Speaking Out Against Toxic Men
A story of violent masculinity
Trigger Warning: This is a true story of what I consider normalized violence against women in college towns. The names of women have been changed.
Kori and I were going to yet another drunken house party in our Midwest college town. I had other plans, so I stuck around for a few drinks and left her to meet up with a friend. A quick jaunt to a nearby bar to meet Brian and chat over bourbon, which was so popular there in the winter — maybe year round…the place was lush. We mostly talked about my relationship with Kori, about coping with love and jealousy in a hyper-masculine college town. It was clear that our relationship was ending and I needed support and that’s how I coped then.
It was late in a long winter — crisp air, clear skies and fresh snow. I was waiting until Spring to leave her but I sometimes worried about her at night. We were both constantly reckless, which inspired and petrified me, maybe kept the cold out. For whatever reason, that night I took a detour home and stopped by the party to check on her. As I walked up the hill, I saw her head peak, closely escorted by some friends. Relieved to see me, her friends handed her off to me with some heartfelt compliment of chivalry. I chuckled and thought nothing of it.
We headed home holding hands, walking and supporting each other on icy pavements and she seemed relieved to see me.
She barely spoke on that walk.
We were a block away from home when she finally spoke up. Her first words were, ‘Promise me you won’t be angry or do anything stupid?” I promised. She paused to find her strength, and I started to sense that the unshakable was shook. Then she told me what had just happened at the house party.
She was dancing in that damp basement when Matt, a white hipster, started hitting on her. To avoid being singled out, she skirted back to the group but he wasn’t having it. Struggling in her voice, she told me how after her rejections he turned sexually violent, grabbing her by the hair, he forced her against the rock walls. Disoriented by the crowds and sounds, she’d barely managed to dig her nails into his neck before another girl rescued her. She’d escaped his grip with a concussion to her head and a few bruises on her limbs, cowering outside as though she’d done some wrong.
She hadn’t done anything wrong.
Arriving at the doorstep of our place, I was livid. Staring in the direction of the party, I grew angrier knowing that he was drinking away the night. I’d wanted to return to the party and confront him and our friends. Why was Kori was quietly escorted out? I took out my phone to text Brian now— a former hockey player and bar fighter — before she cut me off, “You promised you wouldn’t!” Half in sobs.
In the gray days that followed, I tried to support Kori. She simply wanted to stay in bed and forget the assault but her nightmares said otherwise. What I’d learned in that time was Matt had a history of sexual violence. Worse, it was open knowledge to everyone but me. In some perverse small town twist, the first night that I met Kori a year ago, was at a party in his apartment. The campus police had broken up another house party so a random group of us scuttled into his nearby studio. Kori and I went home together for the first time that night, and though Matt was vying for her, our friend Camber stayed over. I learned for the first time now that Matt had bloodily beaten Camber, in what was explained as a sexual quirk — entirely non-consensual.
I struggled to understand how Matt was freely roaming our social circles as a fuckboi, with friends of ours falling victim to his violent psyche and others failing to stop him.
I didn’t understand how a guy could be accepted as two actors, a hipster socialite and a violent boy.
Unknown to Kori, I’d called up the campus assault hotline. They seemed near dismissive of the incident as though everyday, eventually talking me out of further action. Ultimately, only the victim can press charges, and it usually better to do it immediately. I wondered what would happen to other women in town if Matt wasn’t confronted? I wondered why was he afforded such protections as a young male in an affluent college town?
As a guy, I felt entirely alone and emasculated in my opinion. Kori wasn’t the first, and she wouldn’t be the last. Two days later, I begged her to press charges again, explaining that the campus police would handle the matter. She was furious that I’d suggested it, “What would happen to my reputation if people found out?” She showed a good deal of empathy towards him, “What if they kicked him out of school?”
She never filed a report and it’s unclear if anyone else had either.
About a week later, we all ran into each other at another party. There was Matt, Kori, myself, and a group of our friends. Everyone knew what happened, it wasn’t a secret — though no one talked about it. I asked Kori to go inside and she made me promise once again that I wouldn’t make an issue of it, though I’m sure she secretly hoped I would. I stood outside with Matt a while. His friend standing spoke first — he apologized to me for what Matt had done to her.
My blood was hot and my pulse was deafening. As I looked at Matt’s remorseless drunken gaze, imagining the whisperings of his abusive alcoholic Dad. He finally spoke, warm mist shooting out into that cold air, “I’ll let you hit me for what happened.”
She should have shamed him or I should have fucking hit him.
I looked around at those young cis het boys as they quietly crowded around us, waiting for something to pass, something to resolve the situation. Then I looked at Kori and her friends through the door screen, staring at all us confused man–children from inside the house.
“Matt, I’m not the one you should be apologizing to. You have a problem and everyone knows it.” Unflinching, Matt begged again as though asking for reconciliation, “I’ll let you hit me right now.” At that moment Kori stepped outside into the heat of that cold exchange. The boys shriveled, turned around and went inside the house with barely a glance or a word to Kori. We both stood there and stared at each other a while. Beyond the sadness and the confusion, I suppose she saw empathy where I didn’t. Finally she spoke, “Let’s get outta here, wanna go to a bar? Tell me, what did you just say to him?”
Masculinity is toxic.
Update: Given conversations that followed with other women, that there are real victims otherwise unable to speak out, I follow with an anonymous form for cis, straight, queer, trans women victims seeking redress for assault — Absurdist will publish a followup paired with safe responses from peers.