by Sophia Escudero
Today, I was sitting at the bus stop with a significantly more male friend of mine when a man I had never seen before approached us and asked when the next northbound bus was coming. My friend didn’t know, but I pulled up the bus schedule on my phone and informed the stranger that he had another three minutes to wait.
“Thank you,” the man said with a smile. “You know, I thought you were a huge bitch at first, but you’re actually really nice.”
I am not a woman, but by accident of my birth, I am often perceived as such. I have experienced the casual misogyny and willingness of strange men to just say things that probably didn’t need to be said since at least the age of ten, when a man first leaned out of a car window and shouted the specifics of what he would like to do to me, and while he’s at it, to the small dog I was walking, in my general direction.
I speak with experience when I say that men on the street will really say the most bizarre things and go about their day, while the person they shouted at just has to live with the garbage that they spewed without a second thought.
What really gets me about this man specifically was his sincerity. He truly believed that he was paying me a compliment, and likely went about the rest of his day believing he’d had a pleasant talk at the bus stop.
It is important to note that I had never seen this man before in my life. What was it that convinced him so thoroughly that I, a stranger at the bus stop minding my own business, was indeed a massive bitch? Was it my short, butchy hairstyle? My Captain Marvel t-shirt? The fact that my friend and I had just been discussing sexism in women’s sports when he got here? If so, why was I the only bitch? Shouldn’t the person agreeing with me be a bitch as well, if that was the case? While I know that when a man is a bitch he is weak and when a woman is a bitch she is a rabid animal, wouldn’t he be a bitch (masculine, derogatory) for cowing to my radical feminist notion that women should not be forced to expose more skin than they are comfortable with, even though he had brought that point up in the first place? Although, the man only told me, not him, that I was really nice and not a huge bitch. Perhaps he meant to suggest through omission that my friend was the huge bitch here?
I wish I had said, “Oh no, I actually am a massive bitch. You were right the first time.”
I am a feminist and a lesbian, and if this man’s general vibe was an accurate reflection of who he is, then I imagine both of those words are threats to him. Yet, if I had declared myself a bitch, would he have realized that maybe calling a stranger a bitch for no clear reason is a super weird thing to do? Or would he have laughed at my attempt to assert myself, before going home and complaining online that biologically, women can’t be funny?
I refer to myself using all kinds of things people have hurled at me —dyke, bitch, man-hater and the like— and have reached the point where I embrace them. I’m a bitchy man-hating dyke on purpose, and I’m proud of it.
I can certainly reclaim this for myself, but would this man on the street even register that I was subverting the patriarchy by refusing his words their intent? Would he care? Is this even about me?
Unfortunately, I was too stunned by the fact that a person would just walk up to a stranger, congratulate them on not being as bitchy as anticipated, and think they did something to express all this in the three minutes before his bus got here. I could only say, “…okay?” in a voice I hope adequately expressed how much he was embarrassing himself, and resumed talking with my friend where we had left the conversation.To all the men who are thinking of saying something to a stranger in public, I say only this— don’t. In fact, don’t say anything to anyone, no matter where you are. Just don’t talk. To anyone. Please shut up forever, thank you.
One of the advantages of getting older for me has been that I no longer get noticed by guys like that. Sometimes I think about writing a book of responses women can use for situations like these; i.e., “that’s funny, I thought you were nice at first but now I think you’re a bitch.”