This was not the first time.
I don’t even think this was the one hundred and first time. But it still struck me when the man I’d just let into my home to work on the upstairs air conditioning unit got inappropriate with me in under 5 minutes time.
I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve spent time trying to figure out what it is I might’ve said or done that “invited” his inappropriateness. I’ve considered what I was wearing. It was a baggy, long-sleeved sweater, baggy full-length pants, no makeup, glasses and a very thick wedding band, in case you were wondering.
I’ve considered my tattoos. He couldn’t even have seen any of my tattoos except the one on my bare foot, and he commented upon noticing it only AFTER he’d already gone in some unfortunate directions with the conversation.
It started when I told him that he’d either need to use a ladder to access the unit on the roof, or he could climb through the bedroom window. I might have sounded skeptical but not voice my skepticism about that last option because he was a big, tall guy, and the window is not exactly large. His response was “I’ll try anything once… except men.”
Ummmm. Ok ??????
As a rule, I don’t leave situations like this alone. Though I’m not sure how I learned or developed this particular coping mechanism, from a young age I’ve been known to either laugh and go along or one-up a person who sexualizes a situation because doing so helps me feel safer and maintain some sense of control.
But this time I didn’t. I just sort of raised my eyebrows, opened the window, and went back downstairs to wait for him to finish his work, while wondering why on earth this guy thought he needed to let me know definitively that he was strictly heterosexual.
When he came back downstairs, it was clear he’d given it a great deal more thought. He added that in addition to not trying men, he also would never try hard drugs- though he’d had plenty of opportunities. He went on to say that he’s not a heavy drinker, doesn’t even buy any alcohol himself but will drink a couple if someone brings drinks to his house, and doesn’t smoke, because his mother died of cancer.
While I nodded in confused approval of his “healthy” lifestyle choices, I still could not stop asking myself what kind of vibe I must be putting off to invite such strange, personal, inappropriate conversation from a stranger. He was a “nice” guy. He was friendly. He did his work. I can’t say for sure, but he didn’t even appear to realize he was being inappropriate.
I kept thinking about it long after he was gone. As I imagine many of you have, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years longing to be treated with respect, but maybe, at last, I finally realize that being treated with respect has much less to do with “being respectable” than I’ve been lead to believe.
I wanted to believe it. I really did. And I still think there is some truth in it. Giving the appearance that you respect yourself will sometimes lead others to treat you with respect. But SOMETIMES is the keyword, and knowing how to give that appearance is a little tricky.
I have tried various methods of doing so in my nearly 40 years on this planet and never really found any of them an inoculation against this sort of thing.
I’ve tried wearing “modest” clothing (because if you don’t, then we all know you’re “asking for” disrespect).
I’ve tried wearing “tough” clothing like all black, leather jackets, combat boots, red lipstick, high heels- you name it (because if you look tough then maybe people will treat you with respect).
I’ve tried being “educated” (because if you don’t speak with perfect grammar and without a southern accent and hold a degree from a fine college or university you can’t expect respect).
I’ve tried being “plain spoken” employing the idioms and vernacular and metaphors of my fellows (because you need to “tell it like it is” if you want respect. Please see current POTUS for details).
I’ve tried being married to the right guy with the right job, having a new car, going to the right church, and having a house on the same street as the Congressman.
I’ve tried being in a sorority. I’ve tried not drinking alcohol, and drinking alcohol. I’ve tried not having tattoos, and having them. I’ve tried being flat chested, and having perky breasts. I’ve tried being a vegetarian, and eating meat.
My latest thoughts on the matter have gone something like- maybe if I let my hair go gray, or maybe when I’m over 70 men with whom I interact by necessity will stop sexualizing situations that have nothing to do with sex. Maybe people will have more decorum. Aren’t elders supposed to be respected?
I don’t know whether that will be true or not, but I do know I’m tired of trying to figure it out. I’m tired of trying to figure out what might or might not prevent me or others from having to deal with this stuff at all. And I’m tired of trying to figure out HOW to try to deal with it when it does.
As I said earlier, my previous modes of operation when faced with such were to smile and go along or to become more aggressive than the person who is disrespecting me. For example, if a person were to catcall about my nice butt- I might moon them. Yes. Really.
I find I usually use the smile and go along method with people I consider “nice” (although I’m still confused about why “nice” people act like this), and I tend to use the more aggressive technique with people I deem “not nice”.
But what I’m left with after the most recent strangeness with the air conditioner repairman is this, NONE OF IT MATTERS. I can respond either way or not at all, and it isn’t likely to change the other person one bit. I can wear or not wear anything I choose, live anywhere I choose, have any job I choose, etc., and it will probably not increase or decrease the incidence of these situations one bit. And, on the off chance that getting older does, in fact, cause it to stop or at least slow down, it will very likely keep happening to my daughters.
So I might as well just be myself and encourage them to do the same. I might as well just live my life in alignment with my own values and do the best I can to surround myself with people who treat other people with respect unconditionally.
Some of you will remember my story about covering up my first tattoo with a different one, but for whose who haven’t heard it, here’s a quick summary.
On my 18th birthday, I got a tattoo of a daisy with one petal off representing that childhood game of picking the petals off one by one to determine whether “he loves me” or “he loves me not”. But last year, I got it covered up with a beautiful rose and alongside it the words, “you are loved”. Because I am loved. I love me. And that’s far more important than whether any “he” loves me or not. I’m also loved by God. And there has never been and will never be a question about whether or not God loves me. And if that question slips into my consciousness, it is not because of God, but because of the enemy.
It seems that now I’m ready to add respect too. Love and respect should always go together, but it hasn’t always been the case in my experience.
I’m finally ready though. I’m ready. I’m ready to respect me in an unshakable way. I’m ready to stop worrying about giving people the appearance that I respect myself in the hopes that they’ll treat me with respect and instead, just respect myself enough for the lot of us.
I’ve already done it with love. I’ve already done it with trust, i.e. I don’t actually have to trust other people all that much as long as I can trust myself. I suspect it will be the same working with respect. I’d like you to respect me, but I don’t NEED you to respect me. I most certainly DO need ME to respect me, so I’m just gonna do it.
It turns out that it’s the most radical thing of all- to love yourself, to trust yourself, to respect yourself. And it takes more discipline, dedication, and practice than anything else I’ve ever tried.