To the Old Man in Rite Aid who Told Me To Smile

Dear Man,

First of all, I’m sorry for calling you old, only because that makes it seem as if you were some dirty old man, which you weren’t. I’d like to think that you had the kindest intentions when you came up to me, but the fact remains that you were older than my father, and you really shouldn’t have walked up at all. This is the only apology you will receive from me.

It used to be that when I went out alone, I would put on the meanest face possible, just so people wouldn’t talk to me. Then I got sucked into the world of retail, where you have to look somewhat approachable at all times, and most of the meanness melted away out of habit. When you caught me on line at Rite Aid that day, I wasn’t thinking about my face at all, because I was caught up in trying to separate my thoughts. One thought floated out from the rest: it’s good that I’m around strangers, because I don’t care about these people, and I don’t have to worry about what they’ll think if I absentmindedly start acting unhappy.
It was at this moment that I noticed your slow approach. I figured you would pass by me, and then when you opened your mouth, I got ready to tell you that Yes, the line formed behind me.

“Smile,” you said. (What? I thought)
It was the first time this had happened to me. How do you like that, Man? You were my first. I’d heard about the Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign, and taken part in enough discussions about the liberties men take on the street to make me never want to walk outside again, but this was my first “smile”. It wasn’t until you actually told me to rearrange my face in a way that would be more pleasing to you, that it really hit me how outrageous that command is.
“You’re too beautiful to look unhappy,” you informed me. (What? I thought, and then a confusion of Who’s, How’s, and Why’s)
That was just, there was so much to go off of that one comment. First of all, I was aware of the fact that you believed you had complimented me. Of course! You called me beautiful. Unsolicited, in line at a Rite Aid, where I was minding my own business, you came over and let me know that you found me attractive, and this was obviously supposed to make my day. Never mind the fact that you just twisted your “compliment” into a way to completely invalidate my feelings.
Where do people get the idea that attractive people must be happy? Does no one realize how wrong that is, or are we all too shallow? I remember reading an article about a girl who was bullied so much that she jumped off of a bridge. The article showed a picture of a smiling, blonde, and yes, attractive, young woman. What did people comment about? Not about how awful bullying is, or how there need to be more supportive groups to prevent suicide, or anything that could have led in any way to some type of resolution. Almost all of the comments were along the lines of “She was so beautiful. Why did she have to die?” or, “This is so sad. She was so pretty.” Would it have been any less sad if she hadn’t been attractive? Her beauty didn’t keep the bullies away. I wonder if she tried to tell people about her problems, but was waved off because she was “too beautiful to be unhappy”?
I was also simultaneously aware that if I didn’t say thank you or appear pleased and gracious in some way, I would seem rude. That’s what society instills into girls. “Don’t ask for it, and don’t encourage anyone, but if you don’t take everything guys yell at you with a smile and a thank you, and if you don’t acquiesce to whatever they want, you’re a rude bitch!” There was no winning, and I didn’t feel like being particularly polite, so I smiled warmly into your eyes and simply said, “Ohhh..” Man, did you even recognize that as my pathetic attempt at shutting you down?
“It could be worse. You could be dating me.”
Apparently, you’d missed my rudeness. You were suggesting that I would ever be in a situation in which we were dating.
I don’t like absolutes, and I’m not judging girls who get involved with men five times their age, but that is not my style. This comment was so ridiculous, if I could have processed it entirely, I probably would have laughed. Or not.
I was already realizing that Not Only were you injecting unsolicited opinions into my life, Not Only were you de-legitimizing my feelings, but now you were Also making the assumption that any emotional turmoil in my life will have to do with whomever I date. It’s not like I could have complex issues going on that don’t involve my vagina. I was just a pretty face to you, and ornaments don’t have real feelings.

********************
I was crying in the hallway, a couple weeks after Edward had jumped in front of his train. My friend was comforting me. By all appearances, we were skipping class, and before long a security guard came up to us.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. I was fine ignoring him, but she seemed uncomfortable with the situation.
“Is it boy trouble?” he prodded.
That made me look up. He honestly thought that I would skip class to cry in the hallway about a boy? He genuinely believed that my life was so shallow, so predictably teenager-ish that that was the situation at hand? Offense made me almost forget the reason we were out in the first place.

No” I spat at him, with all the contempt I had the energy to muster. He looked extremely taken aback.

**********************

“My name’s ____” you said with a laugh, and I was grateful, because I really didn’t know how to respond to your previous comment.
“Nice to meet you,” I quietly lied, knowing that I would not give you any name in return.
“You have a nice day,” you said.
“Thanks, you too,” I responded, as the cashier was finally ready for me. Asshole.
The worst part is that I know you didn’t have malicious intentions. You genuinely thought that what you were saying to me was okay. I’m sure that there are people who will say that I overreacted to the situation, even though outwardly I simply let it happen. The thing is, I know that my feelings are valid. I find it so stupid that guys can do or say pretty much whatever they want to girls, and if the girls let their offense be known the guys turn around and say that the girls are wrong. How can you really stand there and believe that what you said wasn’t offensive, if multiple people are offended? Are you really so wrapped up in male privilege that self-reflection doesn’t exist in your world? I guess so. And is it really so wrong for females not to fall over in appreciation of your attention? Apparently, because now I feel guilty, and sorry for you, that I called you a name in my head.

Whatever, though. You may not be an bad person in real life, but that was a bad move.

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