Earlier this week I was called a bitch at least three times that I counted in the span of a few hours, and it got me thinking.
Bitch the First
The lunch delivery guys near my office have a tendency to call from several blocks away and say they’re in the lobby so they don’t have to wait for us to come down in the elevator. Usually they’ll come rushing in around the time when I get there, so I don’t care and if anything I applaud their efficiency. This time the guy kept me waiting about five minutes in the lobby, which meant he had already spent his buffer time since calling plus another five.
I’d placed one order on Seamless and then another coworker wanted to add things, so I placed a second order. I called the restaurant and asked them to combine the two orders, one of which had the full tip and the second had $0. The orders were combined into one bag. I signed both receipts and thanked the delivery guy.
“Umm Miss, the second tip?” he asked.
“You tipped for this one. Are you going to tip cash for the other?”
I cheerfully explained how we had placed two orders but that I’d called the restaurant and asked them to combine the two orders, that’s why they were bagged together. I didn’t mention that he kept me waiting in the lobby for five minutes or that it was already an overly generous tip for both orders, just smiled and thanked him.
He shook his head and glared at me, then muttered, “Got it. Bitch.”
Bitch the Second
Immediately after the first bitching, I got onto the elevator with two men who were having a loud and animated conversation with each other in another language. They were getting off at two different floors, but obviously weren’t done talking, so the one remaining on the elevator held the door from closing four times before wrapping it up.
I was still feeling bad about the delivery guy, so I was careful not to say anything or make a huffy or unpleasant response to what felt very clearly to me like a guy being rude.
I think he realized he was rude, so he said flatly, “Sorry,” then stared at me.
On any other day, I would have felt compelled to be cheerful and say, “That’s okay!” or “No problem!” or make some stupid comment to put him at ease, but I had this little click in my mind where I felt like I didn’t want to tell him anything he does is okay.
I realized that his “Sorry” carried an expectation of a reply, so I gave a half-smile and shrug, trying to communicate that I heard and acknowledged what he said at least.
He didn’t like this response and scowled at me, then as he got off the elevator at his stop said, “Bitch.”
Bitch the Third
It was the kind of day where every interaction I had was some level of unpleasant until about 2:30, and that wears a person down. By the time I got on the subway, I was feeling pretty sick of other people and just trying to get home to some peace.
My train was moderately crowded, and I had to stand awkwardly free-floating for the first few stops because a guy was leaning against the only pole I could reach until a bunch of people cleared out at an express transfer stop. I moved to sit in a seat that opened up at the same time as that guy, and when I realized what he was doing got out of the way.
This time I actually did apologize and went to stand at the pole instead, now that it was free. I had my back to him and took out my Kindle to read as the train pulled away.
He tapped my back and said, “Miss, were you trying to sit here?”
I smiled and said, “Oh no, I’m all set, thanks,” then turned back to the pole.
Loudly, and with a surprisingly sudden hostility he said, “Well you don’t have to be a damn bitch about it!”
Maybe I am just a bitch?
These little micro-aggressions (I don’t know, maybe calling someone a bitch is an aggression-aggression?) happen every day, pretty much constantly. Tuesday was the day of men calling me a bitch and openly expressing their disdain for me after they behaved rudely.
Other days if I am wearing something tight or short or low-cut, I get breathtakingly crass comments on everything from the way I walk to what they imagine my turn-ons must be and how dirty I must like things (I’m not going to repeat them verbatim here but I promise whatever you’re imagining, it’s more explicit and probably grosser). Some guys are loud and brash about it, as if saying it in a big public way exculpates the offensiveness. Others are downright creepy, getting close enough to whisper and then saying something appallingly personal as they walk by.
That’s nothing new, and unfortunately any woman who lives in a city probably has countless stories about getting cat-called and groped in public.
What is upsetting to me is the increasing suggestion that I have something to do with the way men are aggressive toward me. I believe strongly in taking responsibility for my actions and the impact they have on people around me, but I also think it’s ludicrous to suggest that me wearing a dress that shows my figure (and seriously, I dress like someone’s mother in the 50s, so let’s not act like I’m going full Kardashian on the D train) is an invitation to tell me where you’d like to stick things.
A former friend once proposed what she called the Face-Punching Hypothesis after I got randomly kicked in the middle of Penn Station.
“You try to be cheerful and sweet to people, right, and that’s nice, but it’s also kind of like when a puppy is like really cute and you just want to punch it in the face.”
“I mean not really, you would’t actually want to hit a dog, but it’s that impulse, when someone is happy and bright and looks like they’re having a good day, you kind of want to knock them down a peg, right?”
(This is part of why she and I aren’t friends anymore)
Maybe being young-ish and blonde and white, dressed to work in a fancy office and generally smiling and upbeat signifies something, suggests to people that I’m having this sunshiny birds-singing post-stepmother-enslavement Cinderella kind of day and that they ought to inject some rain clouds on my charmed life, if they are of the Face-Punching persuasion. I almost get that, if these men are feeling put-upon and rolled over by the deck that’s stacked against them.
What I don’t get is the men who treat me terribly when they have all the cards in the deck. The guy in the elevator could have been nice and human, could have said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hold you up,” and I probably would have been cheerful. It was the insincerity of his “Sorry” and the fact that he wasn’t saying it because he cared at all about being considerate to me, so much as that he was demanding to be excused, that I found more obnoxious than if he’d said nothing at all.
It has recently been pointed out to me that when I’m uncomfortable with the way someone is speaking to me, I shut down. I may not glare or raise my voice, but I stop smiling and look away. I do it with people when I think they’re assholes or they’re being rude or unreasonable because I thought it was better than reacting negatively, but apparently it’s interpreted as disdain (which often would be accurate, so I still need to work on my poker face). The WASP ability to freeze people out maybe comes a little too naturally to me, but I think it should be okay to have a neutral expression.
All too commonly this gets seen as Resting Bitch Face, though, and now it’s apparently okay to treat women poorly if they have RBF. If a man walks down the street with a neutral expression on his face, presumably because he is preoccupied with his thoughts and not trying to amuse and entertain everyone around him, no one would implore him, “Smile! Show the world that pretty face!”
But I get, “Baby, what’s wrong? Give me five minutes, I can get a smile out of you.” Or serious conversations about my demeanor and the nonverbal messages I’m sending others.
Sometimes I think women have come so far, and then I have days where I get called a bitch so many times I start thinking, “Maybe I should smile more, maybe that’s why everyone thinks I’m a bitch.”
Long way to go still.