Don't Tell Me I'm Beautiful

I went out of town this weekend, and on the way back home yesterday I stopped for gas somewhere along the Virginia/North Carolina border. The gas station was attached to a Subway restaurant, so after I went in the gas station I went over to the Subway next door for a sandwich. As I walked toward the Subway door, a man passed me, looked at me and said, "Hi, beautiful."

Before I could process what had happened, I had already muttered a quick "Thank you" and gone on my way. After that knee jerk reaction, I was bothered, and as I went to open the Subway door, for a split second I thought, "I should turn around and say something." But say what? I have no idea.

I thought about it more after I drove away, and I was not only bothered by the comment, but bothered that I was bothered. What had this man done that had upset me so much? Why did I want to tell him that he couldn't say that to me, when he has every right to say that to me? What had he done that struck me as so wrong?

I felt like I was wrong for being so offended. I'll concede that he was not the most-polished looking guy. Would I have reacted the same if a younger man had said it? A more attractive man? A woman? Maybe I wouldn't have been as offended if it had come from an attractive man my age. Maybe if it had been a woman complimenting my purse or my shoes, I would happily accept it.

But I think there's a difference - maybe at times subtle in definition but big in magnitude - between a genuine compliment and an unwarranted comment. This was not the first time, or even the worst time, that it's happened to me, but I always react the same way - even though it's probably harmless and maybe even *gasp* someone just trying to be nice. I've always thought, "How dare he!" How dare he judge my physical appearance a mere second after seeing me for the first time. How dare he look at me in that way, as if I'm just a pretty object, not a person with far more qualities than my physical attributes. 

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it ran much deeper than that. It's not so much the thought (which is still a problem for me, but I understand human nature), but the fact that someone would find it appropriate to share that thought with me. Because once that barrier has been shattered, I suddenly have no idea what boundaries, if any, that person has. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but that makes me really uncomfortable. It scares me. This guy, for example...right after our exchange I walked in to an empty Subway (at least no one at the front counter) and went to use the restroom. What if he had followed me? What if he had waited for me? What if Ben hadn't been outside pumping gas, and I had been alone? 

The fact is that nothing probably would have happened, but it could have. I don't want to say that, as a rule, I'm fearful of men or people in general, but I have an acute awareness that bad things do happen to women. More than I think any of us are comfortable with. I think of what happened to Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington and countless others like them and wonder if they found theirselves in a similar situation before their tragic and untimely deaths.

I know this reads like a nonsensical stream-of-consciousness, because it largely is. I just can't help but wonder. It feels like an it's-(probably)-not-you-it's-me situation, but I feel like I have to err on the side of caution. Just in case. Because once a stranger opens that door, I just don't know how far they're willing to keep going through it.

13 comments :

  1. It is really scary how you don't know what people's intentions are. That man may have been trying to be nice, or he may have been majorly creepy, you never know.

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  2. have you seen the video of the woman walking down the street in NYC getting cat called left and right? I watched it last night for the first time and felt SO UNCOMFORTABLE. it is crazy to me that men think they can say whatever they want to women. especially in those types of situations- even if it is meant to be a compliment, it often comes off as creepy and unwarranted. what would be the best case scenario for the man who said it? that you would turn to him and fall madly in love and run off with him? sorry, this is ranty but I am so glad you wrote about this!

    I told a (male) coworker how excited i am to vote today and he was so confused.. i told him it was a privilege and that there are millions of women around the world who don't even realize that it is in their realm of possibility. he walked away and i am sure, thought i was a total weirdo- i think he already thought this. is this related? maybe.

    GIRL POWER FOREVER.

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  3. I think this goes back to trusting your gut instincts. Whether or not his man meant you any harm, your gut fear was triggered. You can't ignore that and you aren't wrong for honoring it.
    What a great reminder to just be aware and be careful.

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    1. That's a really good point. I feel like you just never really know what someone's intentions are and that can be a very scary feeling.

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  4. Girl. I'm right there with you. It's really sad, but this thought is constantly on my mind. I always make sure to be aware of my surroundings, and I give many people "the stink eye" (especially while running).

    I've had a total of 2 incidences while running where I KNOW the men were up to no good. The first was shortly after I began running. I was only running a mile and a half-two miles. My husband [then boyfriend] was about a quarter of a mile ahead of me and I was on a secluded road. There was literally nothing but more road and trees behind me. I saw a man walking on the opposite side of the street, coming my way. As soon as he saw me, he started crossing the road to get where I was. I gave him the meanest look I've ever given anyone and I quickened my pace.

    The second was while training for my first half. I was running alone one morning because John was at work. I noticed a truck driving very slowly behind me. Soon, it sped up and the men inside watched me. They turned a corner. In a second, they came around again. I was trying to get home and then... I saw the truck YET again behind me. I completely passed my house (because I didn't want them to know where I lived... alone) and turned a corner. They passed me a 3rd time. As soon as they were out of site, I ran back home.

    It's scary, what we have to be cautious of.

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  5. I can't express all my thoughts on this topic without rage-spiraling all over your blog, and you're a smart girl and we seem to see eye to eye, so I'll just try to put it in a few fine points:
    1. He took it upon himself to not only make an observation about your physical appearance but to express that assessment to you, as if a) you are/should be concerned with what he thinks you look like and b) he has the right to offer you that commentary.
    2. It wasn't a greeting. It was an assessment. He was letting you know he found you beautiful. Which is inappropriate for the fact that it is uninvited, unwarranted, and unnecessary.
    3. It contributes to the culture. If this was the first or only time this had happened to you, it would be one thing. But the fact that many men feel it is their freedom to cast verbal judgement on the women around them simply because they happen to be there is the part that's not right here. It's not a compliment from a stranger. It's almost an approval from a stranger: an approval you did not seek, and an approval he has no reason to think he is welcome to give.

    A lot of people will see your commentary, mine, and the rest of the sentiments in your comments as overly-sensitive feminazis being too uptight about some guy just trying to pay you a compliment. But the problem is that you felt uncomfortable, even for a minute, doing something so tedious and mundane as getting gas and a sandwich, simply because a man found it his place to let you know he approved of how you looked. Tell me any man has had that same experience with the regularity that women do.

    I'm glad you posted this, but sorry we're still having to talk about it.

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  6. I second what everyone else has said and really say always trust your gut instincts, it's there for a reason! Have you seen the video of the girl that walked around NYC for 10 hours and recorded how men spoke, hollered and looked at her?

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  7. Ugh. My eyes went straight to the 'Hi, Beautiful' and I was instantly disgusted. I don't want to be all like me, me, me but I have had to deal with creeps since I was about 11. It's what has made me into such a bitch. I hate it, but it's true. I automatically think every guy is a creep and would do something horrible if I didn't stand up for myself and protect myself. And isn't that horrible? I won't run at night because I'm convinced the guy that honked yesterday will come back and kidnap me, I won't go into a gas station alone on a roadtrip justincase, I won't do so many things. I'm getting older, not old, but older and I don't get the looks and cat calls that I used to. I should be upset, losing my beauty, but I'm not. If I could be ugly to everyone but my husband, I'd take it.
    That specific guy - if that happened to me, I would have just made a disgusted sound. I don't want to be too rude, because in all honesty what if the guy was a freak? he's most likely going to be stronger than me and could overpower me in a second. and that is terrifying. but that guy wasn't saying hello to you, or telling you that you were beautiful. he was just being a creep and thinking he had a right to say that to you.
    what always got me is, what is he expecting? honestly? is he expecting you to say oh my god yes, take me now? or what about the guy who honks when you're out running, does he think you're gonna get in his car? I have never understood it and it just blows my mind. We can't do anything about it and so they keep doing it.

    I'm with Alyssa, I'm glad you posted it but I hate that it happened and I hate that it happens to so many girls and that it's so 'okay' because it is so not okay.

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  8. I'm 100% completely with you! When make make unnecessary, unwarranted comments about my looks - especially in passing - I'm grossed out and immediately go on the defensive. If a man I know, even just as a acquaintance/contact says, "You look great today!" then I take that as a compliment. Why men think it's ok to comment or whistle at women is beyond me, but it's disgusting and makes women so uneasy and uncomfortable.

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  9. I can completely understand where you're coming from. I say more than anything else to trust your instincts- regardless of what exactly someone said, if it made you feel bad or uncomfortable, it's probably wrong.

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  10. Even though while reading this it felt like it was all over the place, it made complete sense to me

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  11. Oh girl I agree. I feel uncomfortable generally with random compliments about my looks and body but the catcalling is insane ... all around the world. I know some may mean well but its kinda unnerving!

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  12. I have to agree. It's so odd to me that people say those things, but hey I guess some people are more vocal than others. When I was in high school I stopped at a gas station and a group of guys backed their car up as close to me as possible (I was looking for something in my trunk) and yelled horribly disgusting things. It was late and no one was around and I carried fear around with me for weeks. Some people are just yucky people!

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