Wednesday, July 28, 2010


*Names and information have been changed

So, I thought it might be interesting to dissect an incident that occurred last week as a little vignette on being a woman in today's society.

Since I've lived in the same house for going on four years, I've taken certain pains to establish connections with the community around me. I make friendly conversation with my next door neighbor when I see him, I clean up other people's dog poop at the park when I have a spare bag, I try not to leave our trash cans on the street for more than a couple days after trash day, etc. I'm no Pollyanna paragon of gung ho community spirit, but I love the place I live and I take a certain enjoyment out of the little connections that accent my life.

A certain amount of these little connections are to be found at my nearby grocery store. I know that cervical cancer has traumatized one of the checkers and that she's now too frightened to get a colonoscopy for fear of what they might find. I know that one of the customer service desk women goes running by my house and has a baby poodle puppy. I like talking to these people and I like seeing them day after day, year after year. One of my favorite people has been a little checker boy that I will call Steve*. Steve is probably around 21, going to Salt Lake Community College, likes to hike, likes to help me with my grocery store problems (no more tilapia on display, all the avocados are overripe, can't seem to locate the fennel). I've looked forward to saying hi and having a brief 30 second chat with Steve whenever I see him.

So, it was no surprise that when I got back from Thailand, Steve asked me where I'd been since he hadn't seen me in a while. I explained about my trip and we talked briefly about the things I had seen there. He mentioned that he was thinking about applying for medical school and would I mind giving him my number in case he had any questions about public health? At this moment, little warning bells started ringing in my head, but I figured, the kid is 21, he seems earnest enough, why not? So I did.

That night, the texts and the late-night phone calls and the Facebook friend requesting began. It became apparent that Steve was not looking for a buddy to talk school plans with. So in the spirit of honesty, I sent him a quick email the following day. My email is as follows:

Hey [Steve]!

I figured I'd write you a quick note on Facebook, rather than have a text conversation. I hope you're having a lovely day today. :)

This is sort of weird, but I just wanted to clarify with you that while I'm definitely interested in being friends and activity partners and etc., I'm not available for a relationship right now. I apologize if I'm terribly narcissistic in even bringing this up- for all I know, you're just wanting to have another friend on Facebook and go for hikes occasionally! I just try to make that clear with people from the getgo so that there isn't any awkwardness or miscommunication between friends.

Anyway, from your pictures, it looks like you like to do stuff outside- camping, etc. Have you ever been to the San Rafael Swell? If not, may I just TOTALLY recommend it right now? :) It's one of my favorite places in the whole world.

Have a great day!

Not too harsh, right? Pretty direct? Writing emails of this sort gets tricky, as any girl can tell you, because while you don't want to be misunderstood, you also don't want to offend someone. However, I didn't have to wait long for the following response:

Thanks for clarifying with me what you want. I am not really looking for a relationship either right now. I would like to hang out and go do things with you. this may sound weird to ask but would you want to be just freinds with some benefits on the side that we just keep on the down low?hope your having a great day and would you want to hang out sometime?


There isn't enough space on the internet to describe what is wrong with this email (grammar? spelling? Not even going to GO there), so let me just take one thing.

I was IMing my friend when I received that email, so I shared it with him. His immediate comment: "Yeah, he thinks you're a slut or something."

Yes. He DOES think I'm a slut. My 21-year old grocery bagger Steve thinks I'm easy.

You might feel compelled to defend Steve against the imminent skewering that is about to happen. The whole, "he's young and stupid" argument, or maybe "what's so wrong with asking for what you want?" argument. Or MAYBE, deep down, you're thinking something more insidious, like "what did she do to make him think that she was open to something like that?"

And the shitty thing is that, even as a strong feminist, as someone who openly defends women's rights to sexual expression, to taking the lead in relationships, to making the first move, to swearing and talking frankly about sex, MY first thought was, "My god, what did I do to make him think that I'd be open to something like this?" I quickly scanned through my head, reviewing past conversations for any hint of inappropriateness on my part, trying to remember if I'd ever gone to the grocery store sans bra (definitely, but also sans makeup and hair brushing), trying to figure out anything that might have led some random dude to think that I was, basically, a slut. Because of course it's MY responsibility to control what men think about.

Apparently though, according to the results of a study done by a Christian website called, "The Rebelution" on women and modesty, a woman doesn't even have to dress provocatively or say provocative things in order to be considered a slut!

So let's see here- I'm pretty sure I've walked around the grocery store. Pretty sure I've probably stretched once or twice. I've definitely bent over in an attempt to retrieve rogue produce. And, no doubt, the scrub bottoms I've occasionally worn as pajamas have served their insidious purpose as the "technically innocent" outfit with naughty nurse connotations (no actual medical practice need be involved!). No wonder Steve was confused as to my slut-ness! I am basically a walking SEX FOR HIRE sign!

All Christian man modesty insanity aside, it was really disturbing to me to see the culturally reinforced stereotypical interplay in this interaction even though it was relatively harmless. Here is a man who knows next to nothing about me other than my first name, who believes that sexual proposition to an almost total stranger is completely appropriate. And the woman in the situation, me, upon receiving such an utterly tasteless and offensive proposition,immediately tries to figure out what it is that SHE did to mislead said asshole. Classic sexism 101.

It gets even worse because, rather than dealing with the situation as I would have liked to, with a big "WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TALKING TO?" email, I hesitated. I didn't want to make waves or cause a fuss because I wanted to be able to shop at my grocery store without feeling deathly uncomfortable every time I saw Steve. And so I held back my indignant anger. I fell back on the most socially acceptable rejection excuse for a woman in today's society because, true or not, it's always easier to reject someone under the guise of a relationship than to reject them because they're a misogynistic disrespecting shitbag with no common courtesy.

Hey [Steve],

Unfortunately, perhaps I was not clear in my first email: I am not available because I'm seeing someone else.

However, this little interplay of weakness only led to the following response:

Don't worry about it. I was just seeing if there was any possibility. we can just be freinds. and maybe if the oppurtunity rises if your not seeing anybody else just let me know and we could do stuff?

After which, I promptly deleted him from my phone and Facebook and thanked my lucky stars that I'd only allowed him "limited" profile access. But I'm angry. I'm angry at myself for not standing up for myself. I'm angry that I felt the pressure to be nice to him even in the face of utter disrespect. I'm angry that I didn't tell him that the real reason I wasn't interested in having "something on the side" was because he's a 21 year old checker at the grocery store who I'm not attracted to and who treated me like a sex object. I'm angry at the thought that he may still be under the impression that his attempts to solicit me constitute an appropriate way to address women. And I'm angry that all my compromising didn't help:

I still don't want to go to my grocery store.