I’m really proud of myself right now, though this may sound like a weird thing to be proud of.
Women can surely relate to this. I was writing at a coffee shop here in Spain. It’s dead this time of year (no tourists, whoo-hoo!), so I was the only person in the whole cafe. About a half hour before I was gonna leave, a man walked in and said hi in a thick foreign accent, which is a strange thing to say to a stranger in Spain (I don’t dress American nor did I have a backpack like a traveler).
My intuition radar immediately went into caution mode. No “legit” reason other than gut feeling, which women have to trust to not get murderded and shit. He didn’t seem dangerous… but I just didn’t like him. It was subtle. But I’ve learned to pay attention to subltle.
I consciously policed all my moves, as women have to do in public places. Don’t encourage him. Smile so he doesn’t want to kill you, but just barely so he doesn’t think you wanna fuck him. I said hello back, then buried myself in my computer to say nonverbally “Yo, I’m super busy so don’t talk to me.” He paid attention to none of this, which is always a huge red flag, then plopped down right next to me.
In an empty cafe with 12 other tables.
“Are you a pilgrim?” he asked. I know that sounds like a weird one, but there are a ton of what they call “pilgrims” here—people who hike across Spain on the camino de Santiago. “Nope,” I said. See, mister. I’m so busy I can’t expand more or ask you anything back. Busy as a bee over here! He continued to ask me questions, which I gave short one or two word answers to. “America.” “Teaching English.” “Yep.” The whole time I answered without even looking at him. Just stared at my computer cuz I’m just SO busy!
At this point you might wonder why I don’t just talk to the poor guy. I’m a traveler after all. I’ve hitch-hiked across Ireland, Argentina, and parts of America alone. I meet incredible people and haven’t been murdered yet. But that’s because I listen to intuition and right now it was telling me he doesn’t respect boundaries and has no empathy (even a child could tell I didn’t want to talk and to leave me the fuck alone).
Or why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off, Melanie?
Well, cuz being a woman means constantly navigating between not pissing men off cuz they might follow you home to chop up your body with a box cutter or rape you behind a dumper out back vs. not being a complete bitch to strangers. All of this while trying to also maintain a shred of dignity. I do not like to feel small, disempowered and/or threatened by some idiot dude. But I usually err on the side of not getting murdered. Plus I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. To an extent.
I finally told him I’m a writer and that I’m working. “Sorry, but I can’t talk right now.” But he didn’t care. “Oh! I’ve been looking for a writer. I want to write a book about my life story.” OKAY, NOW I REALLY HATE YOU, DUDE. Not just for not caring about ruining my sacred writing time, but because another narcissist wants to write a book that will have no self reflection whatsoever.
As he went on and on about how amazing (boring) his life was and how he’d hiked the camino seven times now (bullshit), I started packing up my stuff to go. And that’s when he said “Do you want buy me coffee? I could use coffee.” The old me would have done it, just to get this man out of my life. Or out of trying to be a good person. Or cuz I feel bad for him. Poor hippy who chooses not to work so he can walk. Or I’d buy it out of fear. But I’d already assessed he wasn’t a murderer, just a creepy entitled man baby who preys on the kindness and vulnerability of women. I still thought to myself that I should be nice to him. That old “make men comfortable at your own expense” brainwashing at it again. Or the “you owe men something cuz they’re not being awful to you” BS. But my anger shut that shit down immediately. FUCK THIS GUY. I don’t want to give him anything. So I won’t.
“Sorry,” I said shrugging, “but no.”
In the past I would have lied. “I don’t have any change” or something to make him not feel bad for asking a woman he’d been creep’n on to do him a favor. I don’t like it when men feel bad about themselves! (I’m a true co-dependent/survivor through a through). But now that I’m 40, I’ve finally stopped making men’s feelings my priority. He certainly hadn’t given two shits about mine. By the way, He would have never done this to a man. Men know how to say no better than we do. Plus there’s the whole him-weighing-70-pounds-more-than-me-thing that makes it scary for me to risk making men angry.
Something awesome happened then.
He said “Uh…. sorry” after I let him feel super fucking awkward instead of trying to make him feel better. I guess because I didn’t try to protect him from realizing he was being a creepy dick, he got the message.
Keep in mind too, I’m 40, not 15 or 25. I’m also not tiny and I’m confident as fuck. You better believe other women get this shit like ten times more than I do.
This is not a dramatic story, but it is a huge victory for me. One of the things that drives me to stand up for myself now (after decades of not) and to stop letting strangers (always men) violate my time and space, is my responsibility to other women. If I let him do this to me, it reinforces his behavior. Now he knows at least one woman doesn’t like that shit. Maybe it will change nothing. Or maybe he’ll realize there are consequences. I used to hook up with men cuz I didn’t want them to feel bad. Let them get away with awful behavior cuz I was afraid or didn’t want them to feel bad. I used to do nothing when men on the subway would masturbate in front of me. They thrive on our silence. Now when strangers masterbate in front of me, I laugh as loud as I can.
They stop. Always.
Shit like this happens to women on the regular. Men we don’t know, who care nothing about our humanity, forcing us to give them shit. Our time. Our smile. Our money. Our coffee. Or attention. Something.
Well, Im done. And ladies, I hope you are too. Only men who deserve it get things from me now. Unless I sense they might actually murder me. Than I give them whatever I have to. Not dying or getting raped is always my priority!