I really need to cultivate a better “DAFUQ?” face.

Dear Man on the Street Today Who Kept Talking at Me After I Grimaced in Your General Direction,

Here’s the thing: I’m a nice person and generally quite sociable.

This tie/handkerchief combo? I would smile at.
This combo? I would totally smile for.

I smile at babies and at people walking smooshed-face dogs. I make small talk with strangers in elevators, and if you’re wearing cute shoes or a snazzy necktie, I’ll probably compliment you (regardless of gender) for having cool taste.

I promise you: if I’m in a sociable, engage-with-people kinda mood, on the day that you decide it’s necessary to call out “hey beautiful!” at women you don’t know and will never see again, you’ll know it. I’ll respond pleasantly! I’ll look you in the face, meet your eyes, and smile back! I’ll act exactly like someone who actually gives a crap about a total stranger’s totally random comment on my physical appearance!

If, on the other hand, I respond to you like I did today — with a half-grimace, half-snarl flashing for a moment across my face and only the vaguest tilt of my head, just to indicate I heard you — at that point, it’s totally fine for you to just shut up.

You do not need to feel any pressure to continue, as you did today:

“How you doin’!”

Smile!”

“Love the hair!”

Now, see — you’ve turned a potentially pleasant moment of human interaction into yet another boring-ass public display of gender-performance-on-demand.

And I’m starting my afternoon in a vaguely pissed-off mood. (For starters, my hair is unwashed, untrimmed, and sweaty. You aren’t even LYING well...)

I’m not just pissed at you, understand? I’m pissed with myself too: with the way my own social programming kicks in and how — once you begin to crank that hackneyed organ tune of “hey beautiful, smile!” — my own inner street monkey begins to dance.

And smile.

Whether I feel like it or not. 

You are familiar, I’m sure, with how this dance goes? You comment LIKE A MAN about my appearance, or my expression . . . or my mere existence on the public street. And I respond LIKE A WOMAN responds, which is to say I’m friendly (but not too friendly), and I smile (or maybe I don’t) — and above all, I thread that impossible needle of making absolutely certain not to come across the least bit bitchy. “Bitchy” might make you decide we need to start this whole two-step over again, only with a less-gracious melody underlying it.

(I don’t know you, remember. You already have more than a whiff of Schrondinger’s rapist about you.)

I’d rather make today the best it can be for both of us!

Walking this dog? Let's be besties.
Walking this dog? Let’s be besties.

Lemme be clear, Dear Today’s Man On The Street: when this occurred, I felt totally safe and absolutely unthreatened by you. I didn’t even feel slightly street-harassed.

I did not feel at all like I felt when I smiled at Last Week’s Man On The Street, who also called me beautiful and complimented my hair — all the while following me down a largely empty sidewalk at night, until I finally gave him a buck just to make him go away. That was NOT COOL on a whole ‘nother level.

You, personally, I have no opinion about, Today’s Man. No more than you have any real opinion about me. (Though I am glad you didn’t demand cash — only a smile — before you went away.)

I just want us all to do better by one another. And I want you to understand — assuming you actually intended to be friendly, and not just creepy or annoying — how crappy this song-and-gender-dance can get for people always on the receiving end. The receiving-with-a-smile end.

The neighborhood where we passed each other, do you know it well? Often called the “Gayborhood,” this is the part of Philadelphia where historically a lot of LGBTQ folks have chosen to live. (It’s why I live here, for instance.) Which means dudes wandering the sidewalks here are as likely to drive-by-compliment other men as women, though it’s often less public.

And see that bar over there? Woody’s? I walked by recently, just as someone like you tossed a random “hey, good-looking”-style comment at one of the black-t-shirted bouncers standing by the door. Whose expression snarled back the most perfect “DAFUQ IS WRONG WITH YOU” non-smile I’ve ever seen. I’ve been practicing that face in the mirror, and one of these days, I’ll have reprogrammed my dancing monkey enough that she responds with that face, the next time a random man decides to ignore my social cues with his own insistent banter.

And if that man is you? I suggest you just smile, Beautiful — and keep on walking.

Best wishes,
Alice

PS: If you are out and about with Gatsby, I will happily give you (or your general vicinity, at least) ALL THE SMILES FOREVER AND EVER.


[Tie photo by Andreas Nilsson. Creative Commons license. Via Flickr. Bulldog photo by Aris Sánchez. Creative Commons license. Via Flickr.]

9 thoughts on “I really need to cultivate a better “DAFUQ?” face.

  1. Well said. There was a time when I would think it was normal and acceptable of men or anyone, really, to comment or give direction regarding my person. Not anymore. I do think a lot of people are still unaware and it’s important to make people aware so they know better and act accordingly. Then, of course, there are those who just don’t care /refuse to see anything wrong with such behavior.

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    1. I think you’re right — some folks don’t realize this is annoying, and some don’t care. What gets to me is the constant drip-drip-drip (and I realize others get so much more of it!). I think it’s important to be able to say, “These interactions — which I am expected to deal with simply because I am a woman in public — are annoying. And so should stop.” Women have the right to ask for, and expect!, better treatment than just the absence of threats and overt harassment.

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  2. This has given me a lot to think about. As a true midwesterner, I talk to people on the street a lot. I can’t help myself. I think the smile thing is really trite, but I could see me actually saying it to someone maybe. I don’t know. This is something I have never felt could hurt someone else or make them feel bad. I will definitely be watching my words from now on. You have not backed me off of talking to strangers though. I will just not demand things from …lol

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    1. The thing about telling people to smile seems to be exclusively a thing (some) men say to women. I don’t get nearly as much of it as other women I know — and still, I am told to smile by at least one total stranger almost every day. It got old years ago.

      Did you see Elon James White’s #DudesGreetingDudes Twitter campaign? Brilliant and hysterical!
      “These women don’t get it. Y’all just want to say hi. What’s wrong with hi?!?! So let’s just leave them out completely. #DudesGreetingDudes” @elonjames

      http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/dudes-greeting-dudes#.kr712yDGm

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  3. Well I just really enjoyed this post, because (and don’t tell anyone self-defined as feminist) you chose not to go off on a tangent about dumb ass street harassment like 9 million (okay I exaggerate) others are want to do to make a point that it’s not okay to perform this gender dance- (MEN, or women as the case may be), and that he was a dickhead for not giving up, and that he wasn’t all that creepy besides.

    Yes, I am in a mood today mostly because I have been reading way to many feminist posts and feel as if everything lately is being turned into an issue and so I say YES that it was refreshing to read your words, which by the way got your point across nicely, but didn’t make me want to run screaming in 1) fear, 2) indignation, or 3) loathing because some pathetically juvenile guy smiled at me, or allowed his eyes to linger just a tad long as I pushed my cart (filled with cat food, t-shirts, and oatmeal) past him in the too narrow aisle being restocked by the Target employees this morning.

    I do not belittle or judge your annoyance at repeated dickhead maneuvers and ongoing vocalizations of stupidity, but I also feel pretty confident that I can determine when my gut tells me I’m being harassed versus the infinite articles and essays that tell me I’m ALWAYS being harassed.

    …she says as she takes step after step away from the feminist blogs to compose herself…

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    1. Haha! Oh Deb, thank you — I needed that laugh today! And yes, it does sound like you need to put down the feminist blogosphere for a moment — back away slowly — and give yourself a breather. I need to take mental vacations like that myself, from time to time.

      And thank you for getting my point. I’ve brought this up a few times before, and friends tend to tell me either “he was just trying to be nice and pay you a compliment” (well, okay — but then dude really needs to up his compliment-giving game!) or “I think you are over-reacting…yknow, because of your…history” (at what point did I ever equate this to being assaulted??). At which point I really DO start to over-react.

      Because this *is* a thing. It’s not a BIG THING. It’s not even a capital-T Thing. But until I starting hearing from my men friends that they, too, are exhorted to smile on a near-daily basis by total strangers, then I will remain convinced that this is a small-but-constant tax on my social energies, which I am expected to pay just for being a woman. And that’s kinda shitty.

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