Feminism Vs. Sexism

The other day I ran into a friend who was on a date. He was all dressed up and I was happy to see him excited but whenever I know a guy friend is starting to date somebody new, I get that big sister protector feeling that can sometimes manifest as something that might seem, to a newcomer, like I've got a bit of a shell. Really, though, it's just a healthy layer of suspicion. 

Before I met this girl I said to myself, "Be nice, be welcoming, be open, because she's probably great," so when she approached, I introduced myself and commented on her hair. She had this really nice color and, since beginning to work in a hair salon, I've taken special note of good hair color. In response, she complimented my earrings, and I, super playfully, said, "Oh, thaaaaanks!" 

She then turned to my friend and said in what I interpreted as a patronizing tone but what I think she probably thought sounded cute and playful, "See? This is what girls do. We sit around and compliment each other."

First of all, I hate being referred to as a girl. I'm closer to 30 than 20 and I identify, if anything, as a woman, but often feel more androgynous than feminine, and 'girl' just feels diminutive--a shallow adjective that leaves all the important things out. Second of all, she made a sweeping judgment about me. I was being nice and trying to meet her where she was, and as a result, put me into a superficial category with her that I don't belong in. 

In order to separate myself, I said, "Well, actually, I compliment all people equally, regardless of gender," to which she responded while looking coyly at my friend and again with the tone, "I only compliment women. Never men. I'm just a feminist that way."

If she were being facetious, I probably would have laughed, but I am pretty sure that although I doubt she considers herself a feminist, she actually thinks that feminists are defined by their negative feelings toward men. There was nothing I could say to her without pointing out what I thought to be a shallow perception of feminism, and I didn't want to embarrass her, so instead, I made the situation worse by awkwardly staying mute, and then turning around to go do something else. 

This is a problem. Yes, my awkwardness in weird social situations like that is a problem, but the perception that feminism is a negative thing is a bigger problem. I know this has been written about and talked about by so many academics that it would be silly for me to write much about it here, but I am really bothered by this sexist perception of what was meant to be (as I understand it) equalizing movements. It's not, "Down with men and treat them like shit because they're dogs." It's something more like, "Hey man, I am as capable as you and want the chance to benefit from all the same privileges as you, in and out of the workforce, including being able to move through the world without being catcalled for having a vagina."

Personally, I think it's a really radical act, especially in my life, to be really sweet and gracious toward men. Doing so doesn't require me to sacrifice self respect, and instead creates a safe space for dialogue. My natural inclination is to bristle and defend as a result of experience and information, but I feel that acting in that way just widens the gap and undoes the important work done by social movements like feminism. There are some situations where a person is repeatedly disrespectful, and therefor maintaining an open dialogue would be unhealthy, but I have been trying to meet people where they're at and talk about things that bother me rather than just shutting my mouth and walking away like I did the other night. 

In a different situation I might have begun a dialogue with her, but the timing was bad.

So what do you do in a situation like that? How do you handle it? How do you open a dialogue about touchy issues with people who maybe have never, for example, taken a women's studies course, without making things awkward? I could use a little help.

Bathroom Bully

After work last night I went to The Crunkleton with a couple of ladies and after our first drink we noticed a rowdy bunch to our left. One lady in particular was bouncing around and rubbing herself against various parts of the bar saying, "It's my birthday! Happy 21st to me," and variations on that. The woman was clearly not 21, but more likely in her late '30s. I think she thought she was being cute and that somebody would hand her a drink, say, "Happy 21st," wink, and begin laughing merrily with her. This may have worked for somebody who wasn't acting obnoxious but it did not work for her.

We looked on, but only briefly. The Crunkleton is a nice place with leather furniture, folk artist Michael Banks on the walls, and floor to ceiling shelves of fine spirits. This is not a place where people come to dry hump and yell about their birthdays. The scene was so out of place that it was entertaining. 

One of us left and so there were only two. I got the hiccups, an event that's inevitable if I have more than two drinks, and of course I got an overwhelming urge to pee not a moment later. I headed to the bathroom and regretted doing so as soon as I opened the door. The birthday woman and her right hand gal pal were already in the one-stall lavatory. The were hooting and hollering and I was hiccuping and I just tried to disappear against the wall. The birthday girl started trying to joke with me and even leaned up against me. When she and her friend realized I wasn't reciprocating, their attitudes changed. 

They actually started bullying me. These are grown women and they started calling me names and demanding to know what the hell was wrong with me. I just repeated, over and over, that all I wanted was to use the bathroom in peace. They called me a white prude at least three times.

Now if they had just sneered at me or said something weird, I would have brushed it off, but this lasted minutes while I was in the stall. I was actually afraid that they were going to push the door, which had no latch, in on me. The verbal bullying was escalating that much. 

They only stopped when I said, "Look, I know the bartender, so you better stop or else I'm going to tell him and he's going to make you leave." This riled them up for a second and then they left. I did tell the bartender, who also happened to be the owner, and I looked down the bar to see the women staring at me like they were going to be waiting for me in a dark alley or something. 

He did ask them to leave and when they were settling up, they made a huge fuss about the $70 bill which included drinks for four or five people. That's pretty standard for The Crunkleton, and if you've been there, you know it's totally worth it, but one girl was actually throwing her purse down in a booth, yelling, and gesturing at the owner. I watched in disbelief and could only think of the children I've seen throw temper tantrums over the years.

The whole thing was so weird and what bothered me most about it was that although this was an exaggerated version of other small 'groupthink' situations I've witnessed, it was truly a situation where I was being targeted because I refused to join in. I wasn't in the mood to be a part of their fun which resulted, I suppose, in them feeling rejected and only knowing how to deal with those feelings by acting out. It reminded me of being in high school and being faced with the expectation to steal, or do certain drugs, or have sex, because the people around me felt like if you weren't with them you were against them.

It's scary what people are willing to do when they feel rejected or their pride is compromised. 

Can you think of a time you've joined in to avoid being bullied? I can. Comment if you feel like sharing.