January 15, 2009

Hard to Define

Last week there was a really great post on Jezebel called Close Encounters: When The Nice Guy Down The Street Makes You Uncomfortable. Here's an excerpt, but I recommend a read of the article, and the multitude of comments from readers.

The other day I was talking with a friend who said she had a problem. "Not a big
problem, but it's bothering me." She explained that she frequents a 24-hour
market near her apartment and that lately the guy who works there has been
making her uncomfortable. "I think I was just too friendly," she said. She added
that she felt guilty. "He's nice; it's not threatening; I even think he's
married - it's just a lot of 'I've missed your pretty smile,' and 'you haven't
been in this week' — and I kind of dread going in there!" I knew exactly what
she meant. But when I tried to explain the situation to a male friend, he looked
at me blankly. "Does he insult her?" No. "Is he inappropriate?" Not exactly.
"He's just being friendly? What's the problem." The 'problem' of course, is that
as women we're vulnerable in ways guys can't appreciate. Sure, they can
comprehend that catcalling is offensive and that pervs rubbing against you on
the subway is disgusting. But they can't understand the smaller things you need
to guard against, day in and day out, that you can't be too friendly, because it
just leaves you...open.

I feel like this every single day. It's the reason I wear sunglasses at all times and walk faster than everyone else around me, wear headphones and read a book simultaneously, it's why the one time I thought I was being followed home, I walked around the block until I was sure I was alone. It's why I don't go to the corner store on Saturdays because the guy who works on that day told me to come in every Saturday just so he could see me. It's why I ignore every friend request because of the guy 20 years older than me who used to serve me coffee two years ago found me on Myspace and asked me out on a date.

I asked someone I know - a boy - to read the article because I wanted them to know that it's true and I do feel like that. They told me it was petty to complain - petty to feel upset about these "encounters". Which made me more upset than I probably should have been.

But at what point am I no longer being petty when I am upset about these things? At what point am I "justified" in complaining? Could it be that when the guy at work calls me sweetness and I complain, that's petty, but I have to wait until the day I catch him leering at me (hypothetical here) to be justified in being upset about it?

Some people do not understand social boundaries, for lack of a better term. If someone is invading my space, or forcing me into an unwanted, often inappropriate conversation, if I feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, I will not pity them or feel bad when I tell them to leave me alone. You cannot excuse someone who is not picking up on my blatant cues that I don't want to talk. When I'm sitting at the bus stop wearing headphones and reading, does it really look like I'm in the mood to be chatted up?

I guess the person I asked may not understand this feeling, because maybe it's never escalated to something more, and they've never had the urge to break into a frantic run just because there's someone walking a little too closely behind you. Maybe they've never felt the sick feeling in the bottom of your stomach when you realise the man behind the counter is leering at your boobs...and it's not like you can hide them. Is this my fault, did I wear something too revealing?

I'm most likely never going to stop feeling this way, and telling me it's petty is not exactly helping. I guess it was just nice to have somebody put the feeling in words - to know that I'm not being narcisstic, people everywhere feel like this. Why so prevalent?

As for me...I'm investing in a burqa.


  1. Attractiveness is a double edge sword.
    With this point established, it must be said that men lacking in social and romantic skills (or just the pure art of talking to a woman) will be in low supply of actual quality conversations with the fairer sex over their lifespan.

    Call this drivel, but yes, I understand where you are coming from. It's hard to fully understand as I don't have breasts for show, or the 'legs' or whatever does it for most creepies out there... But it's very interesting to note that men take any form of interaction as a compliment unless it's "fuck off". Think of it as some guy taking what he can get.

    Women with warm tendencies to strangers can be misinterpreted by the man, where as to a woman friendly conversation is all that was made, and nothing more.

    If I saw a girl I was attracted to at a bus stop I don't think I would hold back, but, I would be polite about it.

    Everything, and I mean everything, from saying hello to having sex is a balance between the woman and the man. By men randomly chasing after you, they come off needy, as well as other obvious traits such as creepy or scary.

    Best interactions are non needy, and flow both ways. What I mean by this is: you and the other person benefit from a a shared story, experience or meeting. All these things need small tweaks if you want to get it down right.

    I'm just saying, these "guys" are totally unaware how ridiculously mis-calibrated they are, and that comes across to women as obvious as someone running down the street on fire.

    And this is where you end up. Making a decision. How the fuck am I going to live my life day to day without getting hit on or coming across the wrong way to guys if I'm only intentionally saying hello and nothing more? Well you can ignore, disconnect, get angry and run... All of these options albeit harsh sounding are good. Saves you time telling every guy you're not interested, saves them the confusion of "is she interested in me?"

    You can also be polite, but that takes time, and more explanation :)

    Anyway, you should write a song about it.. kind of reminds me of a song by the Cure already.. the Subway song.

  2. Thanks for that Boweh. I just listened to that Cure song...it's awesome, very moody. I like the scream at the end too.

    My point was like you said, that guys like that do NOT know how to talk to women, maybe all people, and the fact that they've made it to adulthood without ever learning social cues like most people is astounding.
    You make it sound like they should be forgiven though, maybe I'm reading you wrong, but that's not how I feel at all. I shouldn't have to apologise when somebody else has not realised that they are making me uncomfortable.

    As for making a decision to stop it happening...I can't really do that. I never initiate conversation, but I can't stop someone from talking to me. I just have to ride em out until I can find a way out.

  3. My experience has been that these are not sheltered men in dire need of some social training. They are men fully aware of the power differential, fully aware that being called out on their behavior can be brushed away as "What....I was just being friendly!", fully aware they are making the woman uncomfortable and enjoying that.

    The "oh, the poor guy" attitude is way off base. And my options are not limited to running away or being polite. I have the option to be direct, blunt, and proactive by informing him to stop talking to me like that, stop calling me whatever pet name he has chosen, etc.

    A lot of men depend on the way women are raised to be polite, just smile, don't defend herself, to get away with crossing boundaries and dropping respect when interacting with a woman.

    Gentlemen: if a man called your wife or girlfriend "sweetness", or told her he misses her pretty smile, or asks her to stop by on certain days just so he can see her...is he still simply being polite?

  4. Thank you so much for your comment Smirking Cat, you've put forward an idea I didn't think to go into, and you're absolutely right that these men know they can get away with it.
    Your last paragraph is particularly great - it really isn't just being normal and polite anymore when that happens, it's looking for something more.
    Thanks again.

  5. I talked to my boyfriend about this post, and he asked, "What if the guy in the store was gay and told a man he hopes he comes back so he can see him again, has a pretty smile, or any of the other comments?" Interesting that I believe there would be very different reactions to that scenario about whether he was just being polite or socially awkward!

  6. Haha...good point. I put that scenario forward to my boyfriend and he said "oh I've had it happen to me before. You just get over it."
    I still don't think he can grasp the feeling at all, as he wasn't threatened or upset at all by it.

  7. While a compliment from a stranger every now and then is nice (ok, I'm lying, it's usually creepy...) having piercings & tattoos in 'modern' society makes a lot of people think they have the right to comment on my appearance. A lot of the time I get backhanded compliments, which I take begrudgingly, but sometimes strangers feel it within their right to touch my tattoo. I used to accommodate their curiosity, now I just back away and make it known that they're invading my personal space.

    Every time I do that, the offender is, more often than not, offended that I have a problem with them (STRANGERS) touching my inner bicep.

    Most people are oblivious to other's discomfort... I have no logical solutions, outside of the burqa... but unfortunately in this backwards town that would come with it's own set of oblivious neanderthals... :)

  8. I've encountered this a lot too, but mostly whenever I have crazy coloured hair, something about it makes people think you're open game for conversation ALL THE TIME and don't mind being underhandedly complimented: "did you stay in the pool too long? looks like you used the wrong shampoo".
    Good for you that you let them know you're uncomfortable, after all, how is anyone ever going to learn about limits when they're not shown?

  9. I think more guys would understand why women feel weird about these situations if they read more stalker cases/articles that end horribly for the woman. Many times they begin this way; and the woman is just being friendly; nice; platonic and it takes off from there in the guy's mind. It's one thing to be paranoid, but it's another to feel justifiably cautious. This is something I am not really sure many men would "get".

  10. Geez, man, YOU try having the entire world telling you 'GONNA GET RAEPD' your entire life, and see how unexpected, unwanted 'friendliness' from strangers sits with YOU.

    Petty my ass. Someone's privilege was showing. :(

  11. Ha...yep...guess who said that to me too.

  12. Ahh so that's why you ignored my FB friendship offer!

    Sorry if I was one of those guys with no social skills *blush*

  13. Sorry JT...I don't add people on facebook that I haven't met in real life. It's just how I roll.


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