear trap, almost picking her up off the ground. She didn’t even respond. Not a smile, not a playful shove, nothing. Hmm.

“Maybe they’re friends”, I thought. “I shouldn’t assume things."

So I sat at a dining room table, watching him. But, as I sat there, a friend sitting next to me was busy asking me who even invited that guy. And while she began to list off all the women he had rubbed, groped or left a grease mark on that night, I watched him walk up to a housemate sitting across me. I watched her pause, petrified, as she tried to process whose thick arms were now draped around her neck and chest.

I asked her if she wanted him to be doing that, with the response of a nervous smile and “No.” It seemed simple enough.

I told him that he had grabbed half the women in this house. I received a response implying that I wished he would touch me. I told him to get the fuck out.

I noticed a few things in the moment after he wandered off. I could feel the red rage glow on my face, my heart pound and the fight-or-flight response through every vein. I felt tense but poised, standing a little taller than I usually do — maybe because I was wearing heels that night for the first time since high-school prom. And I slowly began to gain consciousness of the voices surrounding me offering their gratitude.

That night, I had five women from my co-op thank me, citing their own personal grievances with that oily, oversized creep. Let me clarify: Five women from my own house thanked me for kicking a guy they all didn’t feel comfortable with out of their own house. Why did it take grope number one, two, three — whatever — for us to finally do something about it? In our own damn house?

Maybe for the same reason that I almost completely forgot he had grabbed me: It’s easier to just do nothing. It’s actually kind of awkward, even, to do something — or worse, terrifying. Was this a matter of giving someone the benefit of the doubt four too many times? Or were we scared in our own house even when surrounded by our friends and housemates?

I’m not being completely honest when I say I kicked him out. I told him to get the fuck out, sure, but the person to actually kick him out was a male housemate. He didn’t leave when I told him to; he actually just moved to another room. What am I going to do about it, right?

So, success — he left. But I still feel unsatisfied with the collective response of that night.

First, I don’t think he realized he did anything wrong. Perhaps he woke up the next day in a groggy, skull-splitting, hungover fog and then remembered some dude kicked him out of a co-op the night before. After which, he probably shrugged and ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and nice guy syndrome. I really don’t think I got through to him, which is why I want to do it all over again.

I was more than capable of explaining the house rules to him in a civil, composed, cold fox manner. In fact, I wanted to prove that I was neither the damsel in distress nor a frantic feminist chucking ashtrays at his neck as he fled off our porch. Moral of the story: I just wanted to do it myself.

We shouldn’t need a gentleman to kick a creep out of the house. And you know what? We didn’t really need him to. Yes, that night was termed a “gentlemen’s night”, but in reality, it should have belonged to the ladies — fuck it, to the women. We don’t have to be polite or even nice. Actually, we should be angry. Maybe not ashtray-chucking angry, but we should be angry enough to say something.

Katie Steen can be reached at katheliz@umich.edu.