Deep breath. I have to gird my loins for substantive posts.
The other afternoon I was at a party with people in their early 30s. I was telling a story about things street people have said as I walked in San Francisco. Male street people. And I was surprised by the young women’s reaction. These are the stories.
- Two or three years ago I was walking down the street, wearing Levis and a t-shirt. Nothing terribly tight, but since I learned not to wear my pants too big, nothing baggy either. I give you the details not because you want to replicate my experience, but to set context. Passed two men in their 40s, sitting on a set of concrete stairs. Probably drinking beer from a paper bag. Said one man to the other, “She’s sexy,” *pause* “for an old lady.” In fact he pronounced it “Sexay…,” drawing out the last syllable. I laughed, said “Thank you,” and kept walking. That was that.
- Last summer, in 7FAM Dojo jeans, sensible Beautifeel heels, a white tee, blue knit blazer, and my Goorin boater, I passed a street man standing in a bus shelter. “Nice boater,” he said. I was a little surprised he knew the hat genre, but said, of course, “Thank you.” Then he said something else. I didn’t respond. “You could answer,” he said. I kept walking. “YOU STILL GOT IT!” he yelled at my back. In a friendly but loud tone.
I objected to neither event.
But at the party, as we sat in dappled sun, the young women listening made noises of mild outrage. Had they spoken fully, they might have said, “Can you believe it?”
But where’s the rub? This calls for deconstruction. More numbered points.
Should I have minded that the men pointed out I am no longer young? No. No and no. I much prefer “Old Lady” to the saccharine “Miss.” “Miss” implies you think I mind being 56. I don’t. That’s one reason I have let my hair go gray, to make it clear that I am exactly what I am, crepey neck, veiny feet, remnants of pretty and all.
Should I have minded that they implied that old isn’t supposed to warrant catcalls in the first place? Why? It is what it is. As a Darwinist I see it as mostly biology. The species’ relentless rush towards propagation built desire’s infrastructure. Not all desire follows the male-female plan, of course, but the underpinnings remain. Now that I’m out of the fertility game, I expect expressions of desire from those who do not know me, who see nothing other than my hip-to-waist ratio, to dwindle. To disappear, eventually.
I will continue to require them from the appropriately near and dear.
2. Aggressive Sexism?
Should I have minded that men made comments about my looks at all? That they referenced desire, albeit politely? As long as women are victims of sexual assault, yes, perhaps. While neither of my recent experiences happened in at night, no comments were made about my body parts per se, I felt no threat, I still respect the larger concerns around harassment and violence.
3. Passive Sexism?
But on those days, walking down the street, I didn’t mind the by now rare polite and threatless comments. I kind of enjoyed them, truth be told. However, there’s one last part of all this that I don’t like. I wish I were brave enough that when a beautiful man – hair springing from his forehead, broad shoulders, a certain smile – passes by, I could say, “Hey gorgeous!” But think of the rules I’d break, the mores I’d disrupt. A shift is required. For polite male comments of appreciation to ever be completely OK, I think society would have to come to accept the same from women. Of every age. Certainly we’d have to give up all talk of Cougars.
I expect in another 5-10 years I will relinquish all liniments of stranger desire. I will prompt nothing but courtesy. I will try not to mind.