Don’t Call Me Cupcake
It’s that season again–spring clothing season. The time of year when we shuck sweaters and coats and step into the sunshine and flash a bit of skin. I am quite modest about just how much I shuck and just how much I flash, but this does not deter certain fellows. Oh, no, they are not shy at all. They step right up and hike up my t-shirt sleeve, all the better to check out my tattoos.
“Oh, it’s just me, I’m just looking,” a stranger told me the other day, as he slipped a finger beneath my sleeve and gave it a yank.
The guy in the subway took a more coy approach. “You’re pretty,” he dribbled, giving me the once-over and running a hand through his hair in what I assume he thought was a hot gesture. “Oh for god’s sake, give it a rest,” was out of my mouth before I realised what I was saying. I’m not usually that blunt, ordinarily would have muttered something weak and stupid like “thanks”, becoming complicit in the man’s inappropriate come-on.
It seems patience is running thin this spring, and not just my own. Yesterday, I received this email from my sister:
“…today, after YEARS of quietly fuming while creepy guys say inappropriate things and then feeling really slimy and pissed off afterward–today, I finally yelled at a complete stranger in public, and IT WAS AWESOME!”
Apparently, some dude came up to her at a streetcar stop and suggested they hook up, assuring my sister he knew how to make a babe like her feel real good. At first, she rolled her eyes, then crossed her arms and turned away. Still, he persisted, until at last she blurted, “Where the fuck are your manners?! No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend! Why on earth would you think women want to be spoken to this way? I can’t fucking believe you!”
This is not to say that all come-ons are disgusting, all appearance-related remarks are unwelcome, and shouting down strangers is universally appropriate. When a driver nearly does me in while I cycle a congested street, it feels great to flip the bird in response. But, do I really need to? Really? Or, could I just let it go? It’s a complex process, balancing the details in my palms and weighing a situation. Shouting at everyone who does me wrong–not ok. Shouting at someone who scopes out my tits, expresses enthusiastic approval, and persistently offers free and abundant sex? Probably ok. Shouting at someone who nearly kills me with a vehicle then blames me for sharing the road? Maybe ok, maybe not.
Things slide quickly from catharsis to behaving in an uncivil fashion. I high-fived my sister for sticking up for herself, because it took years of harassment before she reached “fuck you!” I know what she means when she describes feeling sleezy after politely declining unwelcome flirtations. I once told a boyfriend about a sidewalk encounter–some guy approached me to chit-chat about my ass and when I told him, gently, to scram, he wouldn’t. Instead of sympathizing, my boyfriend suggested that I’d encouraged the guy–body language, coy smile, failure to assert my disapproval or displeasure.
I’d lugged around my frustration all day, and instead of shouting at a rude stranger, I called my boyfriend an ass (which he was). And, therein lies the complicity. I failed to communicate with the harasser, and after first turning him into an anecdote, I used him to pick a fight with my partner. This stranger became a part of my life, meanwhile, the guy probably never gave me another thought once he turned and walked away.
Quietly accepting gifts from an unwelcome suitor spurs on his affections. Likewise, resorting to good manners in the face of poor ones can imply that calling me “cupcake” is ok. Sometimes, you need to stoop to the other person’s level, because that’s the only plane upon which the person can relate.
Of course, there are also boneheads who will never get a clue–I’m sure my sister was one of several lucky ladies that man admired on Tuesday. We can only cross fingers and hope he went home without finding any takers.