Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Walk On Eggshells

Last night, a man came into my place of employment. He'd been in before; last time he'd stayed only a short while, and commented to me that he didn't like the music that was playing. When he came in last night, I smiled like I do at every customer, and cracked a joke: "I'm playing NPR tonight, so you don't have to run away from the Dylan." He laughed, was surprised I remembered him. "That's great!" he said. "And you're here consistently, so you'll be easy to track down."

Only a mildly weird comment, right? His body language made clear that he was getting ready to chat me up, though, so I decided not to play too nice. "That's kind of a creepy thing to say, actually," I told him, arching my eyebrows. "Oh jesus," he groaned, "you're one of those fucking paranoid..."

"I'm kidding!" I said, cutting him off, "and anyway, I just won't tell you my last name." He started to change the subject, but then he backtracked:

"You know, I hate that men have to walk on eggshells around women now. It hasn't always been this way, you know. This has just happened in the last five years or so. It's like you can't say anything to a woman without her getting all paranoid."

"Seriously, I was just kidding," I said, although what I was thinking was you fucking misogynist. "But anyway," I added, "women have had to deal with being afraid of men for ages. I think men will have to walk on eggshells for a while, spend some time really examining their own privilege, before things will ever be equal."

He made a face. Isn't that vindictive?" he asked, and it turned out to be rhetorical. "I'm still getting over my ex... now she was paranoid, like seriously..." He trailed off and looped his index finger near his temples, the western hemisphere's sign for crazy. He paused, then he continued, "But you know, I was just making an offhand comment, and you took it and went someplace dark. You went someplace dark and twisty with that. There are some really crazy people out there these days, some real kooks on the street, it's true, but it isn't me, it isn't men like me, it's these women who think men are out to get them."

At this point I was completely uncomfortable -- too uncomfortable and nervous to even be angry. Nice Girl is so ingrained that I felt like I couldn't ask him to leave with other people in the store, so I let him talk and nodded and pretended to listen. He told me I was cute. I thanked him. He told me about his band, gave me a flyer, signed it. Asked if I had a boyfriend, and I told him I did. He asked if I was in love and I told him I am. He went on about what a shame it was, but I was nice and young and -- was I 18? yes, okay, good -- had plenty of time to change my mind. How old did I think he was? Actually, never mind, he hadn't slept in a few days, he'd ask me again the next time we talked. I still didn't tell him I hoped there wouldn't be a next time. I was too busy hoping the situation would just go away.

He held out his hand for me to shake as he was leaving and I took it, happy he was heading for the door, but then he turned my hand over and kissed it. I yanked it away and gave him a dirty look. I spent most of the rest of the evening feeling vaguely nauseous.

There was more to it than that, but the details are fuzzy. It's hard to put into words exactly what was so unnerving about the interaction; in text it looks like he was just some patronizing asshole trying to get a date. But in the moment it felt like I was being manipulated, talked down to, and searched out. I don't like that he knows where he can find me.

More than that, though, I think the incident left me shaky because I didn't stand up for myself. I should have told him exactly where to go the moment he called me paranoid -- you try walking down a dark street at night by yourself in my (female) body, and tell me if you feel paranoid. It makes me SO angry to have to be concerned for my safety in a city where very few men have that same feeling. It makes me furious that I can't just pick up and travel the world by myself, working odd jobs along the way, without constantly being on guard. And it makes me literally sick to my stomach that I couldn't tell this asshole that I'm not fucking interested and to get his chauvinist ass the hell out of my store. If I can't stand up for myself, what kind of feminist am I?

Then, this afternoon, I came across a link on Amber's blog to a post by Sassywho, whose blog I Never Leave the House Without Incident is a consistently good read. This post made me want to yell and cry all at once. As Amber says, "HELL FUCKING YES." Go read the whole post, but I'll snip the best part for you:
I am the Woman that misogynists love to hate. I am the Sister, who, before puberty I could kick your ass, or at least take as good of a beating as you could give. The Tom-boy on the playground who did not respond to you telling her that girls couldn't play football, instead tackled your ass when you caught the ball.

I am the Slut that owns her sexuality, and will insist that you give me head or there will be very little chance of another sexual encounter. I am the Tease that allowed you to buy me dinner, but that does not give you an automatic pass to my body for the evening. I am the Irresponsible Hussy who if we had an oooops and I did not want to have children, I would be at the clinic as soon as I found out with $400 in hand and a smile on my face.

I am the Cunt who challenged your ideas in a meeting, and it even turns out I was right. I am the Whore who has slept with more men than your quota for a woman who deserves your respect, even if it is less than your number. I am the Fucking Slut who responds to your verbal abuse while I am bartending by making you wear that beer you just ordered.

I am the Bitch who wants equality in a relationship and refuses to be your mother. I am the Ballbuster who isn't intimidated by your masculinity. I am the Wife that was not okay with your 15+ affairs, so I had an affair myself before I left. I am the Fucking Bitch who filed a restraining order on your ass and prosecuted you to the fullest extent of the law when you tried to intimidate me and my friends with harassment to keep me in the relationship. I am a Misogynists worst nightmare.

I hope that asshole comes back in. I have a few things I'd like to say to him.


Sassywho said...

Thanks for the link Amanda, unfortunately your situation is all too common. While I don't advocate walking around with "bitchguard" on all of the time, I see absolutely no problem with forcefully letting someone know when they invade your space, real or virtual.

ARConn said...

As to what kind of feminist this makes U, i'd say the human kind.

Sarah said...

Hey Amanda --
Life is a learning process for all of us. Next time you'll notice your warning signals and since you've thought it out in advance, you'll be able to act more effectively. Don't beat yourself up about it.
Seriously, this guy sounds dangerous. The personal questions are totally inappropriate, and the piece about him not having slept for several days suggests some kind of mental illness or drug issue. Are you clear with your employer about their policy for when you feel in danger from a customer? I would suggest being firm but not aggressive with him if he shows up again -- ask him to leave, go into "broken record" mode, call the cops if necessary. Confrontative language might bring on an attack. You're not here to educate him at the expense of your own safety!
Come see us sometime --
hugs, Sarah from Chrysalis

Sarah said...

It is so hard to put things into practice sometimes. And ironically enough, it just takes practice. If there're any things I've learned from my work at the food pantry, it's that my one allowance of someone's behavior only serves to temporarily make ME feel better about not stepping on someone's toes. In the long run, doing something-- anything --teaches the offending person that he/she has done something that is not always appropriate. It also helps me get stronger in the long run. But it's not an on-off switch, that's for sure.

Amber said...

I can soooo relate to your story. And I don't think men can understand that feeling of dread, disgust, fear, etc. And the really frustrating thing is how difficult it is to explain to people who haven't experienced it! (Again, mostly men.) Thanks for this.

Amanda said...

Thanks for all the comments, guys -- it's nice to know I'm not alone, and that he actually sounded like a creep even in writing. Sarah, I promise to be careful. After he left the store I practiced saying "I need you to leave now" broken record style.

Special thanks to ARConn -- I really needed to hear that!