I had a therapist ask me once how I felt about getting catcalled. She was not an unattractive lady, but as she was very thin, spray-tanned, salon-blonded and wore $300 platform pumps to a sliding-scale counseling appointment that cost me all of $40, I suspected that she was one of those people who, regardless of what she actually looked like, didn't feel beautiful until she was old enough to buy it.

She didn't seem to know quite what to do with my answer when I told her that I really didn't think about it much at all. Wolf whistles are right up there with the phrase, "Wow. You're really smart," on the list of environmental noises that just sort of happen when I leave the house and interact with people. Everyone has guessed my age at 21-22 consistently since I was about sixteen -- I'm thirty-one now and I still have to argue with people and occasionally show them ID when they don't believe me -- and I used to get guys in the mall coming up and asking me "So, where do you go to school?" and turning right the fuck around when I gave the name of a local high school instead of a community college. People do recognize that this is the kind of thing I'm likely to get, and I think they expect me to be very angry about it, assuming that I get the kind of skeezy, possessive treatment described by the good Captain a few days ago, on her tale of annoying entitled twits on the el.

The thing is, I don't. I never have. I can count on one hand all the times I can remember where some guy wouldn't go away after I dismissed him -- and I remember those because they're extraordinarily rare. The worst thing I can recall anyone ever shouting at me from a moving truck is, "Lookin' good!", which after hearing about the things other women get sounds sort of charmingly, Leave It To Beaver-ly squeaky clean. They don't slow down and follow me. They don't shout abuse at me when I keep walking. People apologize for bothering me on the bus when I go back to my Kindle, and then they stop talking.

I have a number of theories as to why this is, but the main one was espoused to me by my mother, of all people, back when I was a teenager. I was allowed to wander around by myself at the mall when I was 14-15, but when my sister was that age she wasn't allowed to do the same without having at least one friend with her. It pissed my sister off to no end, and my mother told me -- with orders never to tell my sister, which is incidentally a horrible thing to do and which she did a lot -- that it was essentially because my sister, when she was fifteen, looked like your standard fifteen-year-old girl, and when I was fifteen, I looked like Someone Who Should Not Be Fucked With. It wasn't just that I looked older than I was, but that I generally walked around like I knew where I was and what I was doing, and had every right to be there.

It was about half bluff when I was in high school -- looking like Someone Who Should Not Be Fucked With is a great way to make people choose to leave you alone rather than actively bullying you. It's not much of a bluff anymore. People -- both those who might feel the need to protect me, and those who are scoping out potential targets -- assess me as someone who doesn't really need help taking care of herself. Even David, who is a Nice Jewish Boy From Jersey and is required by his very DNA to worry about everything, never blinked when I went out by myself to photoshoots, on the grounds that if the 'tog did something I didn't like I would just kill him myself.

This is probably going to sound petty and conceited, but here's the main reason why:

I run on the assumption, no matter who I'm talking to, that I Am Smarter Than You. Usually much, much smarter. This is not always true, but statistics are overwhelmingly on my side, and when I do meet other 99.99%-ers, they're usually so overjoyed to find someone else who speaks in full sentences that we immediately make friends. To a lesser extent, I also assume that I Am Prettier Than You, and I Am Charming-er Than You, and I Am Less Terrified Of Talking To New People Than You, but those are all much more subjective and down to individual taste than the smart thing, and I have a lot of official paper documenting the brains, dating back to the day people started taking notes on me in the first place.

Most of the time, none of this matters at all. I'm just a person talking to another person. I have good point and bad points, and the other person has good points and bad points, and it's fascinating to see how they're the same and how they're different, and so on and so forth. Our relative amounts of social capital are irrelevant, except insofar as they are within the same order of magnitude such that we can have a conversation without either one of us feeling the need to grovel. Being smarter (or prettier or charming-er, or what have you) doesn't automatically make me a better person; it's just a thing about me.

But the people who corner you, who feel entitled to just take your time and attention if you don't hand it over willingly, are not talking to others as "just people". They are performing acts of social aggression, demonstrating to you that you will interact with them regardless of how you feel about it. They are trying to take the role of dominant personality in the social transaction by acting like they have it by default. I simply don't give it to them. If you want to force a Blankier-Than-Thou contest with me, you're going to lose. I win because I do, because I say so, and additionally because I'm a young female and if I decide to cause a scene, nobody's going to run to your rescue.

(Some women get all bent out of shape over being seen as "non-threatening". I think it's a great advantage. "Non-threatening" is not the same thing as "potential victim" -- the assessment that I'm not a threat is generally correct, in fact, as I don't make it a habit to wander around assaulting people over nothing. It also means that I am culturally allowed to do things like approach strangers and ask for or offer help without people immediately rummaging around in their bag for pepper spray. In the event that I start screaming, assholes are not really much inclined to stand up and help other assholes, but there are a lot of people whose personal code of ethics includes giving aid to people who ask for it, who will certainly stand up for me.

It also works wonders when your car has suddenly quit on you. The last time Moggie and I were in a vehicle that simply refused to finish getting us where we were going, random people materialized out of fucking nowhere, asking if we needed a hand.)

The smart thing is also not something that you can see from across the street. I act like I'm quite sure I have more social capital than they do and that I can pull rank whenever I want, but they don't know exactly why, which puts them in the precarious position of not knowing what exactly they should pick on me for to try to get the upper hand. Normally I don't even have to get down to playing Dorothy Parker before they decide to quit while they still have an un-punctured ego and go away. I do have soft spots, like everyone else, but they're not in places strangers are likely to be able to get at, particularly if they're not really interested in listening to the things I say. Which they are usually not -- listening to and acknowledging the noises other people emit is an act of social respect, which they are trying to avoid as part of the power play.

I only find the dueling-subtitles game fun when both people are playing it cooperatively and intentionally, so I shut down the Blankier-Than-Thou stuff pretty quick. I just refuse to play, with a silent side of 'well that's rather childish, isn't it? especially since you're losing anyway'.


  1. I've noticed much the same myself. The dynamics are obviously a bit different as I am not a woman, but I've always interacted with people while believing very strongly that I could trust my own mind, and having all the confidence that goes along with being intelligent and knowing it. I generally don't bend to other people's opinions unless I really don't know anything about the subject; even in that case I am a fast-enough processor of information that I can tell whether what someone is saying is valid, and ergo, whether I should listen to them. And I think that type of certainty shows in some way, and people don't tend to give you shit when they can tell you're not going to care. I mean, half the time I'm not even aware other people exist unless I decide to pay attention, or they stand out in some positive way. The rest is just background, and most jerks are treated just that way by my mind.

    Added to that, I've always looked very young and as far as I can tell I have a flashing neon sign beaming "trustworthy and kind" attached to me; I get complete strangers telling me their life stories, it's really rather bizarre at times how easily people open up to me even without any prompting. And generally I've noticed exactly what you mention; it is a huge bonus in some ways because people really are more likely to help out. I've never been stranded on the side of the road, but I get random offers for help (usually from older women that think I look totally adorable) all the time and people generally go out of their way to be nice to me.

    I think the second quality is more of a potential issue when you're otherwise very unsure of yourself and your ability to handle social aggression. Although in that case the lack of confidence is probably more of a beacon of attraction to would-be jerks than being "non-threatening".


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