Thursday, January 9, 2014

Woman Hollering

I'm finding that I really need to get back in the habit of blogging right when I get an idea for a post.  This tendency to think, "Oh, ok, right.  I'll do that in a bit.  Let me just finish this other thing over here first..." is not working.

Days pass and then I remember the idea, but not exactly what I wanted to say about it.

And in the meantime, life happens.   Like right now, I have some home repairs going on, and I awake every morning dreading the arrival of the Sexist Repair-Dude.  I really don't want to talk about the specifics of the situation, suffice to say, I've concluded that, if you run a business, you really should stick to the business you run, even if the person you're currently working for is a single woman who lives alone.

Small talk and chit-chat should have very clear boundaries in such situations.

In my world, guys who make disparaging little jokes or comments about me or my job or my home, all of which are designed to make me feel like a "little woman" and basically reinforce an aging male ego that operates on the assumption that unmarried women are by definition helpless and lonely, are really not appreciated.

I can take care of myself, and if I need help, I'll ask for it.  And I do have that whole published, tenured, professor-thang goin' for me, so I kind of think I'm doing okay at the end of the day.

The irony, of course, is that I actually hired the guy to do a job I clearly needed help with, and instead, he's wasting time with random observations to which I have become willfully determined to pay no mind.

And the jovial efforts at low-grade flirtation are just awkward and disturbing, thank you very much.  They make me regret the fact that I combed my hair and washed my face, and that's never a good feeling.

I've found that simply ignoring such comments entirely (by walking away) or, if necessary, by giving the merest little grunt of "hm" in acknowledgement (while walking away) is probably the best way of handling it.

It creates an atmosphere of "Ah, yes, I hear you, little man...and yet... No."

Eventually the guy will assume there's something wrong with you and give up trying to chat.  Particularly if your words and tone and facial expressions are always astoundingly cheerful and polite and friendly: this robs him of the chance to feel resentful.

Because you really, really don't want a resentful repairman working on your home.  REALLY.  I can't stress that enough.  

I can't speak for the other women out there, but I'm willing to shell out more money to be treated more professionally--receiving "personalized customer service" is very different from someone sticking his or her nose in my personal business or trying to get "personal" when we're talking "business." 

My dad always used to say, "Never confuse business with friendship.  If you do, you'll end up with bad business deals and broken friendships.  Keep the two separate: when you do business with friends, keep it professional.  Good friends will respect that, and they won't mind a bit.  People who want the boundaries blurred are up to no good: they're trying to get something for nothing, and they're willing to do it at your expense." 

And anyway, I've hired all kinds of workmen, and I work with men on a regular basis, and no one needs to be treating a woman like she's helpless and brainless.  Those days are over.  Really.

It's like having a used car salesman in your living room. It's just kind of sad, really. 

It's definitely a vestige of male-privilege.  Because think about it: if I stood there before class started or after it ended and made random little comments to my students about how I don't like the shoes that one of them is wearing, or how this one should be wearing a warmer coat, and are you going to the dining hall next or straight back to your dorm room? or telling them that they need to turn their desks just so, and make sure their bookbags are sitting upright on the floor next to their chairs because otherwise it isn't done right and it looks sloppy, or hee, hee, hee that's a really flattering shirt you're wearing, hee, hee, hee... is that the one you're wearing for a date tonight? hee, hee, hee...   I would be fired and then medicated.  In that order.

Students would hate me.  And with good reason: it would be perceived as weird and annoying.  (I would hate me.)

And as much as I'd like to blame the men totally and completely, I have to say to those women out there who still giggle and flirt in order to get good deals or cheap repairs (they think): you're not helping the rest of us.  Because that's why these guys do it: they expect a woman to turn on the "feminine charm" when greeted with the "protective male" routine.  It's an age-old dynamic that I really hope dies a permanent death some day very soon.  We don't need it.  And by that I mean none of us, men or women: it's foolish and fake and I would argue that, in the long run, it does more harm than good.

Just be authentic.  Why not?

In the meantime, I'm re-reading Sandra Cisneros' collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek (1991).  Her book, The House on Mango Street (1984) is quite famous and popular.  I'm a big fan of Cisneros' prose: when she hits her stride in telling a story, you're hooked.

I particularly like her use of narrative voice in Woman Hollering Creek: for example, in her story, "Eleven," her eleven-year-old narrator points out,
What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.  And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't.  You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today.   And you don't feel eleven at all.  You feel like you're still ten.  And you are--underneath the year that makes you eleven. (6)
She concludes, "the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one" (6-7).

I'm wishing I had found this quote for my birthday last fall.  Because I think it's a great way to describe the experience that comes with age.  You're still the person you were when you were younger, but you now have rings and layers on top of or around all of that, that shape who you are now.

But on any given day, you can still be who you once were.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."