This is Part 2 of a series. Read the intro here.
The hardest part of this conversation is convincing people that emotions are real and they matter.
Do you believe that emotions are real?
As real as money? I mean, after all, money is just a piece of paper with some belief behind it. But you’d get upset if someone took money from you, wouldn’t you? Emotions are even more real, you can actually feel emotions, right? They exist. And they are real and consequential. They matter. They have actual physical effects. Getting angry lowers your immune system and mess with your digestive system. Feeling stressed can re-wire your brain. Being depressed can cause you to gain weight and lose sleep. Emotions are just as real as money and they matter just as much. If you don’t understand this, the rest of the conversation is going to feel weird.
Now, let’s go back to the money analogy.
Imagine if there were people, let’s say people with green eyes, that we were all raised to understand that we could just take money from them. Not a lot, unless we have a special relationship with them, but you can just walk up to a green-eyed person whenever you want and take $1 – $10 from them. It’s enormously helpful to you, right? You want the doughnut and you are short cash so you walk up and the green-eyed person hands you a $5 and you get a doughnut and coffee. (I live in Boston. Sometimes, doughnuts are $5 here.)
And if that person doesn’t give you any cash, well, it’s understood that sometimes the green-eyed folks don’t have money. But when it happens, especially if you really need that money and you were counting on that $5 bill, you get pissed. Most people, if refused their owed $5 bill, will walk away muttering “That was rude!”
You have been raised not to care that the $5 was going to buy beans for the green-eyed person’s dinner. You, as a non-green-eyed person, have first dibbs on that $5, gods dammit. So, sometimes, when the green-eyed person refuses to give out the money, other people beat the crap out of the green-eyed person and steal all the cash in their wallet. Not you, of course. You would never hit a green-eyed person. You just walk away muttering. But some people and you don’t approve, of course, but some people shrug and say, well… sometimes green-eyed people get beaten and mugged. “It’s sad,” society says, “but what can you do?”
The thinking person responds, “You can eliminate a culture that just assumes people can take $5 from green-eyed people!”
This is a crappy analogy but it’s all I’ve got. (I’ll discuss why it’s crappy in a bit.) I use it because women are the country’s green-eyed ATMs. But instead of cash we are forced to hand out little emotional pick-me-ups.
Thank about it. That’s exactly what these guys at Dunk’s are doing. These guys at the Dunk’s, they are older guys, mostly marginalized. They sit around drinking coffee all day. I don’t know these dudes in particular, but I know guys like them. They are married and their wives are at work or have kicked them out of the house to clean. They are unmarried and it’s raining out so their construction job is furloughed today. They are disability, they are retired, they are unemployable. I don’t know. I do know that very few people who sit and drink coffee all day at a Boston Dunkin’ Dounuts feel awesome about themselves.
So they see a woman come in. And they want to a little bit better about themselves.
And they start to chat with the pretty woman who comes in. She smiles and is polite and gives them some attention for a little while. The big smile and polite attention makes them feel good. It’s a five-minute interaction during which they just took a small withdrawal from the ATM of Molly’s emotions because they needed the emotional equivalent of a cup of coffee.
I can hear you saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s a little polite conversation for five lousy minutes.” But we’ve already established that emotions are as real as money, right? So what’s the big deal about me taking $5 from a green-eyed person? Emotions are real and they matter, so it’s equally as wrong to just assume that you can walk up and feel better by imposing on someone else’s limited reserves. If she wanted to do it, that’s fine. Like when I loan my friend or even a stranger in line $5 for a cup of coffee. But it’s being taken from her.
What’s more, those little emotional pic-me-ups are being taken time and again. Not every guy does it to her every day, but 5 minutes with five guys a day, times 5 days a week, times 50 weeks of the year…. That’s 104 hours a year, or slightly more than four days of her life every year, handing out emotional cups of coffee to strangers in Dunkin’ Donuts.
What’s more, she doesn’t really have a choice. (More on that later in the series.) So it doesn’t matter if she’s cranky or had a fight with her brother or had a brutal day at work or her kid’s sick or she didn’t sleep well. It doesn’t matter if she’s running late or needs to go the grocery store or even if she doesn’t have a good reason, she just want to be left alone today, gods dammit. She has to muster that polite smile, that cheerful attention every fucking time one of these dudes wants to feel better.
And, this is important, it’s just the fact of being a woman that matter here. How we look doesn’t matter here. Molly happens to be stunning and petite, a black Irish beauty, but I get it, too, and I’m no-one’s idea of a petite beauty. I tend to get it from younger guys looking for mom-like validation and Molly gets it from older guys trying to feel like studs. Captain Awkward and UnWinona get it from random dudes on the train. (If you feel like it, read all the comments in the Captain Awkward post and to see the hundreds of women this happens to every day. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.)
Now, I love the Captain Awkward post but it may confuse you because several of the tangential conversation get tangled up sometimes in the “guys are hitting on me” sub-genre of dudes who think they are entitled to talk to women. Let me be clear: this phenomenon can not be reduced to “well, guys hit on women.” The men who talk to Molly aren’t hitting on her. They aren’t even flirting with her. They are just having what they consider a polite small talk conversation with her. The guys who talk to me at Starbucks are not hitting on me. Trust me. There is nothing sexual in their conversation. The dudes who say shit to Captain Awkward on the train are not hitting on her.
This isn’t about sex. I will say that again. This isn’t about sex. Even when some guy is trying to pick up a totally random woman, it isn’t really about sex. It’s about the social dynamic that makes it OK for men to just start talking to women and expect women to be polite and interested back. Even the Onion knows it’s not OK.
Now, this is a crappy analogy. Why? Several reasons. The first being that humans don’t exchange money in small increments as we move through the day. We do exchange small social pleasantries. I say “Good morning,” to the neighbor who walks his dog. The crossing guard says to me “It’s finally stopped raining!” The barista and I chatter about Starbucks’s latest chai offering. Small social interactions are part of what makes the world go around.
That means that there’s a not a bright white line about social interactions the way that there is about money. “Good morning,” is OK, even expected, regardless of gender, right? So what’s the harm in going one step more? When does casual conversation become an imposition? Like many things that deal with the human experience of talking to other humans, it’s very complicated with many subtle nuances and contextual cues. We’ve internalized these so much that we don’t even really notice them. Which is one of the things that leads to over reaching — the subjective shading and justifiable deniability.
Another reason this is a crappy analogy is because it’s commodifies women’s attention and emotions. It equates intercourse with a woman (in this case, social intercourse) with money and frankly that’s a huge big thing that I don’t like. But that’s another blog post altogether. Possibly a dissertation.
It’s also a crappy analogy because emotions aren’t a zero-sum transaction, like money. Two people in a good conversation walk away with over-all positive feelings. These guys who talk to women against their will, they are treating it like an ATM — they demand polite attention and women give it, usually at our own expense. But some women, for whatever reason, will actually feel awesome after one of these chats. They enjoy those small conversations and come away feeling good. So the line, once again, is blurred.
Human interaction resists simplification. It’s sad (at least for bloggers who like metaphors) but true.
Next: Why these dudes don’t respect her cues that she wants to be left alone.