Having an audience

If you are a lady, you know that there are things that us gals deal with in our daily lives that are highly gendered in a highly annoying way (I tried to make it sound more fun by saying “us gals,” did it work?). For example, our bodies are often commented upon. “Good” comments, bad comments, all comments: our bodies are conflated with our worth and this message is brought home in a myriad of ways. It’s the guy in the break room at work that tells you to “smile!” and then chides you when you don’t, as if your face belongs to him. It’s the cat call on the street that can range from a general comment all the way to alarmingly specific talk being yelled about specific body parts. It’s not just from dudes either. Us gals (still saying it!) do it to each other as well. That unsolicited commentary on my, my, you have lost weight! Look at your ass, girl! It’s the you look tired or the your roots are showing stuff. I am not saying that I am a person who is not invested in how I look. Sucka please, do you know me? I am just saying that, as a lady, our bodies and the way they look are things that get pointed out to us, often. So, so, so often. I am not saying anything that we don’t already know, right? Microaggressions be everywhere, homies.

My ethnicity gets pointed out to me just as often. The where are you from, no, I mean where are you really from? stuff, or even better the what ARE you question. The do you know the Kamasutra “jokes” from dudes. The so why don’t you wear a dot on your head stuff. I had someone in a work setting once ask me if the way I communicated was “a cultural thing” because I didn’t brag about a work accomplishment in a meeting. Brown people are humble, is what that meant. Humble and inscrutable. Sigh.

So I have my ways of dealing with this stuff, as everyone who deals with it does. Ignore it, retort, laugh at it, correct it, try to explain it, vent to friends about it, do nothing. It is so common, so every day, that I find it impossible to have a consistent reaction. It just depends on the day.

You know what is kind of a funny thing though? When something like this happens in front of a person that doesn’t usually see this sort of behavior. This has happened in my vicinity a few times lately and I have gotten SUCH A KICK OUT OF IT, you guys.

The first instance was at the local shopping center. Nordic Boy and I parked in the parking garage and then got in the elevator. Inside the elevator was a man who looked to be about in his 60s or so. And rather than direct his body commentary to me, he looked at Nordic Boy and said “your girl has such SHINY HAIR,” and before Nordic Boy could even register this, he continued. “So lucky that you get to LOOK AT THAT. Such a BEAUT.”

Now, if I had been by myself and this old dude would have engaged with me about my hair and getting to LOOK AT THAT and told me I was a BEAUT like a prized thoroughbred, I don’t know for sure how I would have reacted, but I can tell you that I would not have been one teeny iota of surprised. I would have nodded, or said thanks, or sarcastically said “I shined my hair up just for this elevator ride” or said “TOTAL BEAUT” or what have you. This is just a thing that happens while being a lady in public, so no surprise.

You guys, Nordic Boy was STUNNED. It was high-larious. It was like so many things happened on his face. Among them: what am I supposed to say? Why are you talking about her like she is not there? DUDE. This is my partner, not my possession. WHAT DO I DO WHAT DO I SAY WHAAAAA. And you know what he ended up doing in that moment? He looked that guy dead in his face and just did a shaking of his head. That’s all he could muster. Just: no, dude. No. Stop it.

I cannot tell you how funny I found this. It made me think: oh yeah. No one is walking around telling my dude that they want to LOOK at him like that. Or telling him that he has shiny hair. Or that he is a BEAUT. He has no idea what. to. do.

I’ve got another one. I was standing with my friend waiting for the bus. There was a lady there waiting near us. She says to me, all friendly: What a day I am having! I say back to her: busy day? And she says back to me: yes! Wouldn’t it be nice if they piped in music at the bus stop? Something soothing? Like, what would you want it to be? SITAR MUSIC? And then she looked at me, proud of insightful knowledge about my obvious sitar fandom. Again, I am not one bit surprised by this comment. A little annoyed, yes. A little bit like I wanted to say “AH YES, SITAR MUSIC IS THE SONG OF MY BLOOD.” A little bit sad for the both of us that we are in a situation where this is how she wants to connect with me. But honestly, mostly so so bored with it because I so so get shit like that constantly. I just let it hang there, not answering, not looking mad, not looking anything. Blank.

Later, my friend that was standing there with me was BUGGING. Shocked, she was. Shocked! “Oh. My. God. The sitar thing!” she said. “I know, right?” I said, and we had a good laugh about it. She was like “you had such a poker face. You should play poker.” And I was like “I can’t explain to you how much that shit is normalized to me. I mean, I notice it, but it’s all the time, so.”

I don’t know why these times were so fun for me, to see this happen. Maybe there is a part of me that is a bit sad about how normalized it is in my head and it feels good to see someone else be shocked on my behalf. It makes me think: oh yeah. That IS fucked up. And you see that too. Thank you. It raises the level of ridiculous on something that, although it happens in a public space, feels intensely private.

Microaggressions still stink. They stink a little less when someone is freaked out for you though.

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5 comments

  1. I feel like being a public librarian just adds to the mess. I feel like most of my icky comments come to me at work, and I just get used to it. I was out with a friend at dinner and this person kept talking to us while we were waiting for a table. And he was saying just the strangest stuff to us and I was sort of politely laughing along, much in the way that I would at work, and my friend was astounded. And I didn’t even realize that I was doing it until she said “You realize that you don’t have to talk to that person, right?” And honestly, it did not occur to me.

    1. Katie- YES. I think when you work with the public and are on charge of a public environment, you get so used to things like this. Totally.

  2. Yes. The friend reactions are the only things that make these interactions entertaining.

    Once someone approached me at a club. During his attempt to hit on me he said, with a STRAIGHT FACE, “My name is Nick. N-I-C-K. Can you pronounce that?” I thought my friend was going to fall off her barstool.

    I just spelled my (very common, American) first name and asked if he could pronounce it. Then I went back to talking to my friend.

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