Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Face To Face with the Man on the Street (Or Rather, On the Jogging Path)

Dear Guy on the Street Who Just Shouted at Me to Smile:

Actually, in all fairness, you didn't actually shout at me to smile.  To be specific, you said... and I quote, "Hey, baby, why aren't you smiling on a day like today?  What's that face for?"

Since I wasn't aware I was actually making any specific face at the time, I was taken aback by the comment. I had to stop and imagine to which face you could be referring. See, for a moment, I was thinking about myself, and not you, and while I realize that this is rather unforgivable, I confess it happens most of the time. But I imagine, since I was on a running trail, dragging my sorry, too-large ass off the couch for the first time in a long while, it looked something like this.:

That's my "God this is truly annoying, my blood sugar is low, and I could really use a taco" face.

It could also have been my "I'm trying to forget I'm on this running trail by thinking about what I will be writing after I've finished this running tomfoolery and gone home to write" face, which looks something like this:

Or it could be what I call my "Urban Warrior" face.  I don't think I have a picture of that face, but it can be best described as a kind of "I'm either homicidal or crazy or both, so stay the fuck out of my way" face.  This is the face I created when I turned around fifteen and started getting real boobs.  I created it for men like you.  Men with no boundaries.  Men who believe that my sole function in life is to give them something pretty to look at.  See, back then, I used to look more like this:

And because i looked like that, men began letting me know that they were paying attention.  To my face. To my tits.  To my ass. To my body as a whole, and how it pleased and displeased.  My mother, who was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, discovered the same thing around the time she turned fifteen as well.  Usually, her face looked like this:

I was raised in a woman's house by a woman alone.  She once told me, "If you adopt the right attitude, you can walk down any street in any city and be pretty safe.  You cannot be weak.  You cannot show fear.  You cannot look lost or confused.  No matter what, you belong there.  No matter how lost you actually are, you're right where you meant to be. And anyone who tangles with you is in for the fight of his life. People won't fuck with you."  (Note: Nobody fucked with my mother.) So I began to watch her.  When we were on our home turf, she was amiable enough, friendly enough.  But when we were someplace new or strange or out of her comfort zone, the face became hard and kind of ferocious.  I studied that face.  I learned that that face kept men -- men like you, actually -- away from her.  They called out, but they kept their distance. And that's what a woman alone most wants. To be able to walk down a street she doesn't know, or jog on a running path by herself, without having to be worried about being approached by a stranger who wants something from her.  Maybe just a smile.  Maybe more.  Maybe he's just looking for a way to break the ice because he's lonely.  But I have to wonder why he would choose a shout-out as a mode of introduction.

You see, sir, the face I was probably wearing - my "Urban Warrior" face-- was invented for men like you.  Men without boundaries or propriety, who truly believe that women -- all women, of all ages -- were put here to smile at you and make you feel worthy.  Because I was raised by a single woman in a single woman's house, I was raised with no such idea about the world.  I have never been trained to believe that as a woman out in the world, my job is to make men feel better about themselves by plastering a fake smile on my face, even while I'm engaged in a very personal, very internal effort (i.e., jogging to get back into shape).

You may be a perfectly nice man, who simply learned unacceptable modes of behavior from the men around you. You may be a husband and a father and a grandfather to girls - girls you may treat as if they were princesses.You may have never even swatted a fly.  But by shouting out to me in a public place, by trying to augment my behavior to accommodate your aesthetic, you have over-stepped your bounds.

The fact remains that Ted Bundy got almost all of his victims by playing into the societal training that woman receives to be "nice". To be "helpful".  To let down her guard, or be shamed into doing so, because she's not being "nice" and "helpful" enough. You're no Ted Bundy, you'll argue. But I have no way of knowing that. Until I know differently, all men who are unknown to me (and some who are, for that matter) are Ted Bundy, and will be treated accordingly.

"That face" is for you.  "That face" has helped me walk down streets in the roughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in Kansas City on the darkest of nights in the wintertime, unscathed.  "That face" saw me through a moment where I got lost in New York City at 19, took the wrong subway and wound up in Hell's Kitchen.  This was pre-Giuliani, pre-"I *heart* New York" Hell's Kitchen -- tight neighborhoods where no strangers were welcome, let alone some blonde Valley Girl tourist.  But "that face" allowed me to -- after the sweet bodega owner took pity on me ("that face" and all) and told me how to get back to Manhattan -- make it to the other subway platform and get back to my hotel.

"That face" is my only weapon in a world that teaches women that we're bitches if we turn a man's advances away, and whores if we don't.  It is the weapon I use in a world that has taught me since childhood that my job is to make it out of this world without getting raped, instead of teaching its men simply not to rape.

So, kindly sir on the running path, thank you for your concern about my face.  No need to worry. I'm pretty sure that my face is just fine.  See I have a few other faces.  Let me treat you to a few that you will never see in your lifetime.

This is my face when with my two best friends in the world:

And this is my face at a birthday party for me, with my friend Valerie, who has known me for... well, let's just say we were embryos when met and leave it at that, shall we?:

And here's my face I save for my darling grandson, who is very funny and wacky:

You didn't see any of these faces because you're not entitled to them.  You don't deserve them.  They don't belong to you, because you haven't earned them. My face belongs to me, just as yours (complete with that loud mouth of yours) belongs to you.  And I'll make the call as to who sees what, if it's all the same to you.

I hope this explains my "face position" once and for all, and alleviates the overwhelming anxiety you seem to feel regarding my facial expressions.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

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