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.
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’!”
“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.
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!
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.
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.