Last night I had dinner in Santa Monica with a friend. We were seated at a bar with empty chairs next to us and at one point during our get-together a thirty-something guy sat down near us and struck up a conversation. We chatted with him for a bit before I made the mistake of using the word "exploit" in a sentence and he pounced: "Are you a feminist?" Unfazed and unashamed, I smiled and answered that I was (my friend does not consider herself a feminist because "feminists think all women should have to work." Sigh). Then came the typical thinly veiled hostility, the ungentlemanly remarks about my and my friend's bodies (superficially complimentary, but completely rude and obviously meant to antagonize), the totally inappropriate topics of conversation. Etc., etc. Pretty much the same thing that happens every time I talk to a guy who comes to realize I'm not a typical pretty ditzy LA girl, but I actually have a brain and not only do I know how to use it, I will use it to run circles around them if they can't keep up. I found the conversation somewhat entertaining, because usually these guys end up digging their own holes. By the end of dinner, he was suggesting that my friend and I come to his place for a wine tasting, noting how "romantic" his place was. Riiiiight. Thanks but no thanks, buddy.
Anyway, we left and I was still giggling at the absurdity of the conversation. My friend was laughing a bit too, but she was decidedly more shocked than I was. As we drove away from the restaurant, she talked about how unbelievable this guy was, how he had seemed cool and normal at first but he had acted completely rude, etc., and she'd never seen a guy act so badly in so many different ways before. I shrugged -- it actually seemed to me like a fairly typical conversation with a random barfly who wasn't worth our time. I mean, this is why I almost never date -- they're virtually all like this*, so what's the point?
And then it hit me. I always figured guys responded a little bit differently to me because I'm smart and outspoken, etc. But my friend is smart too, and she's no wallflower, and yet this guy's behavior surprised her. The realization dawned on me that men treat me disrespectfully because I have the audacity to insist on equality. To these neanderthals, I'm not an equal they can have a beer with and shoot the shit with and complain about their jobs with. I'm a little girl insisting that she be allowed to drive Daddy's car. And when they realize I won't back down from my unreasonable demands, they get nasty. It's like they're challenging me, competing with me, trying to beat me for the sake of putting me in my place. Showing me that I'm different from them and therefore not equal. (To be clear, I'm not suggesting this is their conscious intent, since I don't think most of them are smart enough to consciously intend it.)
I never realized how very different I was treated from other, non-uppity women, until a non-uppity woman witnessed the rudeness with which I'm consistently greeted by men and expressed how unusual it seemed to her.
Man, talk about paradigm-shifting.
* There are, of course, exceptions. Like my boyfriend Andy Samberg.