Last night, my friend Holly was in town. We don't often get to see each other, so we decided to go out and have a girl's night together. The first stop we tried to make was at a seedy little dive bar in a neighboring town. Except, now it's not a seedy little dive bar anymore, it's a family restaurant. No place to party. So, Holly said, "Let's go to the bar at the bowling alley."
Let me tell you a little about my friend Holly. She is beautiful, in the Hollywood sense of the word. She is slim, blonde, she dresses clothes that showcase her figure and she has a sort of unconscious sexuality about her that makes her seem innocent and provocative at the same time. This isn't a persona she's created for herself, it's just how she's always been, for as long as I can remember. So, we walk into this bar, and immediately, the catcalls began. The men sitting at the bar turned around to openly stare at her, to say things like, "Oh, baby," and "Look at this one! Hey! Hey! Check her out!"
Were they drunk? Yes. Does that make it okay? No.
We had one drink and decided to leave, because D-Rock was waiting for us up at the bar at the end of my road. We headed back there. This place is familiar territory, it's comfortable, it feels safe. Also, you can drink and then just walk back to my house instead of driving. Pretty awesome. We went in, had a few drinks with D-Rock and her husband, then D-Rock said she would run him home and return to hang out.
Not two full minutes after they left, a man came over to our table. He was clearly intoxicated; not a huge problem, we were in a bar, after all. He wanted help with the digital jukebox, so I showed him how it worked. I started to suspect that he was maybe high on something other than beer or weed. He would lean in close, fix me with a really intense stare, and get agitated if I tried to return to my conversation with Holly.
When D-Rock came back (only a few minutes later, because our town is about two miles deep), she made a fairly innocuous comment about wanting him to leave us alone. I believe it was something along the lines of, "Hey, man, we're just trying to catch up with our friend here, we'd like to be left alone." When he kept hanging around, she tried a stronger tactic, complaining loudly about creeps being drawn to us. But he still didn't leave. He pulled up a chair. Any time we tried to speak to each other, he would jump in and try to bring the conversation back to himself.
Then he hugged me. This was the tipping point for D-Rock, and for me. I never, at any point, insinuated that I would want to make any physical contact with this man. And he put his arms around me, despite my resistance. When I pushed away, he said, "Don't act like I'm going to molest you or something!"
Uh, guy? I didn't say anything about you molesting me. But clearly, it's at the forefront of your mind.
D-Rock got into a verbal altercation with the creep, while I went up to the bar to pretend to pay. I told the bartender, who is a really nice guy, "I'm standing here, pretending to pay, because I think those two are going to get into a fight."
Holly bought our drinks (because she's amazing like that) and let the bartender know that the only reason we were leaving was to avoid that man, and his harassment was hurting their business. Then we noticed that the guy was no where around. Where was he?
He'd gone into the parking lot. Because we had said we were going to leave, he'd gone into the parking lot to wait for us.
Because she was super pissed off, D-Rock went ahead of us, probably intending to kill the guy with her car keys. Her two pit bulls were in her car. The man tried to approach her as she got in. She warned him to stop coming at her. He kept coming. She threatened to let her dogs out. He kept coming. She took off down the road to my house. At that point, she really didn't have a choice to wait for us.
The bartender walked us out, and the guy was no where to be seen. We quickly got into Holly's car and headed down the road. I do not condone drunk driving, but our original plan was to walk home. It was clear, based on this guy's actions, that it would have been unsafe in the extreme to try and walk the tenth of a mile down the road, in the dark, with that guy still roaming around out there. We had to choose between breaking the law or... whatever this guy had planned when he'd gone out to wait for us in the parking lot.
It makes me angry that a man I didn't know thought that me helping him with the jukebox was a contract of some sort. It makes me angry that he ruined our night, when all we wanted to do was have a good time. And it makes me angry that he perceived our desire to not include him, a stranger, in our evening, as rudeness that deserved open hostility.
You know how sometimes when you have a bad feeling about a person, and you don't want to engage them because you don't want to seem like you're being rude? Fuck that. I'm sick of being treated as though being a woman and being in public means I'm an amusement for other people. We came into this bar to have a good time and drink and hang out. There were men doing the exact same thing, at the exact same bar, at the exact same time. But no one was acting like they were on display, or "open for business" so to speak.
Confession: I hate leaving my house. I hate it. I have hated it since an incident in New Orleans this past summer, when I was followed by a man who pretended to be a harmless drunk in the elevator, until he got me alone. I try to dress as androgynously as possible to avoid attention. But that seems to make it worse. It's like my lack of confidence or my desire to hide myself makes a beacon for skeevy guys. Or maybe it's because I am a bigger girl, and they're trying to separate the weakest or the least resistant from the heard? I haven't quite puzzled this part out.
All I know is, women are constantly having their personal space and sense of safety violated in public places, and it's supposed to be flattering. Street harassment, guys who won't take a hint and leave our table, all of this shit is supposed to be desired by us? Fuck that. I was considering not typing up this post, because I thought for sure someone would be like, "Well, it is a bar, that stuff happens there, no big deal," but then I remembered that the people who read my blog on the reg have proven over and over that they're insanely cool and smart, so you all probably understand what I'm driving at.
I'm just tired of feeling like if we go out in public, for any reason, we're opening ourselves up to this behavior, and that if we want to avoid it, we should just stay inside. Because I've been staying inside. I've been staying inside for a while, unless I go out with my husband, because being with a man is literally the only thing that keeps this from happening. If you're owned, if you're clearly another man's property, they keep their distance. But if you're out on your own, or in a group? Open season, and you should be thankful for the attention.
As I was saying, I've tried the whole staying inside thing. And it sucks and it's isolating and I hate being afraid to leave because I'm frightened that a man is going to make me feel ashamed of myself. That's what I hate the most about it. The shame. The doubt I have deep down, that tells me, "Maybe all those other people are right. Maybe I shouldn't be at a bar. Maybe I shouldn't be in this elevator unsupervised. Maybe I am 'asking for it.' Maybe I'm a slut, or a tease. Maybe I should be ashamed of myself." Even though I know, intelligently, that it's wrong for women to have to deal with this, I still can't apply that intelligent thought to myself. I would have no problem standing up for someone else, but when it's me, there's that doubt. Even as I type this, I'm terrified someone will think I'm bragging, and think I'm slutty, although I would never have those thoughts about another woman saying the same things. It's not a lack of trust in you, the reader, but a lack of trust in myself, because I live in a culture that assigns shady motives to any woman who rejects male sexual attention.
At this point, I just don't know what to do. I want to be able to have a drink with my friends without having this happen. That's all I want.
EDIT TO CLARIFY TWO POINTS: A few of you have expressed concern over the fact that we drove after drinking, and that we should have called a cab. I do not condone or excuse drunk driving, but I want to explain why we did not call a cab: there aren't any. We live in an extremely isolated rural community, out of the service area for the nearest cab companies. Our choices were to either chance the drive or walk home in the dark, and start that walk in full view of the creeper. If it had been any other situation, even if there had just been a skeevy guy hitting on us, driving would not have been an option. We chose to drive because it was, at the time, the safest option. The guy had gone into the parking lot as soon as we'd said we were going to leave. We didn't view that as a coincidence, but that he was planning something. We weighed the odds of us getting into a drunk driving accident against the odds that this man would assault us. But a taxi was never an option, because they just don't exist out here (I have, however, seen horses hitched up outside this bar, and I'm beginning to think that might be a good investment).
The second point I'd like to clear up is that the bartender is in no way culpable for what happened. He could not kick the guy out, because by the time we complained about him, the dude had already left the building. There was nothing to kick him out of at that point. The bartender walked us out and kept and eye out for the guy once he was aware of the situation, so I think he did just about as much as he could reasonably do for us. I don't blame the bartender in any way.