by Stephanie Krehbiel
*(-slapping, -patting, -squeezing—honestly, if you’re parsing the distinctions by order of offensiveness, you’re already in hot water)
The two most salient points I have to make about ass-grabbing are a) It is not trivial, and b) It is ubiquitous.
Ass-grabbing is just this thing that we’re supposed to live with. It’s fun, people say. It’s no big deal, people say. Take it as a compliment. I know this person who gets offended if people aren’t regularly grabbing their ass! Honestly, there are just so many rules these days, I can’t keep up with all these rules, everyone’s so sensitive now.
Is it really so difficult to not grab people’s asses? If you really value that sensation, could you maybe get yourself some sort of squeeze toy? They sell them in the pet store.
But that’s not as fun, is it? And the reason it’s not as fun, for the ass-grabbers among us, is that ass-grabbing is first and foremost a display of dominance. The aggressively sexual ass-grab in a bar and the grandfatherly ass-pat that George HW Bush is apparently so fond of—these are both displays of entitlement to another person’s body. It doesn’t matter if the intention was “affectionate.” If it weren’t meant, on some level, as a display of dominance, that expression of affection would not involve someone’s butt.
The person on the receiving end of that display may be accustomed to that kind of thing; they may be completely acculturated into thinking of their own body as something that exists for the pleasure of others. They might laugh it off, or not react, or try to be “game” about it. None of this means your ass-grab was harmless. It means your ass-grab was just part of a larger cultural context in which some people feel entitled to do whatever they like with other people’s bodies, regardless of how those other people feel about it.
Your ass-grabbing may be the least of the regular physical/emotional/sexual violations that your target is already experiencing on a regular basis. That doesn’t exonerate you; it just makes you one of a whole bunch of other entitled jerks.
Mostly, we put up with sexual harassment like ass-grabbing because we have no idea what kind of immediate hell might rain down on our heads if we stand up to it in the moment. Some men will go from “hey girl, love that ass,” to “I’m going to kill you, you f___ing b__ch” in less than a minute. If you’re getting off on inciting the fear of that response in another person, you need to re-examine your life.
Some people deal with constant ass-grabbing, every day. They go to work and people grab their butts while they’re doing their jobs. It’s just one of the courses in the daily diet of sexual harassment. Ask nurses; ask women who do housekeeping and maintenance work; ask restaurant servers and kitchen staff. Ask women in any industry that is dependent on the labor of undocumented people. You won’t last long in a lot of jobs if you won’t put up with ass-grabbing. You are disposable to your employers in jobs like that, especially if you are being paid under the table and/or have no legal rights or no way of enforcing the rights that you do have. Ass-grabbers generally understand the overall shape of that situation.
Ass-grabbing is frequently a surprise. It’s fun for people who like to display dominance because it’s a stealth act that hits its target from behind. You catch them off guard. If you take pleasure in scaring the crap out of people for no productive reason whatsoever, ass-grabbing is for you.
If you take pleasure in scaring the crap out of people for no productive reason whatsoever, something is wrong with you and you need to be stopped. If you don’t take pleasure in scaring the crap out of people for no productive reason whatsoever, then you have absolutely zero reason to be non-consensually messing with another person’s butt.
(But, for heaven’s sake, just a little pat! That’s not “messing with another person’s butt”! You’re just so sensiti—NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200. NO PATS.)
If you like butts—and why shouldn’t you?—you can do consensual grabbing and whatever else with your partner/s of choice, or you can grab your own, if your arms are long enough. That is not an expression of dominance. That is fine. This is not about having something against butts. This is about having something against being an asshole.
Men and boys grab women’s and girls’ asses, a lot. But there is plenty of other ass-grabbing happening as well. I’ll take a few specific patterns that I’ve heard about consistently from friends and clients. This list is not comprehensive, obviously.
A lot of white women, for instance, have a bad habit of assuming that Black men want their asses grabbed by white women. This is stupid. Cut it out. Black men are people, and thus their asses should not be viewed as available for general grabbing. There is not some super-special, white woman/Black man thing that makes this OK. The script you re-enact, as a white woman grabbing a Black man’s ass, is “We owned you before, and we can own you again.” It doesn’t matter if that was the furthest thing from your mind. (Whatever was in your mind was also nonsense.) That script was written before you ever showed up.
Gay men also put up with a maddening amount of ass-grabbing from other gay men (and ostensibly straight ones too). Toxic masculinity is not just for straight people. Most of the young gay men I know are as embattled and wary about sexual harassment as women are. If you are a gay man who grabs other men’s asses, you are as much of a dickhead as straight people who do that. If you are a gay man who grabs women’s asses because you think it doesn’t “count” because you don’t have sex with women, sorry. It counts. You don’t have to want to have sex with us for us to perceive it as an act of dominance over our bodies.
Then there’s the ass-slapping in football. I would probably need another blog post to even talk about that. Like, where do I even begin with football?
And finally: don’t slap/grab/pat your kids’ butts. Don’t let other people touch your kids’ butts. It may seem like nothing, but it isn’t nothing. Allowing that to happen is one way that kids learn that their bodies are not theirs, that they have no right to refuse consent. Teach kids not to grab each other’s butts. They will probably try it, because kids are little humans and they imitate what grown-up humans do. Don’t shame them for it. Teach them.
Teach them so this is the last generation of thinkpieces explaining why everyone deserves a butt free of unwanted touches. Let’s stop ass-grabbing before it begins.