In “real life” work as a messenger; I deliver documents to “important” people who work for “important” businesses. Yesterday, I walked into Building X. I deliver there often and the guy at the front desk knows my first name and jokes around with me.
I had a number of packages, so I let two girls pass ahead of me in line. They were both mid-twenties, wearing summer dresses with leggings and heels, and their hair and makeup were flawless. As they signed in to visit their mom’s office, a 70-ish man in a gray suit with a bad comb-over made a b-line for the desk. I was totally unprepared for what came out of his mouth, “Excuse me for saying so girls, but I must attribute the beautiful sunshine today to your presence. Clearly, you just light up the world with your beauty.”
They giggled. I rolled my eyes.
Ok, so the old dude was cheesy, and the women were a little flattered – innocent enough, right? No, because what happened next brought me to the verge of septuagenarian smack down. The guy kept going, and did not stop:
“Where are you ladies headed? You know, there are free drinks on the 11th floor. I haven’t seen such fine young things in quite a while. Hey, little girls want some candy? [insert crepper laugh here]”
The girls giggled again, kinda nervously, took their guest passes and left. I was fuming. It’s borderline acceptable to give a corny compliment to a much younger woman, but this guy brought it to super sketchy sexual harassment level. I wanted to shower after just witnessing it all.
Then I started to wonder why the situation made me so angry and uncomfortable. Was it just the level of inappropriateness and the implied sexual advance of the old guy, or was there something more personal going on?
Mostly, I was outraged that he so clearly saw the girls as nothing more than objects – that he really wasn’t commenting on their smiles, or outfits, or poise, but on the “pretty young things” that he wanted to possess. But, there was also a part of me that was oddly jealous…
I was the only other person in the lobby line, standing directly behind these girls, and I was completely ignored. It’s such an hypocritical thing to be outraged by someone’s actions, yet be hurt that they weren’t toward you. Standing next to these pretty peers I felt completely invisible. I felt over-weight, under-dressed, and worthless. Yuck!
Why, as a female do I constantly judge myself against other women? And more troubling still, why do I judge myself by other people’s reactions and responses toward other women? I am not a supermodel. I accept that men will not pine over me the way they do over women in fashion magazines. But, these girls were not models, and for me that’s always harder – comparing myself to my peers, who fit the social standard of beauty more than I do.
If I talk such a strong game against conforming toward the industry standard of beauty, why does it bother me so much that I am not noticed? Isn’t that what I’m going for after all?
I have no answers.
Please comment. I’m really interested to hear thoughts, experiences, and advice from other ladies.
That is what I’ve been struggling with. It’s almost like, “what’s so special about her?” “What’s wrong with me?” I think men are very rude when they do that. Men often talk about how pretty other women are to or around me and that makes me feel very inadequate. Not to mention that no one ever asks me out or approaches me.
I totally get it. I explained why over on “The Beheld.” We are so judged by our looks. If we’ve ever been told that we don’t measure up — and many of us are, repeatedly — part of us will seek “praise”, no matter how disrespectfully it’s offered. That’s my take, anyway.
Bingo. Growing up I equated attention (solicited or not) with worth. As an adult, knowing that is so very far from true, it is still a difficult concept to overcome.
I appreciate your thought and sentiment here, and while I see why you’re referring to yourself as a hypocrite, I don’t really think that’s the case. I’m guessing that if objectification weren’t such a part of our culture, that your reaction wouldn’t have been of jealousy and righteous anger–but because objectification is supposed to be some sort of booby prize for women, I think that even those of us who fight against it have complex reactions to such encounters. It’s a split reaction against your own heartbeat and the heartbeat of that culture, you know? Not that of a hypocrite, I don’t think. (But I’m a Gemini, so…) When my feminist card came in the mail, it unfortunately didn’t come with a hazmat suit…
FYI this inspired a post of my own, if you’re interested in reading a lot more on my thoughts about our reactions to street harassment: http://www.the-beheld.com/2011/04/feminist-reactions-to-street-harassment.html
It’s good to know I’m not the only one with these often contradictory feelings about negative attention. But you nail it when you say “And this examination diverts us from the larger point: It’s not our response to actions that needs a thorough questioning. It’s the actions themselves.” Thank you so much for your post!