Yesterday morning I went to my usual diner for breakfast and found that it was PACKED. The only place left to sit was at the bar, next to another regular who I find to be obnoxious. He’s a 50-something man constantly flirting with the 18-year-old waitresses. He ick’s me out.
I was hungry though and it was 3 hours past the time of my normal first cup of coffee. I hadn’t yet spoken to another human being and I was grumpy. I needed caffeine.
As I went to sit down Mr Ick informed me:”That seat’s taken… You’ll have to sit here” and gestured to his lap.
Before my mouth connected to my brain the response “Not even if you were Santa Claus” had slipped out.
His face turned bright red, he stuttered something about not being a fat old pervert, and refused to look in my direction for the rest of the morning. I ate quickly and ran away.
I was really uncomfortable and spent breakfast wishing that I: a) hadn’t said it, or, b) had had the brain power to soften the blow.
Why can’t I go to breakfast and just eat? Why does this man who is old enough to be my Father get to make a pervy suggestion and then be angry that I shot him down? I know that it was entirely in jest, I know that he is just a total flirt… But why should I have to put up with that?
Women have come a long way in our society. A man who, 50 years ago, may have been pinching the bottoms of the waitresses now just flirts with them.
I don’t think we’ve come far enough.
I am a 31-year-old, overweight woman who rarely wears make-up, lives in a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and I still get comments like this several times a week: “Smile honey”, “You have such a pretty face“, “You just look so nice all the time, it’s hard to take you seriously”. My looks and “niceness” belong to everyone and are open game for comments.
And the reason that I point out my appearance flaws is this: If someone like me is getting several comments a week what is life like for someone who is more traditionally beautiful? I remember being a pretty young woman… It was constant.
Not only was it constant but I was expected to smile, giggle and feel good about myself through it. A less than positive response to a “compliment” made me a bitch. It is no wonder that so much of my self-worth got mixed up with how I look.
I love it when J tells me that I am beautiful. But he’s as likely to tell me that at 6 am when my hair is a straw nest, my eyes are puffy and my breath is bad as he is to tell me when I’m all dressed up for a night out. He’s telling me because he sees me, under the skin, and he thinks that I am beautiful.
I still tell little girls that they look pretty: “I love your hair” or “What a great dress”. I’m trying to stop because what I should be say is: “You did such a great job reading that story” or “You are a really talented artist” or “You are so smart”. We should tell them that who they are is important. And that it isn’t okay for people to just see the surface. That they have the right to shoot someone down if what that person said made them feel uncomfortable.
I should tell more men that I don’t want to sit on their lap instead of giggling, responding “maybe next time”, and curling into myself a bit. In the 18 years or so since puberty I’ve gotten really good at making myself smaller, invisible.
I’m 31 and I don’t really know how to deal with this. I don’t know what I will say to my (imaginary, potential, future) daughter the first time that she comes home and tells me that a group of boys honked their horn and cat-called as she walked home from school.
Will I tell her to ignore it? Will I tell her that the first time I flipped a car-full of boys the bird for doing just that they turned around, and drove behind me, slowly, for my entire walk home and I was terrified? Will I tell her that it is better to smile and laugh because that is what will keep her safe? How will I explain the mixture of elation (someone thinks I’m pretty!) and vulnerability that that experience will inspire in her?
Will I be able to explain to my (imaginary, potential, future) son why it isn’t okay to do this when he is in a car full of his friends and they are all doing it? Will he experience the same thing in reverse?
Will I tell her that the boy who hit her on the playground did it because he likes her?
It’s complicated and it’s woven into our lives, into the stories that we tell ourselves and our children, in ways that we don’t even know.
But I guess baby steps are the only ones we can take right now.
My suggestion ladies? The line “not even if you were Santa Claus” seems to work really well for those come-sit-on-my-lap moments in life.
Or, as the brilliant Helen Mirren puts it…