I spent 2013 in a long distance marriage, and for the first time in many years I was going out at night unaccompanied by a large man. I’m a recovering drunk, so I rarely spend time in the bar or club scene, rather my nightlife interests are music and food. As part of the exploration of my new city, I tried to get out to a show a few times a month to see if there is indeed a music scene outside of Seattle (there is). I soon found out that men in Phoenix approach women for conversation and to express interest. I’m unused to male directness, because I come from a city where people keep to themselves in public, and I typically play the role of cat, unwilling to wait for attention. A story for another time is my journey away from only being able to relate to men sexually. Currently I do not feel the need to flirt my way in and out of situations with men, and out of respect to my marriage agreement I choose to reject all male sexual advances. I find that my attitude is not well-received, and I want to understand why not. Whatever happened to men taking a glance at a woman’s left hand to check her potential availability?
During a recent trip to New York I saw a friend’s band play at a dive place in the East Village. It was a friendly crowd, and two twenty-something men from Burma began chatting up my middle-aged female companion and me. The band had just gone offstage and the men asked if we’d like to pop outside for a smoke with them. Sure. They claimed to be brothers, and both engineers, one newly graduated. We drifted into separate conversations with the men, and I asked mine about his field, and what projects he’s working on, the stuff you’d ask any new graduate. Five minutes into the conversation he leaned right in and tried to kiss me. I ducked out of the way, saying, “no, no, no, what do you think you’re doing?” He sheepishly apologized for being drunk and forward. At no point had he asked my relationship status, nor had I provided any signals I was interested or willing. The gesture was rude, but nonthreatening.
Worse though, was an experience I had at a show in downtown Phoenix, where I had taken the lightrail on a weeknight. I had forgotten the train doesn’t run past midnight during the week, and I was at least a fifty dollar cab ride away from my apartment. I asked the friend I was with if she thought her young man friend might drive me home after, and whether she would feel safe about me riding with him. He had been hanging around us and seemed perfectly pleasant and polite, and wasn’t drinking, and she agreed it would be fine. He agreed too. It became clear within minutes of asking for the ride that he felt entitled to move closer to me and put his hands on me. I stepped out of his way and removed his hand from my hip. He backed off. The show ended and he and another young man friend began to walk with me toward the car. They began to engage in heavy flirtation and I realized they were expecting sex as payment for the ride. I wish I could say I had walked off and found a cab, but I was feeling broke and stayed in the situation. I said, hey guys, look, I’m married. Upon which they both became disgusted and incensed. As though it was unacceptable of me to have walked with them without the intention of putting out. To have asked for a safe ride without offering sex. One climbed into the back seat and began an aggressive display of unbuckling his belt and unzipping, beckoning me onto his lap. A couple of other people had joined us for the ride at this point, one of them a woman older than I. When I balked at the sexual aggression in the back seat she hissed, get in the car. I did. The driver went about two blocks, then turned back to me and said, do you really expect me to drive you home? I said, I guess not, and he pulled a screeching u-turn in the middle of the intersection and ordered me out of his car. I got out and they peeled out, leaving me alone downtown at midnight. No one was out on the streets, and it terrified me.
Months later, I was out at a show with two women friends and a watched a very drunk middle-aged couple wheel their way around the venue, dancing and speaking loudly. They were terribly dressed for their ages and weights, and making quite a spectacle. It was too loud to understand what they were saying to the other show-goers whom they were individually approaching. Eventually he came up to one of my friends and told her that if he could get her to dance with him, his wife had agreed to try a new sex position with him. I was revolted. I felt the need to protect my friend (because when someone else is in danger, suddenly I’m a lioness, but not always when I’m the target) and I lazily waved my hand in his face, move along. He angrily demanded how dare I brush him off in such a way, and I lost it. I puffed out directly in his face and snapped, how dare YOU approach us with talk of your sex life. BEAT IT. And he slunk away.
What is happening that men out there believe they can just grab up what they want, without checking in about relationship status or interest level, as though nothing but their momentary need means a fucking thing? And then, when rejected, become vicious? I suppose we could look to the examination of rape culture that’s currently occurring, or click on #YesAllWomen for some answers; it’s simply disgusting. Just because I’m outside my home does not mean I’m available to you. Just because I’m inhabiting the same public space as you, does not entitle you to make me part of your sex life. Here’s an idea, fuckwads: have a look at my fingers. Ask me. Tell me you’re interested and wait for my response. But when I say no, do not treat me as though you’re an infant from whom I’ve snatched a breast. Fuck you. Show a little respect.