January 15, 2018

On Male Entitlement: Dating, Sex and Public Existence



"Give me one good reason you won't go out with me."
Because I don't want to. 

"No" needs no explanation. 
 
I was sitting alone in a piano bar, as I often do, because when I'm not writing under a snarky pseudonym, I'm out in real life singing as myself. And so I often frequent piano bars, jazz clubs and the like, and often do so alone because I go strictly for the music. Not to socialize, not to drink, and certainly not to get "picked up".

The deliberateness of my being in such venues is always clear - I enter alone, usually neglect to order a drink, find myself a seat close to the band and then maintain focus throughout the set - and yet I never get through one of these nights without being approached. Rarely am I approached about the music by another music lover, and I can tell the difference because lovers of jazz tend not to converse about it while it's happening. Instead I typically find myself searching for the polite version of, "I came here for jazz, you're talking over the bass solo, and your head is blocking my view of the stage," or, in other words, "leave me alone."

You get the picture...

So there I was, in the piano bar, when right on time (not ten minutes after I'd settled in) a random dude approached. He started by sitting way too close, with his body turned toward me which put his back to the stage. As such, he was blocking my view, and seemed oblivious to my pointedly looking around him as he tried - and mostly failed - to make conversation. He missed my gentle conversational nudge when he asked what I was doing here "all by myself" (as though it was uncustomary to stumble upon a grown woman without a chaperone) and I responded, "Watching the show." He also missed my meaning when, upon the third time he attempted to "casually" touch me, I swiveled my arm in a way that would have made Tony Jaa proud.

(Sidebar: Yes, we women are perceptive enough to see you clumsily trying to find a way to make innocent physical contact. We wish you'd be perceptive enough to correctly interpret the fact that we're leaning away at a 45 degree angle.)

I did all the things we women do to not be considered rude while at the same time not being inviting. I avoided eye contact, and kept my responses brief. When he wasn't speaking I directed my attention to exactly where I wanted to - the stage. When he suggested we meet for lunch sometime (three minutes into coming over, less than a minute after asking "whereabouts I worked") I laughed it off as though he'd said we should teleport to the moon sometime and continued focusing on the stage. Eventually he took the hint (or so I thought) and walked away. At least, for a time.

At first I was glad he was gone, but I was just the tiniest bit disappointed in myself for being relieved that he'd finally picked up on my cues. Why was I giving off cues? Why didn't I just flatly say, "No thank you, I'm not interested." This incredibly uncomfortable, extremely invasive dance was one I danced at least twice a week. If I added up all the time I lost trying to find a polite way to rebuff people over the course of a year, I'd literally come out with days having been wasted. Days! So why did I merely imply, and lean away, and pretend to have an intermittent inner ear problem? Why not just be more direct?

Ah, but there were many reasons. First, that I wanted to continue to enjoy my night. Because I knew that a man who came on that aggressively would be just as aggressive if rebuffed sternly and directly. Why shouldn't we have lunch some time would turn into why did I have to be such a bitch (and it wasn't so much that I didn't want to be called or thought of as a bitch, but that I didn't want to spend the duration of the set arguing about/defending said bitchiness). He was already uncomfortably close, and I'd spent enough time in bars to know how quickly proximity could turn into the "accidentally" spilled drink; the uninvited grab. He'd proven already to be single minded and pushy, offering to buy me a drink several times a minute, and each time I said no suggestively telling me that it was okay to have just one, neglecting to consider that if I wanted a drink I would already be drinking one because it wasn't fucking 1940 and I had a damn job, thank you. I wanted to avoid the interaction ending in raised voices, hand gestures, glasses being banged on counter tops or any other scenario that could result in being asked to leave or being followed out, otherwise I might have to spring for a cab ride home and that hadn't been in my plan. 

To wit, I subconsciously chose to gently avoid his advances rather than directly rejecting them for my own safety.

I cannot tell you how much this realization pissed me off. That I felt obligated to politely play along with a thoughtless invasion of my time and space because the alternative might prove unsafe. I also thought about my demeanor during the annoying dance. I was smiling. Not because I was interested, and certainly not because I was happy. I was laughing uncomfortably the entire time as though it were all one hilarious game. But on the inside I was counting every stupid second, just waiting for it to end. This wasn't fun for me. It wasn't pleasant for me. It wasn't even flattering. Horrified, I realized I was living a nightmare of sorts. Though I was vehemently against being told to smile, and quick to shoot off feminist retorts when asked, here I was having smiled in a moment where I didn’t genuinely want to for no other reason than centuries of social programming ultimately meant to please and cushion the ego of a man.

What? No that’s not steam coming out of my ear...

Anyway...

I thought I’d lost him but then, as do weeds, vermin and famously, roaches, he came back. I vowed to be more direct this time. He asked me what song I wanted him to sing by way of forcing my participation in his little game. I told him he should sing whatever he wanted and averted my gaze. He asked me again, and this time I flatly told him that I was the wrong person to ask for suggestions. He’d vowed to be more direct too, apparently.

“I’m trying to find a way to hit on you,” he said. “I can’t seem to find the right way, help me out.”

“There isn’t a right way.” I erupted into hysterics then, and this time my smile was genuine. I’d told the truth.

“I could just come out and ask you to lunch [again], or dinner.”

“Yes you could, but I’m saying I’m not interested in that," I replied.

“Why not? Are you married?” Sure, because that was the only plausible explanation for my disinterest? I wish I'd said yes, though it probably wouldn't have helped.

I ended up putting on a synthetic, strained face and saying that I had just gotten out of a serious relationship and wasn't feeling emotionally ready to date yet. He responded by telling me that he understood breakups, he was divorced, and continuing to pursue me. I told him that it was nice that he related but in fact I wasn't looking to start a lonely hearts club, I just wasn't looking to date right now. He still found reasons to argue with me.

The more frustrating part of this was that my story wasn't even true. True, I'd broken up with a guy a couple of hours ago. But I'd been 100% comfortable with that decision and had I met the right guy I wouldn't have been pedaling some sob story about being fresh out of a relationship. I remember sitting there thinking that I'd chosen the wrong excuse. I should have said that I had a boyfriend, or that I was married, but even then (as has happened when I've tried to employ such tactics) he would have started up with prying questions about the state of my relationship, perhaps started to tell me that I was too young to seriously commit. Anything to avoid the reality that I wasn't interested in him!

When it was clear he wasn't going to win he reluctantly left me alone for another twenty minutes, but I still wasn't rid of him permanently, despite the fact that I'd started to get a bit rude. After all of this my mood was ruined and I decided to head out. As I put on my coat he came over to slip me a note and declare that he was headed out himself too (in other words, following me) and I ended up deliberately walking to a train that wasn't mine and taking it in the opposite direction of my apartment for a stop to avoid being followed home.

I've gone into such detail describing the scene because I want to emphasize that at no point did I actually express interest toward this man. In fact, I did everything I could to express the opposite, and yet he continued to pursue me as though my aversion to being pursued were incidental; just some measly little detail or obstacle in his path that he simply had to overcome. Not all men behave this way, and most men do not actively believe, in their conscious minds, that women are not autonomous human beings. However, this situation clearly illustrates the problematic way that men are taught to interact with women. The ideas that govern our dynamics place women in a position to be gamed, to be won, to be convinced into doing ____ with _____, as though we have no preferences and ideas of our own. As though we are blank canvases to be projected onto. As though we are empty vessels to be filled (no pun intended).

The idea that this is possible, let alone that it is customary and correct, instills a certain entitlement in even well meaning men. Women become goals via this mentality, and most goals can be achieved with the right amount of effort. By this reasoning every woman is an option to the man that only puts his mind to his goal and works the hardest to wear her down (as Urkel famously did Laura, going so far as to turn himself into Stefan Urquelle). Yet most men will openly admit that there are women that they are not interested in and would not be interested in regardless of the time, attention, money or other quantifiable markers of effort she might spend to change those circumstances. Women who ignore this are considered crazy, and portrayed that way in the media, whereas men who ignore a woman's disinterest in the same fashions are considered...men. Consider the fact that in most movies and TV shows were a woman lies about her identity to get close to a man she is usually portrayed as being mentally unstable and has some sort of nefarious purpose, but in movies and TV shows where a man does the same, not only is he portrayed to be cute, charming and resourceful, but in the end the two usually laugh about his deceit and he gets the girl. (Love you Audrey, Doris and Natalie, but damn...)

Given all this it is clear that there is a double standard, the nature of which ignores a woman's autonomy as it begins with the presumption that her preferences toward whatever man might pursue her are inconsequential. Her right to choose who she gets involved with is completely disregarded, meanwhile a man's right to pursue her by nearly whatever means is fiercely defended.

(Sidebar: Right now, for example, in the wake of #MeToo and the Time's Up movement, French women are claiming that men are unduly under attack, and that their way of life which features the french kiss and the French lover is likewise being threatened. Mind that the country is still in need of more responsible laws with respect to consensual sex after the clear rape of an 11 year old was legally minimized just last year. And while the French are indeed known for being romantic, they are also known (if stereotypically so) for being a bit pervy and inappropriate, and if you don't believe me, ask PepĂ© le Pew. The difference is determined by boundaries, lines, those which Robin Thicke found himself taking heat for when suggesting they were blurred, and the middle of possibly the most significant moment women's rights has seen in a century is not the time to start complaining that boundaries might interfere with a country's romantic image. Ugh. Seriously, when we're finally seeing articles surface en mass about what constitutes harassment, what constitutes consent, we're still defending a man's right to "flirt" no matter how the woman being flirted with feels? How many inappropriate touches, and comments, and traumatized women and children, and rapes and murders will it take for people to wake the fuck up?! But I digress...)


This is evident when a man proceeds to make "small talk" with an uninterested woman even as she politely tells him five different ways that she is not interested. He tells himself that he is pursuing her, but this is ironic because she is the one looking away, leaning away, refusing drinks, getting uncomfortable, getting upset, repeatedly saying no, thank you or just flat out saying go away. So he isn't pursuing her per se, but rather he is pursuing a very specific type of experience with her, in spite of her. In other words, he isn't pursuing someone, he is pursuing something, and the fact that she is someone who is actually denying him the thing he wants from her [read: a drink, a conversation, a smile, a phone number, sex, a relationship] is of little to no importance to him. He continues to pursue it, the thing he wants from her, trying to charm, bargain and convince as a means of getting her out of his way. The fact that she is herself at all is incidental at this point, as though the thing or things he wants from her can be taken or given to him independent of the woman attached.

As he haggles with her the way one might in the lot of a used car dealership, he is effectively haggling over the price of something that has no price; something that cannot be bought.

Something that is not a thing at all, but a person. A person with thoughts, and opinions, those of which may sound something like this...

You are not entitled to my time, my smile, my attention, my eye contact, my "hello," my "good morning," my company, my body, my anything simply because you want it, and you are certainly not entitled to get upset and act out toward me on that feeling when you do not get what you want from me.

You are not entitled to pursue your interest in me beyond the point that said interest is clearly not returned, because unlike your interest in say, a slice of pizza, I am not for sale.

I am not waiting in some bar the way cars wait in shop windows for you to discover and decide which you want to leave with.

I did not get dressed for your attention.

I do not exist for your observation.

I did not come here to meet you.

I am not "available" unless or until some other man has put a ring on my finger proclaiming that I belong to him now.

I belong to myself.

Being my friend, being in my company, is a privilege. Time spent with me is not a game show or endurance test that you have failed to conquer when it does not end in fucking. Conversation is not an obstacle en route to my vagina. You should be so lucky to end up in my friend zone.

You are not owed sex for your dinner invitation, fondling for holding the door, or even a smile for your compliment, because owing implies trade, that you paid for something that someone else is now obligated to deliver to you, and I am not a thing - neither currency nor a commodity - to be bought, sold, traded, priced, earned, bargained for, won or transferred.

I am not in the way of you getting "it."

Because there is no "it." 

I am her.

Me.

My "no" requires no justification because you are not entitled to me. The precedent set over the generations may have taught you otherwise, but as you will come to understand...

Time's up.  










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