Confessions of a Tough Girl


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So this one night I’m out at a bar with my buddies, and a dude comes up to me.  He’s kinda handsome, about my age - but cocky and gross - I immediately have no interest.  He leans against the tabletop and says, ‘Hey. Help my buddy and I settle a bet. If I grabbed your ass, would you slap me?’


I gave him my most stoic and unsmiling face and said, ‘try it.’


I watched his smile dissolve as he realized 1) I would absolutely slap him; 2) It would be harder than he was ready for, especially in public.


He slumped his shoulders, called me a bitch under his breath, and walked away - defeated. 


I’ve told that story countless times and the moral generally is some combination of: Fuck that guy, and I’m pretty tough.  


So. 


Here’s the part of the story I never tell: 

When it came time to walk to my car that night, I shook like a leaf.  I clutched my keys in the ‘iron knuckles’ grip so familiar - each point sticking out between my fingers like knives. Then, sudden icicles up my spine, I don’t dare look behind me and my pace quickens to a near-run.  At the car, maneuvering the keys out of my grip, now sweaty, I drop them. A scream sticks in my throat as I grab at the ground wildly, scrapping knuckles, they bleed. Then, in a blur, I’m in the car. I slam the door. And I cry. Hard. For quite a while before I can drive home.  He wasn’t there, but he had got me.


So.  


That is not as cool a story. Makes me look like a scared, paranoid, little wimp. 


I tell the full story now - from cool girl at the bar to shivering mess holding her steering wheel - because as I continue to participate in conversations surrounding #metoo, I hear a refrain rather often that implies that there are some women more suited to handle harassment than others.  A notion that tough women, like me, seem to roll with it.


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And frankly, I do usually roll with it.  I am a stand-up comic with red-hair and tattoos. I’m kinda tall, kinda cute, I stand up straight and I often wear an expression that I’ve heard ‘can intimidate’.  I swear, I laugh loud, and I shoot whiskey.  


Which can be an advantage, at times, as such perceived toughness can be a kind of currency. One finds that ‘unshakable’, ‘capable’, and ‘strong’ are deposited into your reputation by both men and women, in part because of your ability to be nonplussed by a pussy joke. In fact, it can give us so much real and/or perceived power, we are sometimes counted among the woman who disregard others’ accusations. I’ve been in many rooms where the first person to suggest a female accuser of sexual harassment should ‘toughen-up’ is often another woman.  A tough one.  


It seems imperative here to say that the term ‘harassment’ while interpretable, is not totally subjective.  No, Mr. Allen, the beating-heart of this national issue is not misunderstandings.  We’re not in a nationwide rage because of bad jokes or mistimed compliments - you know it and I know it.  But for the sake of solid debate and communication, I’ll break down why that night I cried in my car and countless other nights after a bar-time, late-night come-on, I did not.  


First, to review, dude asked me to settle a bet with his friend and himself about how I would react if he grabbed my ass.  When I answered him, however indecorous it may have been, he called me a bitch.  That is neither flirtatious nor fun. It made me fear that he and his friend, drinking and watching me, intended harm - especially after my slight.  This is not paranoia.  This is every city’s regular headline.  


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Most of the men I associate with are banging their heads on their keyboards by now because OH MY GOD OF COURSE! Dude could have crossed the room and approached me in a million other ways that didn’t degrade and intimidate me. “Grab your ass” - c’mon, Dude.


And before one suggests that this is simply a matter of taste - that some women prefer when a guy is crass and some don’t - I agree with you.  Once I informed him that I was the latter, however, his ‘bitch’ is what made me run to my car later.  He was punishing me for not being demure and kind in response to his crassness.  That is harassment.  Not the come-on, but his reaction to my rejection.


Like many of you, I don’t just want to discuss and debate, I’m looking for actionable answers and I have a point to all this.  I don’t think our nation will have any chance of navigating these tumultuous waters if we as individual citizens aren’t taking up our own oars. 


So to that end, here’s what I intend to do moving forward.


I’m going to spare the joke and make it weird.  

This is going to be hard. This is going cost me in ways I could avoid by being funny and/or adorable. 


For example: A year or so ago, a co-worker causally asked me if ‘the carpet matched the drapes.’ A nauseating and all-too-recurring thing all red-heads hear.  


I have my funny answer, one that often puts ‘em on their heels:  I say,  ’I’ve had hardwood floors for years.’  


That might even earn me a big laugh and a high-five which is INFINITELY better/funnier/easier than saying: ‘That inappropriate and you know better.’

  

But.  Fuck it.  I have plenty of opportunities to be funny - awkward confrontation, you’re up.     


I’m going to have Her back. 

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When an accuser comes forward, I will listen to her and believe her.   This is not to say that I will suffer false accusations; they undermine women’s rights in insidious ways.  But a rash of false accusations is not our country’s present illness  - it is the systematic silencing and dismissing of women.  Women are discredited to an extent I’m not sure any of us understood until the past few weeks.  



I’m going to show Him my ears.

I get it! Many men find that what is ‘offensive’ is so subjective and variable from woman-to-woman they can’t possibly win.   


Other men have experienced uncomfortable advances themselves and want to know where their place is in all this. 


Some men offer up a not-unwarranted fear of slippery slopes.  They fear that public fervor could paint them as villains when it is, at best, unintentional; and at worst, a false accusation.  


So, when I hear a ‘can’t a guy tell a joke?’ or ‘can’t a guy compliment anyone anymore?’ I’m not going to roll my eyes or take my answer to twitter.  I’m going to ask him, ‘what do you mean, Doug?’ and try like hell to listen and communicate in a way that brings us both through better off… but I won’t be funny or adorable while I do it…  See Dude, we’ve each got an uphill climb here.   


So.  It aint perfect, but it’s a start. It feels like individual and personal action that can lead to change and that is helping me sleep at night.  


How are you doing with all this?



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