“…some fathers fear horses, but most fear, instead, women; some fathers masturbate because they fear women; some fathers sleep with hired women because they fear women who are free…” – Donald Barthelme
Here is why I never leave my apartment:
Because when I dare venture out from behind my computer screen, inevitably there is an old white man passing through the hall, who tells me, “You are really cute,” after asking twice, redundantly, using two different phrasings, if I am having a good afternoon.
Well, I was until… The thing is, I have not been “cute” in at least a few decades. When I was in my twenties, I was drop-dead gorgeous. Only I did not know it yet. Now I feel fortunate to be holding onto still-beautiful, but not willing to descend to “cute” to acquire access to resources.
The problem with men attempting to start a conversation with me by telling me how “cute” I am is that conversation gets killed before it ever becomes born.
By passing judgment on my physical attractiveness, the man has already communicated to me his arrogant presumption that he considers me to be an object for his gaze. I am not an object; I am a subject, much like him. Only smarter. And more attractive.
“Cute” is a diminutive adjective, further communicating to me a lack of respect for my age and my intelligence. If there is anything I like less than a man who is not as intelligent as I am, who nonetheless condescends to me, I cannot think right now what that is. “Cute” is for infants. “Cute” is for puppies, kittens, and little baby chicks. “Cute” are the ceramic figurines for sale at your neighborhood drugstore or gift shop, cheaply mass-produced in the third world for consumption by bored, middle-class Americans desperately caught in the throes of their death drive.
“Cute” betrays the rather limited vocabulary of a man old enough to remember the Second Wave of the American Women’s Movement by virtue of having lived through it. “Cute” compels me to wonder what was this man doing with his life during that era? Ogling the sudden influx of bared mammary glands, so reminiscent of his mother’s? Amassing his Wall Street fortune? Burying his head in the sand? That position might be appealing to an ostrich, but I am a human being. Maybe good to remember that hiding your head in the sand leaves your derrière hanging out in the breeze.
“Cute” communicates this man’s masculinist condescension toward, not just me, but all women generally, as well as his weak uncertainty in his own masculinity, asserting it as he has over a stranger, through this random encounter in the hallway outside my apartment door.
While likely intended as a compliment, “cute” still further communicates to me not just this man’s disconnection from the era in which we live, but also his ignorance of rudimentary feminist theory, basic biology, anthropology, and human psychology, and ignorance is a quality that I do not find attractive in a potential mate. Males want access to females. Females want access to resources. Feminist theory does not alter biology, anthropology, or psychology; it simply brings to light the social construction of patriarchal authority.
Biologically speaking, it is not my job to be “cute,” or physically attractive to men. It is the male’s job to attract me. Peacock, shake your tail feathers. Lock your ostentatious horns in battle with another rutting stag. If all else fails, flash me your cash.
Worse, to my back as I escape via the street door and he follows, his narcissistic chatter continues, “Well, I know I don’t live in the building, but I…” I-I-I all-about-me revealing to me his wounded self unable to form empathetic relations with adult human beings. Halfway down the block I hear, “…well, with that said…” in the petulant whine of a posthumanist man much accustomed to rejection, still pouting about his mother’s abandonment five or six decades later, still searching for that replacement womb.
To men who have not yet figured it out, I would say:
Stand up. Be a man. Get yourself to your nearest university before all of academia succumbs to corporate pressure to produce nothing other than drones intended to increase the profit margins of the science and technology sectors. Demand that they offer a course in Feminism 101, if they do not already. You should be able to find the class in their philosophy department, if they still have one, though you may have to pester the department chair about its availability, as I did, or possibly buried in a poorly funded, ineptly named program sometimes called Women’s Studies, if it has not already been axed by administrators lusting after economic profits while sacrificing humanity or managers selling out their sex by catering to the social activities of the sorority set. Their coursework is not actually about the study of women, much as that might at first disappoint you. These classes are unlikely to be available through your neighborhood corporate diploma mill because our patriarchal capitalist culture reinvents, upholds, and reinforces the biologically unsound notion that adult women might be flattered by the infantile appellation “cute.”
Your scholarship should help you further consider what it means to be human, to be a man, to be able to relate to other human beings on a level that I consider to be basic human dignity. Ideally, you will lose the urge to cling to the security blanket of your traditional notion of masculinity. Pop your suckling thumb out of your mouth, Linus, let go your fear of relating to the other half of the human race, and attract Sally’s attention. To put it bluntly, in simple terms that even the most awkward peacock can understand, identity theory put into practice outside the classroom might help you score.
To the man lurking outside my door, I wonder what did you expect in response to your intended flattery? A girlish giggle? Let’s have dinner? Your place or mine?
This hallway encounter reminds me of another, not too long ago, with a young blonde, blue-eyed male not too far beyond adolescence, who, zipping in the opposite direction on his motorbike while I walked down a city sidewalk, spun around to tell me how fabulous my new haircut looked, while idling alongside me.
To which I replied with laughter that I hope, in retrospect, did not sound giggly, thanked him for the compliment, as well as for not wolf whistling, as I have waaay outgrown that.
Whereupon this cute young pup shot his wad with me by asking the question that, in another era, used to be considered impolite to query of a woman, impertinent at best or rude at worst, lately I have noticed it becoming more and more common from both male and female inquisitors: “Well, how old are you?”
I repeat, the conversation that begins with the male assessment of female attractiveness ends before it can come into being.
Or, to answer another way, this bitch is old enough to know better, young enough to attract the attention of both young puppies and old dogs. Now scoot along, little dogie.
These two encounters are not dissimilar from a third, not long after I moved to the city, a hunk of burning black love I encountered during an evening’s constitutional after spending far too many daylight hours with no company other than my computer screen. As he approached, his gaze swept over my body, but met my eyes in greeting, and responded to my friendly rural acknowledgement of hello, how are you, with, “You look beautiful,” in my most faded jeans and a worn tee shirt, no cosmetics, a welcome compliment.
And you’re not at all bad yourself, hollered halfway down the block, before turning, shrugging, and then what? Where is that conversation going to go? Turning back, continuing on. Still kicking myself over that one, and should he pass my way again, I shall invite him to come swinging with me, no, not what you might be thinking. Like kids, in a sandbox, with plastic pail and scoop.
Give him a chance to tell me all about his fears and hopes and dreams, and listen while I tell him about mine…
With that said, to the older gent visiting one of my neighbors, I might have, too, found you attractive. Until you opened your mouth.
And to the ladies, however young or old, still busily dolling yourselves up to be as cute as possible to the opposite sex, ask yourselves, do you think maybe you deserve better? If not, why not?
Now back to my screen-to-screen interactions…