Wednesday, March 12, 2008

how women re-affirm sexism and male-privilege: a grocery store follow-up

In a recent post--male privilege, sexism, and invasion of privacy: a grocery store tale--I blogged about being treated as a piece of ass instead of a customer by an employee at Trader Joe's, and how male privilege gives men this idea that this is always okay, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstance. And any woman who disagrees is a bitch. In fact, I have absorbed this cultural script so well that I refrained from telling the manager that one of the employees is a lecherous creep that makes me uncomfortable and that I actually look to avoid him when shopping.

But I digress.

What I would like to re-visit is how I responded to T.J. (the lecherous creep) when he originally asked for my number, how I re-affirmed sexism and male privilege in my response--while well-understanding the socio-cultural implications of my response--and how my decision to rely on an oppressive and easy cultural crutch actually encouraged the situation.

I cannot recall the precise and entirely unoriginal words of T.J.'s request, but I clearly remember my pitiful response: "Sorry, I have a boyfriend."

I cringe even admitting to this offense. Here is what is really going on within this short exchange:

1) I am just a vagina, and a male would only ask for my contact information in this manner if he, in the eloquent words of Borat, was trying to "gain access." He doesn't need a friend, I didn't say something interesting, I am not wearing a t-shirt exclaiming his pet cause. I am a vagina. He knows it, and I know. Had this all began with "It's great to see customers who remember to bring re-usable bags"--then there would be wiggle room. Then I might be a person.

2) My response basically translates to the following: My apologies that you cannot claim me as your woman, for I am already claimed by another man. He owns me, so now I cannot give you my contact information. I can only interact with the man who lays claim on my body, and whomever ever else he approves.

3) I never actually said, implicitly or explicitly, "you disgust me, leave me alone." Instead, I said "I cannot offer my information because I am already claimed"--leaving the window of opportunity, "but if I were not claimed..." I never make that clear. By blaming it on my boyfriend, and not addressing how inappropriate and undesirable he is, I am implanting hope, or entertaining fantasy at the very least. And this is why the story continues.

I have been aware of these factors for quite some time, and consciously tell myself that I will never humor such gendered relations of power. But here I am, stuck in the moment with creeper, and I just took the cheapest, easiest way out.

Aside from my self-deprecation in re-affirming myself as only a vagina, and as subject to the regulation of a man, I also demeaned my boyfriend--who has and would never attempt to control my body, who supports all of my friendships regardless of genitals, and has always treated me as a human being.

Why did I feel so uncomfortable saying the truth: "I am not interested", or "this is unprofessional," or "treat me like a customer"?

Because I absorbed the bitch piece of male privilege. If I don't comply, I am a bitch. And what I should be is a smiley, pretty vagina, putting everyone else's feelings in front of my own.

I will never do that again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Right on, and amen to that. I, too, am guilty of bowing to the fragility of the typical male ego on more occasions than I'd like to admit. When I have not, I have been met with such remarks/sentiments as "ungrateful woman, bitch, bitter angry woman in need of counseling, and/or man hater." Some of these things have even been said to me by male family members when I have challenged them in situations where they had clearly wronged me in some way. Somehow, many men find it quite easy and acceptable to turn their wrongdoings around on us. As a visibly pregnant, single woman I was greeted with comments like, "Good luck with that" with a roll of the eyes to boot, and I was even asked (in a very sarcastic manner) if the "immaculate conception" had taken place. It was interesting to note that these comments came from the mouths of men who had found it entirely acceptable to to hit on me in my workplace on repeated occasions, despite my continued refusals to their advances. Since they were customers and not co-workers, I felt I could do little more than politely decline their advances w/out putting my job in danger. I, too, vow to no longer respond with a pretty smile and polite decline, nor will I ever falsely wear a ring on my "wedding finger" to avoid such situations again (I resorted to this for awhile to avoid such comments). If I am not interested, guys, I'm just gonna let you know, point blank. If you can't hang, that's your problem. Get over yourselves enough to give womankind the opportunity to be ourselves without carrying the weight of concern for your fragile egos. With your behavior, you certainly do an injustice to all of those good men out there, as well.