Synecdoche, New York
So I have a confession. I can be a little bit antagonistic when guys approach me at restaurants. Or bars. Or anywhere. As in, I’m sort of the angry bar girl. It’s pretty terrible actually and definitely something I have tried to work on. Now sometimes I think the guys deserve it. For example, I was once wingmanning for a friend and the guy I was talking to informed me that I’d have to sleep on the left side of the bed that night because he liked to be closer to the bathroom. I kid you not, this happened. And it was both hysterical and awful all at once. Hysterical because, dude, get some game. Awful because he didn’t see anything wrong with what he’d said. He was a good-looking kid and probably got most of the girls he talked to. In his mind I suppose that by virtue of speaking to him for 20 minutes at a bar, I had given him permission to drunkenly bone me that night and then roll over… on the right side of the bed.
What is this? How is this acceptable? Not just for women to accept but for men to even think? Its genuinely mind-boggling to me and while this example was pretty extreme in its level of douche-baggy-ness, its definitely not a unique situation. And so, sometimes my angry bargirl routine is appropriate. But sometimes the line is a little blurrier and the proper response is difficult to discern.
One specific instance that I have a lot trouble with is when significantly holder men hit on younger women (in this instance, me). I know it should be viewed as flattering, but I just feel sort of indignant – like, why does this guy think its okay to hit on someone 15, 20, 25 years younger than him? Why is it viewed as anything other than insulting and vaguely creepy? When guys like that come up to me, all I can think about is the various women their own age who are considered “too old” for them to date. Coming from South Florida, this is everywhere. It was routine when I was in high school to find out that my friend’s dads were divorcing their wives for a younger model. It just grosses me out and pisses me off. Why do these men consider themselves desirable as they age while their female counterparts are considered on the shelf?
A few weeks ago when I was home in Florida with my family, my mom and I were out to dinner in Boca. Just as we got our drinks, a man in his late 30’s/ early 40’s (read: at least 15 years older than me) walked up to our table and said something smarmy about my looks. I responded simply, “Dude, I am 23. Why are you hitting on me, I am way too young for you.” Now, maybe this was too harsh, but remember, I’m doing that whole directness thing? I don’t think I said it in a rude or angry tone, I was just honest – why was this guy coming up to my table at a regular restaurant and hitting on me, a girl clearly in her early 20’s. I just think its unacceptable and I think its time young women call these guys on their shit – like, dude. I. AM. TOO. YOUNG. FOR. YOU. Stop thinking its cool or cute to hit on me. Stop thinking its cool or cute to hit on anyone my age.
I was doubly irritated because he said this in front of my mother. How was I supposed to respond? Be flattered by his attention? I was embarrassed, not flattered. And I was angry. My mother is genuinely beautiful – gorgeous. She gets hit on all the time (to the point that its embarrassing). And this asshole comes up to me, the younger women, with a compliment. Couldn’t even be suave enough to compliment my mother and me both.
The guy left, having learned no lesson whatsoever (in response to my comment about my age, he said something awkward and then as he walked away, tried to save face by again complimenting me, this time with a supremely uncomfortable: “You know, you’ve got two eyes? They’re cute” – What???? What. Does. This. Mean). Once he was gone, my mom and I started talking about it. She thought I should have been nicer – politely accept his compliment and then mention in a sweet, non-aggressive way that hinted at its inappropriate nature.
And I gotta say, I just don’t know. I felt pretty satisfied with what I said. If I could have made him even more uncomfortable, I would have. But my mom does has a point – what is the right way to handle these things?
I was thinking about my daughter’s blog post from a few days ago, “Our Feminist Failings” and it really made me evaluate the little things in my own life that I let slip or make mistakes in. One area I’ve discussed before is speaking about bodies at the gym. As I get older, I really try to get better about removing myself from the judgment game that seems to happen among women so often. A few years ago, I made it a new years resolution to stop judging women and for the most part, I have actually stuck to this – it’s hard enough for us to feel the constant pressure to be thin enough, young enough, sexy enough – I don’t want to add to this problem. But you know, we all screw up and disengaging from the judgment game can be really tough. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to stay focused on the important stuff, I slip up. And unfortunately, this happened last night. Again. Now, this time, I had some help from my friends.
It started out pretty innocently. “Doesn’t she have the best body?” my friend asked as we waited for our class to start. Another friend chimed in, “Oh yeah, look at her, she is so thin.” Hearing this, I really tried to stay strong. To the friend who made the initial comment, I responded that she had a great body as well; however this just led to some really odious comparisons of her hips and thighs against the thinner woman’s. I brought up that I think we all are too hard on ourselves – constantly critical of our bodies, never judging ourselves good enough, thin enough, young enough… you name it. You know that scene in “Mean Girls”? The one where all the girls stand in front of the mirror and find some insignificant detail of themselves to be dissatisfied with? Well unfortunately girls, this doesn’t end in high school. Hearing my friends run through their own bodies in this really unhealthy way, I made what I thought was a great point. I talked about the pressure this sort of judgment puts on all women to be dissatisfied with what we’ve got. It makes it virtually impossible to feel good about ourselves – if we do, rather than coming across as confident and content, it comes across as vain. I also pointed out that the three of us are in good shape- we’re all thin and work hard to keep our bodies healthy.
After listening to what I said, they seemed to really consider what I had said. We moved on to a new conversation. And then, just as the class was about to start and I got into position in front of the room-spanning mirror, I looked at my self hard… and turned to my friend and said, “Do these leggings make my thighs look weird?” Oh dear. My friend knew immediately what that code meant and she laughed. “I thought we weren’t supposed to judge ourselves,” she responded.
So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.