I got a promotion a few days ago, so I decided to stop for a drink on my way home — just me and my sense of accomplishment. I ended up alone in bar, running defense against a bouncer who held my ID hostage while he commented on my ass (among other things), and asked me vaguely threatening questions about my sex life.
This is not a Yelp review. It's not an angry rant, and it's definitely not something women need to be reminded of. As far as I can tell there is only one good lesson to pull out of this otherwise shitty and all-too-familiar interaction, which is that in my experience, a lot of thoroughly decent men are still having trouble understanding it.
I have a friend who once joked that it was all right for him to catcall women because he's good-looking. I had another ask me in faux-outrage why it was okay for me to describe a cupcake (as in an actual chocolate baked good) as a "seven", but not okay for him to rank women the same way. I was recently at a house party where a group of guys referred to a soundproofed recording studio in the basement as "the rape room" like 45 times. Some of these jokes were a little funny; some of them really weren't. But they were all indicative of something more sinister, and I honestly don't think the men in question even realize it.
So to the generally well-intentioned men in my life, please consider this: no matter what I accomplish or how self-assured I am feeling, the aforementioned dickhead bouncers of the world will still believe they have a right to demand my time and attention, even when I want to be alone. They will still insist I be polite and cheerful, even while they make me uncomfortable and afraid. They will still comment about my body and allude to sexual violence, and then berate me for being "stuck up" if I don't receive it with a sense of humor. They will still choose to reinforce their dominance with a reminder that they could hurt me if they wanted to, and that I should somehow be grateful if they don't. This has made me defensive. It has put me more on my guard than I would like to be.
Decent male humans, this is not your fault, but it also does not have nothing to do with you. If a woman is frosty or standoffish or doesn't laugh at your joke, consider the notion that maybe she is not an uptight, humorless bitch, but rather has had experiences that are outside your realm of understanding, and have adversely colored her perception of the world. Consider that while you're just joking around, a woman might actually be doing some quick mental math to see if she's going to have to hide in a fucking bathroom stall and call someone to come help her, like I did three days ago.
Please adjust your mindset and your words accordingly.
This essay originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with the permission of the author. Cover image via Shutterstock.