Today’s post is going to be a little bit different. I read Rebecca Gilman’s Boy Gets Girl, which follows the events around a New York journalist named Theresa. Theresa is a strong feminist, but there’s nothing especially important about her. Except that Theresa has become the target of a stalker.
Sitting at my writing desk while eating pepped edamames and drinking soy milk, there’s nothing particularly interesting about me, except that you might (wrongly) think I’m a vegan or lactose intolerant. However, not five years ago I, too, became the target of a stalker. Today I realized, I am the research.
I was eighteen and studying abroad in Italy. I wanted to eat out, so I ventured into town. As I was looking at a menu, deciding if I wanted to eat there or not, a man came up to me and asked me to eat with him. I was hesitant and wanted to disagree, but he pulled me by the wrist and took me to a bar. He paid for my lunch and tried to make small talk, which was woefully limited due to the language barrier. One thing I did understand was when he asked me to go to his house. I said no. He asked to come to my house. Again, I said no. By this point, I decided to leave. I was scared and didn’t want to seem rude, but this was the limit for me.
He followed me. Knowing I was followed, I avoided my house and ran out of town to the university I was studying at the time. I don’t know how, but I lost him when I got to campus. I ran to a group of girls who were also doing study abroad and they let me stay with them for some time and agreed to escort me to the grocery store and my apartment. I didn’t leave the apartment for a week, and I was escorted by my roommates whenever I needed to go to class.
At the time, I thought nothing of it. It was as if I was kidnapped or sexually assaulted, and he didn’t stalk me for long. Although I was apprehensive after the ordeal and definitely was not confident to explore the town by myself, I didn’t think it affected me at the time. Today, I can still remember what he looks like if I close my eyes.
I share my story not because I think I am a poster survivor for stalking but because it shows that interpersonal violence is everywhere. Gilman’s play focuses on a number of things I experienced. At first, Theresa didn’t want anybody to know she was having trouble and preferred to handle things on her own, similar to the silencing many people feel after experiencing interpersonal violence. Prior to writing this post, the only time I have shared my story was in private groups dedicated to this kind of topic.
Gilman is able to capture the fear and violence of seemingly non-threatening gestures, such as receiving flowers, opening letters, or checking her voicemail. However, Gilman is also able to express interpersonal violence from the very beginning. She demonstrates that there are problems with societal gender roles and expectations, such as how the stalker talks over and cuts off Theresa repeatedly and ignores her rejections even before he escalates to violence.
However the stalker isn’t the only one to blame. Gilman explores how social views borne out of sexism can be harmful, such as Theresa’s friend insisting she go out with the stalker (this, of course, happens before it’s revealed he is a stalker) and the early view most of the characters adopt with thinking the stalker is a fine man and that Theresa should give him a chance. Social convention makes it hard for women to reject men they do not want to go out with; but saying yes also leads to unhappiness and sometimes even violence. Additionally, Gilman explores how men and women are taught to perceive themselves, which is a social construction enforced through virtually everything, including media, custom, and culture.
Although Gilman’s play is a chilling meditation on stalking, there are a few points I would like to raise. First, anybody can become the target of interpersonal violence. While there is a gendered component to the crime, women can be perpetrators, and men can be targets. Second, stalking or any other interpersonal crime is usually committed by a perpetrator that knows the target. Unlike Gilman’s play where they are strangers, usually there is an established connection there. (Gilman points this out in the play and given that Theresa and the stalker go on a date and he envisions a relationship with her, it could be argued it is a typical representation of interpersonal violence.) Third, although many interpersonal violence crimes escalate to death threats, this is not necessary for the crime to be just as traumatic or “valid.” By using a more extreme example, Gilman is better able to convey to her audience that this is an unacceptable crime no matter how you look at it. Even to lesser degrees, it is a crime. We should read the crime like a metaphor, not literally.
Still, Boy Gets Girl was extremely touching to me. I teared up more than once, and after reading this play, I became paranoid that somebody was watching me. While the play seems to suggest the story is the guy sees the girl, the guy wants the girl, “The guy hurts the girl,” the play ends on a more positive note (108). Theresa decides to take control of her life back by changing her name and moving to Denver so that she can have a clean start and walk in public without fear. True, she shouldn’t be forced to do these things and she doesn’t want to, but she is taking control of her life back. She also befriends a sexist jerk, proving that her capacity to make friends (especially with men) has not been destroyed by the influence of her stalker. Theresa is her own person, remaining the strong, professional woman she was at the start of the play.
Works cited: Gilman, Rebecca. Boy Gets Girl. New York: Faber and Faber, 2000. Print.