As usual, I was way overdressed. Casual by my standards is what most other people call cocktail attire, and cocktail attire for me is black tie to anyone else. That evening I was wearing a tea-length dress, corseted and wearing my crinoline with contrast-seam stockings and five-inch cherry red heels. I was getting a lot looks, but only one made me uncomfortable enough to prompt a glare that read, "Seriously?" After all, it was a charity event for one of my non-profits, and the sad truth is that we need money so we have to be nice to everyone.
As people were leaving and we were cleaning up, one guy found himself standing next to me and was kinda looking at me while I shuffled some papers. Caught in his cross-hairs but not knowing what to say, I resorted to the old stand-by of every polite hostess.
ME. Thanks for coming, have a good night.
HIM. Oh yeah, we had fun.
ME. Oh good, glad to hear it.
HIM. You know, you have a whole delicious thing going on.
ME. Oh--thank you.
HIM. Yeah, I kinda wanna steal you and carry you off.
ME. Well, I think my fiance might have a problem with that.
HIM. Oh no, nothing by it--girlfriend's right here. I'm just saying you look nice.
At which point my face turned as red as my shoes. Here I was, dressed up and prepared for people to look at me, and then I feel threatened when someone actually says something. What's up with that? What is so hard about just taking a compliment?
The thing is that I've been deep-conditioned to put up a big red stop sign whenever someone says something to me that might have even the slightest potential to escalate to harassment. In that way I suppose I'm not so different from lots of other women who grew up with sex ed classes as part of Girl Scouts or who were taught basic self-defense moves in high school gym class. Instead of being taught that I have the power to decide what's okay, I've been taught to anticipate the attack with such zeal that I don't even recognize when the situation isn't dangerous. Of course I have to take responsibility for my own anxieties, and it isn't fair to just blame what I was taught. I haven't really taken the initiative to un-learn what I don't want to know anymore, and that's nobody's fault but mine.
Walking to a bar later, I caught a man's eye in a restaurant. I did nothing but hold eye contact for perhaps a few seconds. My man picked up on him looking at me, but not on the fact that I may have provoked it a little, and threw up his hands at the guy as if to say, "I'm right here, man."
ME. What are you doing? What happened?
MY MAN. That guy was looking at you like he was going to lick your thighs off.
MY MAN. Yeah, with me right next to you.
ME. Ohhh...I may have done that on purpose.
MY MAN. Why? Why would you do that?
ME. Because it's fun, and I can.
MY MAN. ...Awesome.