If anyone was wondering where this came from, it popped up because I'm writing a memoir (sort of). Historically, a lot of my best friends have been male, and taking a tally of "my girlfriend thinks you're awesome" vs "my girlfriend gets exceedingly upset when I talk to you" made me realize how goddamn depressing the ratio was. I have never intentionally stolen anyone's boyfriend, and to my knowledge I have never been The Other Woman, either. I don't think I have a reputation as a man-eater -- if I do, it's news to me, since I don't even date much. I don't act any differently towards the guys whose girlfriends have a cow than I do towards other guys, or the girls I know, and many of the girlfriends who flip out have not flipped out over other girls, so my best guess is that they think I'm attractive and therefore a threat.

There are probably more girlfriend freak-outs in my past that I don't even know about. I tumbled onto the Magic Power of Boobs pretty late in the game. People have told me that I was beautiful all my life, but it took being away from my bizarrely-competitive mother for several years and a professional photographer offering to pay me to model out of the blue while taking class portraits for me to realize that people weren't just politely rounding up from "acceptably cute". Took a couple more years for it to dawn on me how bizarre it was that, for all the things the other kids decided to harass me for in school, they never picked on my looks. Apparently getting torn apart for your appearance is a kind of a normal thing for teen girls? I honestly don't know.

Since then, I've made something of an effort to be aware of how other people react to me, in the same way I make an effort to be aware of how people react to me doing stuff like filling in a Sudoku grid without putting the pen down, or using technical medical terminology in conversation. I usually notice being hit on, and I catch a lot of the environmental stuff, like guys giving themselves whiplash to get a better look. Other people are better at seeing when guys are not actually making a pass at me, but are paying an inordinate amount of attention anyway. A friend of mine in Flagstaff used to invite me to attend his lit club meetings, which were at the local brew pub; I mostly sat in the corner with him (and his boyfriend, when they were both there), but he kept a running tally of how many of the guys got themselves into trouble with their wives or girlfriends by engaging me in conversation. He thought it was hilarious.

The thing that drives me crazy about it sometimes is a combination of not being able to substantially change the way I look, in the same way I can change the way I communicate, and of other people using it to fuel assumptions both about me and about themselves. I'm also whiter than white and a cisgendered female, but society has decided that being racist or sexist is, in a word, unfashionable. There are still people who have those sorts of attitudes, but the mainstream sees them as antiquated and evil. Consequently, there is a great deal of social pressure on them to keep their thoughts to themselves, or at least not to act on them blatantly. They may do so anyway, and they may sincerely feel that any blowback they get for it is wrong and unfair, but they're aware that there exist a lot of people who would give them flack for it.

There's no such social stigma against trying to equalize the playing field by taking someone you see as "attractive competition" down a few pegs. Like many other revolutions, the movement to establish acceptance and celebration of different kinds of "beauty" began by asking "What's so great about those specific standards?" as a way to start a discussion about what's so great about all the other standards, too. And, also like many other revolutions, the discussion can get corrupted into a push to devalue what was previously held in high esteem. People who have felt very put-upon their entire lives sometimes slide into thinking that they're the personal agents of karma -- they figure, people have fallen all over themselves to be nice to me up until now, and I need a taste of the cruelty and ostracism they've gone through. It's happened to me, and to other people while I was around to see, just often enough to make me realize that it is indeed a Thing, and something I need to watch out for.

My ability to not be the thing that makes other people react is also very limited here. I can dress down, and most of the time I do, but it doesn't make me not look like Jessica Rabbit; it makes me look like Jessica Rabbit in a pair of grubby blue jeans. Truthfully, I was hoping that by the time I hit thirty I would actually look my age, and pass gracefully into the category of "pretty lady, shame she's a few years too old for me" for random twenty-somethings with rabidly jealous girlfriends, but apparently this is not going to happen. The average guess is 21-22, and has been since I was sixteen, with the occasional outlier who asks me if I've just started college.

I dunno what to do about any of it, aside from continue to not steal boyfriends or be bitchy to other women, and otherwise be an upstanding citizen.