I have not felt compelled to contribute to this blog for a very long time. I am a writer who really only writes for the catharsis — for the experience of emoting via word ammo.
For a long time, I have not been inspired to write because while I have had many meaningful experiences, none gave me the deep feeling that I NEEDED to put my thoughts on a page (or screen, as the case may be).
Today that changed.
As you may know, I am a teacher at a public high school. I love my job — even the parts of my job that I complain about.
I was having lunch today with a few of my colleagues. If you are familiar with the daily routine of a teacher, you may know that our lunch break lasts for about 25 minutes. We get very good at eating very quickly.
I finished my lunch fast and a colleague asked if anyone had a moment to help him carry some pizzas into the school. He had ordered 20 pizzas for an assembly we were having honoring students who had perfect attendance.
It was no problem, I told him. I could come help.
The pizza man came down the street with two giant insulated bags of pizza. He handed one of those bags immediately to my colleague. When I reached for the other bag, he said, “No, no no. Here — take this instead.” Then he handed me a plastic grocery bag with styrofoam plates in it. It must have weighed only a few ounces. The pizza man struggled to carry his bag.
I asked him if he did this “because I am a girl.”
“You’re too pretty.”
I am going to let that sink in for you.
Women readers are already getting it. Many male readers might not. In fact, some of my male readers (actually, do I HAVE male readers?) may have the same reaction as the Pizza Man did when I responded to him.
“I am not sure that’s a compliment,” I said.
“You should say, ‘thank you.’ It was a compliment, right?” This was his response.
Go fuck yourself with a rusty pen knife, Pizza Man.
I handed the bag of plates to another colleague in the hallway. I did not want to be near this man anymore. Then I went back into the room where I was eating lunch with my colleagues: four men and a woman.
One of the men in the group still doesn’t know why I am upset about all of this. One left the room when I started talking about it. Another got on his computer and tuned me out. The last shook his head and understood and cited that viral video of the girl being catcalled and harassed simply for walking down a street in New York. When man #4 referenced this video, man #1 said he’d not seen it, but asked what the girl in the video was wearing, you know, “just for a frame of reference.”
When lunch was over, I walked down to my classroom and I tried not to cry.
Men: this isn’t that fucking difficult. Stop the bullshit. We are not that hard to figure out.
Telling a coworker she looks nice is FINE. Telling her she looks nice in that sweater is NOT.
The difference? One is a simple acknowledgement of an effort someone put into looking pleasant. The other is a direct reference to anatomy. If you say I look good in my sweater, you are talking about my body — the personal parts of myself that I have chosen not to show to you because I put them underneath a sweater.
Look — I am no spring chicken. I am not as young and hot as I once was. And, I don’t think that this matters much. I still have men say inappropriate things to me, whistle, or ask me “how YOU doin’?” in a tone that perhaps suggests that I am not being asked an honest question regarding how my day is. I am NOT thankful that I’ve “still got it.” I don’t feel good about myself because at my age someone has called me “pretty.” This is mostly because I do not measure my self-worth on the opinions of random strangers who refuse to let me carry pizza.
Now, perhaps you may wonder if it isn’t chivalrous for a man to offer to carry something for a woman. Yes. It is. I don’t think, however, chivalry necessarily is the issue. It would have been chivalrous to OFFER to carry something for me if I were struggling with it. It would have been chivalrous if, when I had offered to take the pizzas, the Pizza Man said, “Oh, that is so nice of you to offer, but I am doing just fine. Would you mind taking these plates, though? That would free up an extra hand for me to carry these.” It is not chivalrous to refuse to permit me to help you then tell me that it’s because I have both a vagina and a cute face. This is not a good deed. It is an insult.
I let this man escape with his life for three reasons:
1. I was at work in a school full of impressionable young people and I would rather not show them that violence is the answer to anything.
2. He was old and is probably from an era where a good ass-slap was a welcome indication of a job well done for perky secretaries and receptionists. This doesn’t excuse the behavior, but does help me perhaps understand it.
3. I can’t go to jail. I have a family to think about.
Now, there are a million ways I wish I had handled this and a million things I wish I had said. And, this all reminds me of when I was raped as a teenager: I am dealt an injustice; I am treated disrespectfully. Then, I end up being angrier with myself for not immediately responding better; for not being stronger and for not being a quick-thinker. This is the great sadness of womanhood: thinking of one’s own faults when someone else has done wrong.
I honestly don’t know what to do now. I am angry and sad and disappointed and reflective and thinking all kinds of awful things. And I had been having such a fantastic day. And a few words from a stranger has sent me into such a different direction. And, when the bell rings to end my brief “free” period, I have to teach a room full of 31 15-year olds. And, I can’t let this color my work with them.
If you can relate in any way to this story, please comment here. I do welcome respectfully dissenting opinions, too. I’d love to open a dialogue about this.