Me a few weeks ago: Eating sourdough pancakes at the counter, reading the last pages of a thick Peggy Guggenheim biography. Guy: sits next to me, sees what I’m reading, and proceeds to tell me all about the life of Peggy Guggenheim as if I’d never heard of her. Hello? I’m on the last fucking chapter of a 1,000 page biography. You really think you need to educate me on the topic? Who are you and why are you giving me a lecture while I’m trying to read? Are you expecting me to take notes or some shit?
Tell me, what are men thinking when they approach a woman reading a book and attempt to teach her everything they think they know about the subject she’s reading about? Are they thinking “Hey, it’s a girl! Maybe she’ll fuck me!” or is it “I’m totally smarter than her because I’m a dude. I better go make sure she knows it.” Or possibly “I hate women.” Perhaps a little of each?
Me a few days ago: At the bar reading a thoroughly entertaining book about TV (the ideal gift for any Gen-x’er who was raised by the nanny named television and who found themselves abnormally attached to TV’s rich California high school kids/vampire slayers/”start getting real” roommates long after they left home). Guy: Sits next to me, sees what I’m reading, and tells me all about the kinds of books he reads, as if I was sitting there wondering about exactly that thing and not, in fact, reading a book. To make matters so much worse, the kind of book he’s damn proud of reading is Bukowski. This is seemingly intended to convince me that he’s WAY smarter and cooler than I am because I’m reading about television and he prefers the shitty prose of a drunken misogynist asshole. Edgy!
Tell me, why do so many men think that a woman reading alone in a public place is the perfect listener? Is this because they believe they are smarter than any given woman near them and that women, especially the ones that are trying to look all smart by reading a book, are anxious to be subtly reminded of their supposed deficiencies? Do they see a woman reading and assume she’s only doing so in order to get a man to come talk to her; that she can’t possibly be just simply reading a book? Is it because she’s without a male companion and has therefore made herself open game – i.e. that she brought such attention on to herself by daring to venture out into the public realm without a man clearly claiming ownership over her?
Me since I was old enough to read in public: Asked “Whatcha readin?” by countless men who never attempted to engage in any sort of real dialogue about the book I was reading, who never asked me questions about what I thought about the author or the subject, who never did anything but spew paraphrased, hand-me-down facts and theories about whatever topic they felt like discussing regardless of whether or not I seemed even remotely interested, who never assumed I might actually know anything about anything.
Tell me, would the kind of men who shamelessly approach single reading women suggest that these women not read in public if they don’t wish to be approached by men pretending to be curious? And if so, how unbelievably fucked up is it that?
Okay so I know it’s hot out and everything, but where the hell did guys get the idea that it’s perfectly okay to saunter around the 7-11 without a shirt on? I get the no shirt thing when you’re putting a new roof on a house or maybe installing an irrigation system, but out in public, walking down the street, in chilly air-conditioned convenience stores? What’s the deal?
Yeah okay, you have a nice chest. Your celtic tattoos make you an intimidating sexpot. Your nipple piercings make us all quiver with desire. Your well-defined pecs haunt my dreams. Whatever. Put a fucking shirt on.
Here’s the root of my problem with male shirtlessness: It’s profoundly unfair. As you probably know by now, I’m not a huge fan of patriarchical injustice, and this one just reeks of it. Not only is it unacceptable for women to walk around topless, it’s plain illegal. It’s called indecent. Immoral. In too many places it’s still illegal to breastfeed in public, and in the Bible Belt you can be arrested for not wearing a bra.
Actually, I made that last part up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.
Why? Because it is unfair to tempt straight men this way. See, it’s also illegal to go around feeling women up, and if women could go topless in public it might make it more difficult for the tempted men to not break that particular law. Can’t count on men to control themselves, or course. It’s gotta be up to women to make sure men don’t violate them. Men are not responsible for their own impure thoughts and compulsions to act on them, women are. Fancy that. Classic boys-will-be-boys, women-are-responsible scenario.
Now let’s say I got a strong desire to go lick the pierced nipples of celtic tattoo man. Which, for the record, I most certainly did not. Pretty much. Anyway, it’s fairly clear that no one’s too worried about my impure thoughts and desires, otherwise male shirtlessness would be similarly outside of conventional moral boundaries. Either this is because the world thinks that women don’t have such desires or it’s just not concerned about our inability to control ourselves.
It’s a bit of both, I suspect. Most (American) women have been taught to maintain pretty strict control over our desires and sexual compulsions ever since about the 3rd grade. Such enduring lessons include: Make them want you regardless of if you want them back, and don’t give in to your own want unless it will get you something more meaningful in return. Approach their desire with caution and in a proper ladylike fashion while maintaining your sexual attractiveness at all times. If you express or give in to your own desire, we will call you a slut. If you don’t give in at the appropriate time, when they really need it, we will call you a tease, especially if you dare tempt them with revealing clothes.
Them, them, them, them, them. Blah. What a bunch of horseshit. Too bad so many of us still abide by this stuff. This is the stuff that keeps us fighting with each other over developmentally disabled frat boys, questioning our worth and value in the world because the dude that we’re not even that into doesn’t call us back, and trying to find clothes that reveal just enough to make them wish they could touch us but not so much that they’ll actually try.
Basically, this is the stuff that patriarchies are made of. It’s a very useful tool for male domination: keep the women repressed with concern over how to get men to want them while still keeping their dignity intact, as well as how to prevent men from hitting them, raping them, leering at them, ignoring them, or just generally treating them like shit, and the men are free to walk around town with their shirts off enjoying all the perks of male privilege that are so ingrained they don’t even know they have them.
Oh calm down, I wasn’t talking about you.