I Am Not An Object: Feminine Autonomy in the Public Sphere

IMG_0932     There is a thrum about a Saturday night in this part of Atlanta.  It’s a very young neighborhood in a city old enough to have had second thoughts.  Burned to the ground, Atlanta is still a place on fire.  If you stand very still on a street corner on a late summer evening, beneath the tide of traffic, under the spill of light and music, the smells of a hundred restaurants and the peacock brilliance of women dressed for attention, you can catch the sound of flames and see the flutter of ash-filled air.

There is a ghostlight that pools in the darker spots, alleyway mouths and places between street lamps on the older streets.  I don’t often come into the City after dark if I don’t have to.  Years of working here never quite managed to dull the razor of these perceptions.  I can feel its breath on the back of my neck.  This town has eyes that are sad and full of painful remembering.  My skin crawls beneath the weight of this place–chills in the humid August darkness.  Atlanta is not a place that has dealt with its own past, yet, and anyone with an ounce of sense can feel that tension, see how it touches the unaware.

I took a seat at a table for two, the polished wood surface barely large enough for an overpriced martini and my smallest notebook.  When intentionally socializing, I only bring a small bloc for jotting, since my larger journals tend call attention to what I’m doing.  About twenty minutes after my friend was supposed to show up, my phone delivers the bad news.  They’ve overbooked themselves.  Again.  But do I want to come out to Vinings and meet some great people he’s gotten to know?  A house party.  It’ll be great fun, he texts me.

I consult my martini.  The olive lurking at the bottom of its shallow vodka sea wiggles, but isn’t nearly as oracular as I might have hoped.  Do I want to drive an extra thirty minutes to a strange house where the dark, close air will be choked with pot smoke and gangster rap played far too loudly?  Sit on a couch and be cornered by some mook who thinks my sole ambition in life is a disappointing and decidedly unsavory three minutes of him grunting between my legs?

Looking up at the tastefully lit meat market where  my friend suggested we meet, I ask myself, “Why would I want to leave all this?”  I watch the interplay, the jockeying for position, for advantage.  From where I’m sitting, I can pick out which ones will likely get laid and which ones won’t.  Body language never gets boring.  I drain my glass and catch the olive between the back of my tongue and my soft palate.  You’re not very helpful, I think at it as I crush the salty fruit and swallow it.

The waitress brings me another without my asking for it.

“What’s this?” I ask her.

“Dirty vodka martini from the guy at the bar.” She rolls her dark eyes, lined in metallic emerald green shadow. “Dark hair, ‘Dickhead’ stamped on his forehead.” She puts a cocktail napkin down on the high top table and sets the fresh drink on it.  With a purse of her ruby lips and a shrug, she waits to see if I’ll send it back.

“Please thank him for me, but tell him I’m expecting someone.”  I say.  Why shouldn’t I enjoy the fruit of stupid people?  It’s not as if I solicited it.  And if I could be bought, I think my price would be far higher than a single martini–even an overpriced one.

It doesn’t take more than six minutes for the Dickhead to invade my space.  I know what you’re thinking–maybe I’m being too harsh on him.  He could be a nice guy.  Why should I be so dismissive of him? Nope.  He was a dickhead.  He had that unctuously smooth, over-rehearsed coolness in his walk and his posture.  His hair, well–he’d probably spent 45 minutes and an ounce of product making it look like he hadn’t taken much trouble with it. I could also smell him before he approached the table–or more accurately, I could smell his cologne.

But, in my defense, I did try to be friendly…after ignoring him didn’t succeed in making him go away.

Looking up and pretending to be startled, as if the fact that he bathed in Drakkar Noir was possible to miss. “Hello.” I said.

“Hi, I’m Rick.” He put his hand on the back of my chair, and I tried to subtly lean away from his hand without leaning toward him.  “I see you got the drink I sent you.”  He pressed when I didn’t respond.

“Yes, and the bartender should have rendered my thanks, already.”  I tapped my pen against the table,wondering when he would leave.

“So, can I sit down?” He asked, moving toward the other chair.

“No.” I replied, somewhat disappointed, because that meant he went back to standing with his hand on the back of my chair.

“Why not?” I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  “Do you have a boyfriend or something?”

“No.” I said again.

“No, you don’t have a boyfriend?  So why can’t I sit down?”

“Because I don’t want to talk to you, Rick.  I want you to go away.”  I tried not to sound as rude as I felt at that point.

“So, you like other girls?  I’m okay with that.  As long as I get to watch.”

Something in the middle of my brain snapped at that point.  Was this actually happening?  Was this real?  I groped for something to say, but I could think of nothing.  And then, it got worse.

Leaning way too close to me, he whispers in my ear, “I know you want it.” and puts his other hand on my upper inner thigh.

Rather than beating him to a pulp, I laughed and said, in my sweetest voice, “Rick, don’t make me spill your blood in front of all these people.” And then I jabbed him in the ribs with my uncapped pen.

He squealed and jumped back, calling me a crazy bitch.  So, I stood up.

“Let’s be clear, here.” I pitched my voice so it cut through the noise of the bar.  Heads turned. “If I don’t want to talk to you, I have to belong to someone–another man?  Or I have to be a lesbian, which you turn into some kinky sex fetish for your personal delectation, rather than a legitimate sexual orientation.  And if I don’t enjoy your flagrant assault on my body in a public place, I’m a ‘Crazy Bitch?’ Do I have that right?”

“I just bought you a drink and tried to talk to you.”  He shot back.

“Yeah, and jammed your hand between my legs.”  I snorted.  “You don’t even know my name.”

“Fuck you.”

“That’s not my name, Dick.  But I’m pretty sure no one else here will fuck you either, tonight or ever. So there ya go.  You did it to yourself.”

 

~

I sit here in my jammies thinking about what happened tonight, and, beyond the realization that I’m tired of people, it stirs questions.  Why do women have to defend their presence in a place by claiming to be owned by another man? Why can’t we just not want to talk to someone?  Why do we have to be a lesbian or a frigid bitch for not wanting to talk?  Why are we still objects? Why are our bodies still considered the community property of men?  What is that?

(There will be more content related to the title.  But later.  It’s late.)

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One thought on “I Am Not An Object: Feminine Autonomy in the Public Sphere

  1. Unbelievable. Or, maybe not; I’m not really that naive. No one should have to go through that. I’m glad you stuck him with the pen. I’m glad you shamed him in public, too. You deserved more. Everyone does.

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