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I Asked for a Dance

A Personal Reflection on Rape Culture During My First Year in Nanjing, China

Me Exploring Qixia Mountain in the Nanjing area. Photo by Napsugar Hegedus. 

October 2017

I was dancing with a Chinese man. Skinny, attractive, didn’t speak any English but when I offered my hand, he took it and we danced. I didn’t know his name, and I’ll probably never see him again, but he felt my breasts, he sort of grazed the sides while we were dancing. At first, I thought it was a mistake, but then he kept doing it.

It was about 3 AM during National Week, one of China's extended holidays. I was at a club in 1912, Nanjing’s entertainment and food district, but the club wasn’t really bumping. At that point, it was just me, my French friend, and the two Chinese guys we invited to dance with us on the dance floor. And the one dancing with me was clearly feeling my breasts.

After I realized this, I backed away, went back to the table my friends and I had, and downed two glasses of that awful, artificial Chinese alcoholic club drink. I felt sick. Was it my fault that it happened? No, I was just dancing. All I ever did that night was dance.

I wanted to go. We all did. My expat friends and I rallied and made our way to McDonald’s for a late night drunken snack. Chicken nugs! McFlurry’s! Fries! And, of course, water!

But I was biting my lip, I was lagging behind, I felt detached from my skin. “Craig*,” I said in my drunken haze. My friend pulled back to step in stride with me. “Something happened.”

He leaned down lower, so as to hear me better. “What’s up?”

I took a deep breath, feeling just as I did in college, revealing to my group of guy friends that someone they let hang around with them was in fact harassing and assaulting me. “That guy I was dancing with? He touched me. My breasts.”

“Oh my god, are you okay?”

“I’m fine. We were just dancing. I don’t even really blame him because it was so quick, we were drunk, and he stopped when I walked away, but it’s bothering me.”

“It should.”

“I was grabbed a few weekends ago, too, at the other club. I didn’t want to tell everyone because I didn’t want it to be a big deal. But it was by some expat. I mean, it’s just not right for people to grab others. Like who the hell do these men—”

“Are you seriously complaining?” Mason* turned around. He looked me in the eyes. Practically snarling. “What did you expect to happen?”

“Excuse me?” I wanted to say more, but I was confused and there was no time. He just kept talking.

“Well, you let me give you a drink, you invited him up to the dance floor, and you’re wearing that dress. You shouldn’t be surprised.”

“That he touched me?”

“Yeah. You were basically asking for it.”

So many things pulsed through me. I thought about my dress, my new dress. I grabbed the bottom hem of it in my hands. Blue faux velvet, from Forever 21. Spaghetti straps. 90s style. It was my first time wearing it. I bought it because I really liked it. Earlier that night, Mason told me I looked nice.

I could tell you about how I told him “fuck you,” “what if that was your sister, would you still feel the same way?” (and the horrible “yes” he spat at me), how I ran out into the middle of the street to try to find a taxi because I wanted to go home, even my home home in Iowa, I didn’t want to be here anymore where I didn’t know anybody and a person I thought I could trust just—and Craig held me back from running and no, I wasn’t being dramatic, I was just—

Disappointed. Hurt. Scared of him now. I thought Mason was my friend. I wasn’t complaining. I just needed to process it, all right? I didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t asking for it. I asked for a dance. And now, you broke that trust I thought we had because now I see… now I remember. You closed in on me too, grabbed my waist, and spun me. Spun me until my dress flew up to reveal that black underwear I put on, just for me to enjoy. You spun me, and I didn’t even ask you to. I didn’t even ask you to dance. 


P.S. I have a loving boyfriend I’m in a long-distance relationship with. He’s back in the States. But I didn’t mention him in this piece for the sole purpose of wondering: What did you think of me when I told the details of the night I got both physically and verbally assaulted? Are you still thinking I deserved it? Are you still thinking in terms of rape culture?

*Names have been changed. And, for the record, after a long conversation, the person known as Mason in this piece profusely apologized and has been working harder ever since to eliminate his speak on what a girl should and shouldn’t do/wear/etc. He’s a much better friend and advocate. 

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