I've never had to resist the urge to punch someone in the face as much as I did this past weekend.
Let me give you some context. I work as a bartender at one of New York's biggest concert venues. 99% of the time, it's totally awesome. I get to see cool shows for free, hang out with some of the most interesting characters I've ever had the pleasure to work with and walk out in the wee hours of the morning with cash in my pocket. It's definitely not a bad gig; however, as anyone who has ever worked in the service industry knows, there are a few drawbacks to relying on tips and the people who may or may not fork them over to pay your rent. A nightclub especially has the potential for the human trash of the world to come crawling out of the woodwork. Case in point, last Saturday night.
There I am, slinging drinks, chatting with customers, relishing my copious amount of glitter makeup (seriously, my MAC glitter collection is insane now) and this guy decides to plant himself in front of my well for close to ten minutes. Whatever, it's fairly slow, around 2:30 in the morning. We talk briefly. He tells me I'm very beautiful. I say thank you, aware that he has drank at least five rum and cokes in the last two hours and because I think it is polite depending on the context. That particular context shatters when he then asks me if I have anything going on for me except my looks.
Here I am, being all empty-headed and unworthy of basic respect. Also, tyrannosaurus rex claw?
I freeze. My opinion of him drops faster than the booties of the go-go dancers in the next room. I stop scooping ice into glasses for another round of vodka Red Bulls and raise myself up to my full height, which I hope, at 5'10 in my Doc Martens, is slightly imposing.
"That's a really rude fucking question," I say.
He smiles. If he thinks I'm joking, I most definitely am not. I cock my eyebrow menacingly, waiting.
"Yeah, but do you?"
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there is ever an appropriate time to ask a woman this question, in addition to the fact that he is a complete stranger who, I'm sure, believes that he is in a position of power since I am the one who is supplying a service. Anyone who doesn't respect the people who serve them, whether they be bartenders, waiters, cab drivers, or the people who fold your clean underwear at the laundry mat, is automatically on my shit list.
"Are you asking me if I'm smart?"
This is new. I, like almost every woman living in a major metropolitan city, have put up with street harassment at some point, and we all have our own ways of dealing with it. There's a guy who frequents my corner deli and finds it necessary to tell me any time I wear shorts, which is often now that summer has reared its hot and sweaty head, "damn girl, them legs are killin it!" Quite frankly sir, I know that. I don't need your commentary, because honestly, I don't care what you think. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. I just ignore him and strut out the door with my extra-large iced coffee, feeling no worse for the wear.
So to have someone not only profess a sense of entitlement over my body, but also insult my intelligence, self-worth and basically every other thing that makes me more than just a prospective vagina with legs is hitting a new level of rage. I remember that I am at work and leaping over the counter to knee him in the balls will probably get me fired. I remind myself that he is drunk, he is from a foreign country, that there might be something lost in translation. I tell myself to let it go, laugh it off, walk away and continue making money like the badass devil-may-care bartender I am.
But I've done that too many times. It's a big part of the job and it keeps me sane and employed 99% of the time. This is the 1% that makes my blood boil. This is the 1% that needs a reaction.
"Well, I graduated Summa Cum Laude in four years with two degrees while maintaining a job and an internship, so if you even know what that means, I think you can answer that question for yourself."
Drop the mic, walk away. Well, I mean, I had no mike and very little space to walk away, so I flipped a bottle of vodka (Coyote Ugly here I come) and meandered over to the other bartender to immediately tell him what had just happened. Outrage loves company too.
Working in a place that not only encourages but requires me to dress up, have fun and generally look sexy and unique, I am used to customers commenting on my looks. I know for the most part they mean no harm and are just trying to pay a compliment to the person pouring their drinks in a backless shirt. That's fine. This is not. I am more than the sum of my parts.
I am proud of getting an education, for working hard, for being kind and able to put together all of my IKEA furniture by myself. I have skills and faults, highs and lows, and a life outside of this place where people see the characterization of me, rather than the full realization of who I am. I recognize that I am blessed with good skin (thanks Mom!) but that does not define me. If it did, I probably wouldn't have a job somewhere that requires a crack-shot memory recall, lightning fast mental math and the patience of a freaking saint.
Maybe he assumes that I don't have much else going on for me, that a job as a bartender at this place is degrading or lower on the social scale than people who work a 9-5. Well, as I also have a day job, and pay my bills on time, have health insurance and am debt-free at 24, I say that he can shove that rationalization right where the sun don't shine.
You, sir, have no right to assume/comment/critique/degrade me or any other woman who is unlucky enough to cross your path. Stop viewing women as cute playthings for your enjoyment, or take a damn class in social decency, because whoever taught you to act like an adult failed miserably. I don't want you to think I was joking when I told you to get the fuck out of my face anytime you returned to my bar. I am not weak, I am not kidding and I am not going to back down because you think that I have nothing happening inside my head. I'm afraid, rather, that you are the one with very little going on.
Maybe you should work on that.
Images c/o keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk, feministfatale.com, Liza Donnelly, clubnight images, insidescoopsf.sfgate.com