We were right in the middle of the Kavanaugh hearings when I lost my well-honed, socially trained ability as a woman to deflect the misogynistic shit being rained down on me as I move through the world. It happened in an instant.
We were out for a work lunch in the middle of one of the worst news cycles I can remember, when I asked their regular bartender for some sugar for my ice tea. He didn’t have it behind the bar, and made some sort of helpless gesture to me like, “What are you going to do?”
“I donno.” I said. “I guess find some.” And then I walked toward the bathroom.
The bartender followed me, which every woman alive knows is a red flag. When I turned back with a why the fuck are you following me vibe, he started in, with the tone of voice. It’s the let’s pretend I’m joking so I can say all the shit I want to say, because we both know I’m not joking at all tone. It’s the dangerous tone. It’s the watch yourself tone.
“You should go sit down and be grateful,” he said. “I’m walking all the way to the kitchen to get you some sugar, and I want you to go sit down and think about what I’m doing for you, and how grateful you should be.”
I knew what I was supposed to do. What we’ve all been trained to do. I was supposed to uncomfortably laugh (because we’re pretending it’s a joke), and then apologize (you know, generally for taking up space and existing), and then thank him for going out of his way for me (or better yet, tell him it’s fine, and I didn’t need sugar in that iced tea I paid for after all). But I wasn’t in the mood. In fact, I got a sense I might never be in the mood again.
“No.” I said, and then allowed an uncomfortable pause. Then finally, “I’m not doing that. I’m going to the bathroom.”
When I got back to the table there was sugar, and my tablemates were looking at me with the somewhat alarmed look we all use when we’re worried about a man’s behavior. “Why was he following you?” they asked. “Why is he staring at you right now?”
“He was being a dick, and I was over it.” And then I put the damn sugar in my tea, and we went on with our lunch meeting.
It’s Never Just a Joke
Except it’s never that easy. When lunch was over, we needed the check, and the waitstaff had vanished (like always seems to happen when you need a check and you’re in a rush). So I turned to the unoccupied bartender to ask for the check.
And when I did, the bartender looked right at me and just started IN. “Did I ever help you with anything voluntarily today? Do I look like I care about your needs? Do I look like someone that would get a check for you? I’m none of those things, and I’m not going to do anything. HAHA.” Because the HAHA makes it a joke, and puts it on me, and makes it my fault. And then I laugh, and apologize, and everything is okay again… except the part where I felt openly threatened in a restaurant I was paying to be in.
So I didn’t. Instead, I fixed him with a hard stare, and waited till he was completely done, and then said in my coldest voice, “Then how about you get the waitress.”
And when our (lovely) waitress did arrive, I asked for a manager. And I explained to that manager that I never wanted to be spoken to that way in my life, that no other woman or human being should ever be spoken to that way, and that being a woman living through this news cycle was bad enough, and I expected more from their establishment, which I’d been frequenting for seven years.
The bartender was suspended for the afternoon, which given that he’s worked there for years, was something.
And when we called afterward and spoke to the general manager of Forge, you could tell he wanted nothing more than to get out of it. He was joking, did that make it okay? (He wasn’t; it didn’t.) He hoped it wouldn’t color our opinion of the business. (Only if you allow him to keep his job.) So we took a moment to explain that toxic men are not just toxic to customers, they’re toxic in the workforce too. Because what I didn’t tell you is that we also saw him slap a server on the ass, and after I asked to speak to a manager, our waitress whispered to us, “You have no idea…” with the look of a caged animal, because #metoo, sister. We have ALL gone through that at work.
Here Is To Women Who Don’t Give A Fuck
On that particular afternoon, in that particular hellscape of news, I discovered that my days of performing subjection were over. You know the drill, because we all know the drill. Laughing it off when it’s not funny. Apologizing for asking for anything ever. Holding my tongue when they say something sexist. Letting men try to take up the space that the women around me need. Crossing the street when they cat-call me. And if I have to get these men fired from their jobs one by one, well, I have nothing but time and white privilege I’m delighted to weaponize.
But it’s not just me. Almost every woman I’ve spoken has changed. The friend who lost her shit in the middle of a car rental place, when they told her she had to forfeit one of her two rentals because she didn’t share a last name with her husband. The friend who had a life-altering conversation with her father, after he said one of those things she’d let him get away with a thousand times. The friends who have stopped saying I’m sorry. And so many more stories, that flow in day after day.
In the past few weeks, something broke inside me. And it turns out, it was a dam. And behind that dam was more rage than I knew that I possessed, and I am not scared of using that rage anymore. And better than that, I know I’m not alone.
How are you doing in the aftermath of #StopKavanaugh? Has the way you move through the world changed? Are you willing to say and do things you weren’t able or willing to before? Has anything changed for you or the women around you?