How can we arm ourselves with the words and the confidence to stand up for ourselves? Pin Image

What I Should Have Said To The Guy In The Sauna

Author: Becky Sappor

Have you ever found yourself in an uncomfortable situation and been so taken aback that you didn’t know how to respond to it so you just did nothing? That was me a few months back and I wondered if we could chat about it so that we can all leave after reading this feeling more armed with responses and the confidence to stand up to intimidating people.

I take the last ten minutes of Leo’s swimming lesson to sit in the sauna after a 20 minute swim/float about. I think I deserve it. Yep that’s right, my story is set in a sauna. You can probably hazard a guess as to where this is going. For some, saunas can be intimidating places at the best of times but they don’t really bother me. I’m not especially up for chit chat and find that a couple of short answers and closing your eyes is enough of a message to most that you’re there to chill the F out, not reel off your life story to a complete stranger.

There is a guy around my age, another woman and two men, probably in their mid fifties who obviously know each other well as they’re engaged in a weird sort of boastful ‘manly’ chat about travelling and work and whatnot. The younger guy leaves and is followed five minutes later by one of the other men. That leaves me, the other lady and one of the men.

He proceeds to stand up and take something from his pocket. Olbas oil. He asks if we mind him shaking a few drops into the sauna. The lady and I say no that’s fine – just not too much if that’s cool. The bit of the sauna he needs to put the oil in is between the lady and me, towards the top of the sauna. He steps up on the bottom bench to reach above and as he comes down he says ‘Don’t worry girls it’s just a touch of rohypnol. Shouldn’t be enough to do any real harm. Just a couple of drops.’

Then as he sat down he proceeded to witter on about it – along the line of ‘Yep just a couple of drops of rohypnol, not too strong’ or some twattery like that. I paraphrase because to be honest I was in so much shock. But I do know I remember thinking, why keep repeating it?! Once wasn’t bad enough?

Did you just make a rape joke?

That’s what I was screaming in my head. But nothing came out of my mouth. I failed to say anything at all. It was clear he had no intentions of actually doing anything – to him it was probably ‘just a rape joke’. But why wasn’t I able to stand up for myself? For all women? Why was I so unprepared for this sort of behaviour? And I wasn’t the only one. The lady sat next to me didn’t say anything either. I did look to her and she looked at me but we sat in silence. After a minute she left and I followed behind her.

How do we prepare ourselves for situations like this? I was frozen in time. When I got home I was reeling off everything I wanted to say. ‘Did you really just make a rape joke? Do you have any idea how utterly horrendous that is? You’ve made me feel extremely uncomfortable and I will be speaking with management to make sure you never use this sauna again’.

How do we arm ourselves with the words and the confidence to shut that shit down? I want to be able to speak up but I felt completely unequipped to deal with it. I’ve shared this with a few friends and they too said they would be absolutely raging inside but would probably just laugh it off and make a sharp exit.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation (bloody hell, I’m so sorry if you have) and how did you deal with it? Do you have a set come-back if something makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable? I feel like it might be one of those things that until you’re faced with that sort of situation once, you can’t really prepare for it? I feel like next time – as I’m sure there will be a next time – I will feel more like I can say no. Just no. How dare you say that to me? But isn’t it awful that to experience it is the only way I feel I can prepare for it?

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Author: Becky Sappor
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13 thoughts on “What I Should Have Said To The Guy In The Sauna

  1. What a senseless creep.

    We do too often freeze or stay quiet and then feel so angry with ourselves for not saying something, but you never know the consequences, we’ve been taught to fear and be quiet.

    I hope if I was in that situation I would instantly tell him a rape joke is never acceptable, bit I’m nearly 40 and bit more confident then I was when I was 20.

  2. Honestly, it’s not worth letting it get to you. Call him out, even just a ‘that’s not very funny’ if you struggle to think of anything pithy, then get up and leave, and don’t give it another thought. Absolutely not worth giving it any more thought than that.

    He’s just wound me up because he means I won’t get a nice interiors or enabling post on RMS today!

  3. Urgh. Just yuk.

    Sometimes saying nothing and letting a disgusting comment hang in the air is the best way to show someone you have no interest in what they have said or done.

    Yes, I agree it can feel cowardly but knowing that you removed their power with silence can be the strongest thing.

    I say this as a person who always produces the best comebacks about an hour after the event!

    1. I’d not thought about it like that Charlie. And actually you have such a great point. I didn’t even laugh it off I was just silent which hopefully made him feel like a complete idiot. Probably not. But there’s hope. x

  4. I’m sorry that happened to you. And angry. I don’t think I cope with these situations very well either. I wish I didn’t feel so angry all the time but so much has happened to me and continues to happen around me which other people apparently can’t see or think is ‘just the way things are’. The unfairness of that makes me more angry 😄 I am a quiet person by nature and don’t know how to change that. It can be difficult to know whether a man is actually dangerous and could react violently or just clueless, so I wouldn’t beat yourself up over not reacting. Sadly, one of my male relatives only recently realised that rape jokes are not acceptable or funny. It had to be really drummed into him. He’s lucky enough to be completely unaware of the reality of rape or consider it a real thing to fear. I have to internally eye roll at that to be honest, especially when he doesn’t think male privilege is a thing. I have been known to react very strongly to men in the past but it is usually after a lot of provocation. One quick, unexpected comment throws me.

    The horrible thing is, some of these men enjoy knowing that they are getting to you and knowing that there’s nothing you can do about it. Your reaction is amusing to them. No amount of telling them how disgusting their comment is will change their mind because it is coming from somebody they don’t see as a proper person in the same way that they are. The whole world is default male as far as they’re concerned. I once heard a man describe issues affecting women as minority issues 🙄 So no real advice from me I’m afraid, just sorry that it happened to you and spoilt an activity you have until now enjoyed. For what it’s worth, I still think you should complain to management. If he thinks it’s funny it’s not likely to be the only time he says it. Repercussions from the gym management might be enough to stop him from saying it again, even if it doesn’t change his general mindset. Another idea is assertiveness courses – I found a free one online a while ago but never ended up completing it. I thought it might help me to find ways to speak out and stand up for myself in many situations in life without feeling quite so uncomfortable.

    I know my comment is a bit ranty and pessimistic but I am so fed up of it all. Wish I could just shut myself away in my house forever sometimes.

  5. I’d report him to the gym. You did the right thing not challenging him at the time as it could have put you in danger but your gym has a duty of care to its users and if you complain they should take it seriously. There was a video doing the rounds on twitter last week of a guy wanking openly in a gym in Wales and the guy was identified from the footage and banned.

  6. The amount of times I’ve wanted to kick myself for not saying something and then replayed it over in my head! Last year I spoke up to someone I knew about a homophobic post they made on social media and since then I’ve found the phrase ‘that’s not cool’ actually works quite well. It’s not too confrontational, but clearly states you don’t agree.

    Unfortunately people do get off on intimidation and I think it is sensible to let managers know if it is a public place. Someone may not be banned from a sauna but the presence of a member of staff may be possible and be reassuring to others.

  7. Like the first poster above said, I am quite open about challenging things now but I’m in my mid 30s and more confident. I feel a sense of responsibility to my children to address it.

    I use “Excuse me but that isn’t acceptable” as its more formal than “that’s not OK”. I find formality a defence mechanism and it packs a punch.

    Likewise “did you mean to be so rude?” is a phrase I picked up from Mumsnet and really does work. Its not like anyone ever comes back and says “Yes” as we are all far too British for that.

  8. Really interesting post and comments. I’d have done the same as you and then been so mad after for weeks! I’m useless at confrontation like that, an old lady gave me a row for moving a chair in a cafe the other day (I was trying to organise 3 toddlers at once!) and I couldn’t think of a response. My husband was livid! I don’t know if it’s a British thing or a woman thing or just a personality thing but I wish I was better at it!

  9. Please please don’t feel bad about not saying anything at the time. We know so many incidents and stories where men have flipped and become aggressive and violent when called out and often we are conditioned to freeze or ignore bad behaviour as a defence mechanism. I would speak to the gym management about it though, if you feel you want to, especially if you see him again and can let them know he’s there.

    Ugh ugh ugh the entitlement and the downright pleasure in making you uncomfortable. Fuck the patriarchy!

    1. Lucy, that’s the bit that is really so upsetting – guys make comments like that to literally make women feel insecure and uncomfortable. What a horrible, horrible thing – to actively want to make another human being feel bad because of you. Ugh.

  10. I’m glad you didn’t say anything because, like others have said, you just can’t foresee how men like that will react. I mean, if he is THAT MUCH OF AN ASSHOLE that he thinks date rape jokes are okay in a flipping sauna (or anywhere except* among his totally cool man bros who can chortle and slap him on the back – excuse me while I’m vomit) then you just can’t assume he’ll hold his hands up and say “yes sorry, that was a dick comment” (the only appropriate answer) rather than doing what I imagine he’ll do which is get super defensive and double down with more offensive comments. You shouldn’t have to put yourself in a position like that – he is the only one who made it weird and horrible and he is vile to make a comment like that.

    I think we just have to keep moving slowly forward as a society to a place where even stupid manbros realise that they cannot say stuff like this. Ever. It’s a shame that obvs in the current environment I feel like we’re going backward rather than forward but we all just have to keep on keeping on I guess xx

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