Sep 26, 2017

What Men Don't Get About Being a Woman

I read an interesting article the other day about the "real reason women drink."  It's not click bait, despite the title - it's a pretty well-thought out analysis of some of the difficulties women face in the everyday world and how we use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

I don't know if I agree with the article that women use it more than men do because our lives are more terrible, but I do agree that alcohol is a crutch and a huge proportion of our population uses it to self medicate whenever life isn't performing the way they'd prefer.

Something the author said that I found compelling was that if any situation requires you to drink to cope, maybe it's time to change the situation instead of just drinking to forget that it's bad.  I do think one (of many) benefits to my own sobriety has been realizing which activities I actually enjoy for themselves and which are just fun for the alcohol and because everyone else seems to think it's fun.  (Dancing = still fun.  Flip cup = meh.)

But there are situations that we can't actually change, alcohol or no.  There is racism and classism and misogyny.  There are all kinds of ugly, little cultural mindsets that impact us negatively every day.

I'm all too apt to brush these things off, but my sisters and I were chatting about this and I've got a few stories.  I'll start with the scary one and end on the funnier ones.

Sister3 was walking home at night and a car stopped and rolled down the window.  Thinking it was perhaps an uber trying to find his/her passenger, she walked towards the car.  Upon hearing the catcalling that followed, she realized it wasn't someone confused or in need of assistance but just some gross asshole.

So she walked away.  And he followed her.

She tried turning a corner and he turned to keep up with her.  She was getting nervous when she tried walking the wrong way on a one-way and that successfully deterred stalker asshole.

This story reminded me of that video from a couple years ago.  The one with the woman who walks around New York and the many negative reactions she gets from people in the street (men) simply by not returning their greeting.  It reminds me of how infuriating the comments are because a huge number of men thought it was her own fault for not being friendlier.  Because women have time to engage with a stranger every 60 seconds of their day.  Fucking ridiculous.  I can't even talk to my own baby that frequently and I'm in charge of his mental development.

So anyway, that story is a little scary because there are crazy people in the city and getting pulled into a car isn't a story that usually ends well.  But it didn't happen and Sister3 is ok, minus a little scare.

The next story is from the male perspective.  My father recently went on a trip to visit relatives.  He forgot his glasses, which he's supposed to use for driving but especially at night when his vision goes to shit.  Rather than do the smart thing and stay put after dark or have someone else give him a ride, he drove off on his own and got lost.

Finally after aimlessly driving around for a while, he stopped at a gas station to get directions.  He got out of his car and walked towards the first person he saw - a woman pumping gas next to her car.

She walked away.  He followed her.  She walked faster, and he KEPT FOLLOWING HER!

He had no fucking idea.  According to the story he chased her all the way around her car before he realized what the problem was and said, "I just need directions!"  Hopefully that was an exaggeration, for her sake.  She was apparently a stellar human being because all she said was, "You gave me a little fright" and then gave him directions.

We heard this story and laughed because, it too, had a happy ending.  And the idea of someone being so oblivious that they accidentally threaten someone is kind of funny.  But it also really highlights how much men do not understand what it's like to constantly be on guard for potential threats.

And now the least serious story.

On the day of writing this (who knows how long it's been to actually post), I stopped for gas before heading to my office job.  It was around 6:45am on Labor Day so it was pretty empty and I was enjoying the lack of crowds.  I also happened to be wearing makeup and heels because I'd pulled yet another all-nighter and after finishing up at 4am, knew I couldn't take a nap and still be on time to work so spent that extra time gettin' purdy instead.

I didn't feel particularly pretty, despite the effort I'd put into my attire.  I mostly felt groggy and ready to go into survival mode for the day.  So I was taken aback when a man stopped his truck close enough to call to me,

"It's a shame that someone looks so good [gesturing at me] this early in the morning and I'm so ugly."

When he'd started talking, I'd been prepared to do my waitress smile and make whatever small talk was required while pumping gas, but that...  That confused me.

Was I supposed to reassure him that he wasn't ugly?  Was I supposed to just agree with his compliment/insult and say "thank you"?  Was he hitting on me at 7am at a gas station?

My brain couldn't figure it out and when I tried to formulate a response that wouldn't open me up for potential flirting, it failed completely.  So instead I made a strangled, "Mlehehghghg" noise and quickly turned back to the gas pump.

And I think that's another thing men don't understand.  I don't want to be rude and blow people off.  But it's also 7am, my brain isn't working, and I don't necessarily want someone telling me how good I look.  I put makeup on as some ridiculous sort of psychological trick to amp myself into surviving an all-nighter.  I didn't put it on thinking I could get some attention at the gas station.

I can even picture a scenario where it would my dad making a similar comment.  And it wouldn't be intending to hit on that person.  He would just notice that someone stood out because they were more dressed up than the rest of the customers, then make a self-deprecating joke.

But as a woman, I can't just assume it's all harmless and silly.  I can't just let someone buy me a drink at a bar.  I can't give my number to a man who says he's interested in hanging out and making more friends because he "just moved here."

As a woman, and frankly, not even a particularly hot one (not fishing for compliments - I'm perfectly comfortable with my looks), I'm constantly on guard to prevent misunderstandings and men getting pissy with me because I "led them on" and they now feel they're owed something.

I think this morning was the first time I ever thought, "Huh, maybe I shouldn't wear makeup anymore."  What???  My brain's first thought is how to change myself to fit into a society that thinks I'm a sex object as soon as I put lipstick on?

No.  I don't accept that.  I'm going to do my thing and if people make incorrect assumptions, I'm going to correct them.  And I'm going to practice appropriate responses so that my brain doesn't vomit out random sounds in the moment.  "What do you mean by that?" "I'm not sure how I'm supposed to respond to that." "I'm not really worried about my looks right now."

What random, stupid shit have people said to you?  How did you handle it?

Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually


  1. I get asked for directions constantly, like multiple times a day, but since it's in the city where it's tons of people, I don't feel scared. I imagine I would though if I had been that lady your dad was chasing, but that is a really hilarious story!
    I never react to cat calls, I just smile and keep going. I've never had anyone be creepy or say anything else. I have no idea what I would do if they did. My hand is always on my taser though so that probably answers that question...

  2. Totally get you. I have boobs and so Im accustomed to creeps cat calling etc. Its also made me wary of the harmless men who maybe, like your dad, just want to ask for directions. I typically smile and turn my head quickly to avoid awkwardness.

  3. Your Dad's story is hilarious. I do think, sadly, that sometimes women do have minor freakouts when no harm is intended because we are constantly vigilant and it can be so hard to recognize who is harmless (like your Dad) and who is a predator. Your sister's story is scary. I don't get the whole catcall thing. Some women apparently like it but most don't. It doesn't feel complimentary to me. It makes me feel like a piece of meat. The weird, sad thing is until this past election, I didn't think much about misogyny. And now I think about it all the time and how it pervades our society in ways that I never realized. How it infects so many people. Men who do it without even realizing it and women who accept it because it's always been a part of life.

  4. This is quite thought provoking Jenn!! The story about your dad actually cracks me up, haha. I personally feel a bit more awake-looking with make up on, so I wear it most days but don't put much thought into it so this just made me think a bit. It is totally true though that men just don't really get it.

  5. Catcalling really pisses me off. And it always happens when I have on athletic shorts and a hoodie and a baseball cap, and I'm walking my dogs. Typically one of my dogs snarls or growls or barks and I just let that be my answer ;)
    When I'm dressed up for something and I have to run into a store or stop at a gas station I get all weird about my appearance. I can *feel* people looking at me and I think to myself, 'I wish I looked less appealing.' But that's so dumb. What I really wish is that people wouldn't stare. (I'm not overly attractive- I'm just dressy in those situations.)

  6. Here for this. There's a Margaret Atwood quote that I have to call upon more often than I'd like when discussing the differences between men and women in social situations/public encounters that turn sour: "Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." Of course, I don't assume that every man who I don't want to talk to me who talks to me is going to kill me. But I'm sure as hell more anxious about being approached by a random person on the city street than David is. I happily give directions when asked or exchange small talk when appropriate, but until I can walk out of my apartment in heels without being literally grunted at and stared up and down the entire way to my destination, I'm not going to not worry about what people are capable of. David, my brother, my dad, etc. have no common experience, and they cannot comprehend why I'm not taking that "as a compliment." A compliment I can take from a stranger is the man who walked past me in Duane Reade yesterday and said "Excuse me, I'm not trying to be fresh but I really like your tattoo" about my roses, which yes, are pretty and on my shoulder for all the world to see. NOT a compliment is the guy a few years ago in the grocery store who came up behind me and took his finger to my skin and started tracing the outline of my tattoo. I doubt my brother, boyfriend, or father has ever had a similar experience where a person who could easily overpower them just touched them out of nowhere in a setting they were just hoping to get through without the maximum level of frustration.
    I don't have a point. I just agree with you and felt like rambling this morning.

  7. Totally get this. My husband struggles a lot because he struggles with being rude if he ignores someone (this was apparently a thing in the Army and I HATED it) and being creepy/threatening (like your dad, on accident). It's definitely a balance. But it's important to talk about because like you said, they sometimes really don't know. I heard a theory once that said if someone is telling a racist or sexist joke, ask them to explain it. Because these things are so ingrained (like for women, avoiding strange men walking up to us) that people sometimes don't get it.

    The alcohol aspect is interesting...I definitely enjoy a drink after a hard day, but I don't binge or feel like it's out of control. It's literally my ONLY vice. I have not personally seen it as a response like you spoke about in the article...but interesting to consider.


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