Since writing about My Date with a Stripper, I have continued to hang out with my friend, “Grace”, and have learned a lot about her world. Usually we just talk on the phone, text, FaceTime, drive around, get coffee, or peruse the shelves of Ross Dress for Less, but last weekend I wanted to step into her world a little more. After debating where to go and what to do one afternoon, she suggested we go to a local beach hangout near her house. I love the beach, and I love to be anywhere near the beach, so I was in. I thought sitting down for a while would give us more time to talk as opposed to going to a movie, so it seemed like a win-win situation.
Let’s just say I had no idea what I was getting into. As soon as we pulled up near the restaurant, she suggested I park behind a nearby strip club because parking would be free. Since I was driving my husband’s car, and I wasn’t so sure about the idea, I opted for a perfect on-street spot that was free and convenient. As soon as we got out of the car and started crossing the street, I noticed total strangers just looked at Grace differently. It was frightening, actually. Where as I am used to being ignored or smiled at politely, she was stared down by men in a butcher-shop-cut-of-meat kind of way, and scowled at by women whom she’s never met. I have never seen anything like it.
As we walked into the restaurant, the male staff members looked her up and down with weird smirks on their faces and women rolled their eyes. The only seating available was bar seating, as people were coming in from a beautiful beach day (the first of the season), so we pulled up two chairs. Within seconds, two middle-aged men were standing behind us, awkwardly staring at my friend and attempting to start conversation. I looked at them with the obvious “Do I know you?” face. She just ignored them. We very clearly did not know either of these men, yet they wouldn’t go away. All of the servers were female, and it took 20 minutes to get one of them to take our order. They wouldn’t even look at us, and when they did I caught some eye-rolls before they turned the opposite direction.
Now, I will say this. Grace can be a little brash. Actually, she can be pretty rude. It’s usually a defense mechanism, but that doesn’t make it ok to be rude to people. When she snapped at a server for not paying attention to us, I told her that I tend to get a way better response from people when I am nice to them on the front end. We agreed to disagree, for now. I guess it’s hard to be friendly when you are slut shamed every time you walk in a room.
When we were finally able to order our tacos and side salads, I couldn’t help but notice that men, whom neither of us had ever met, were just sort swarming around us, like vultures hovering over a dead carcass. I promise you they weren’t there for me. In fact, I seemed to be invisible. Grace paid them no attention, but these men just wouldn’t go away. I kept giving them the “May I help you?” face a la BonQuiQui, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.
Everyone around us was making a judgment call based on how Grace looked. I thought she looked adorable. She was wearing leggings, running shoes, a workout top, and had her hair in a high pony tail. She was wearing way more clothes than the women who were walking in and out of the restaurant in string bikinis. Her finger nails have been replaced with “glitter talons” (my name for them), but other than that nothing really stood out to me. Somehow, though, every person who looked our way seemed to know what she does for a living, and it horrified me how people were treating her.
We walked towards the stage to hear the band and she was stopped by a table full of guys. They wanted to know who she was and what she was doing that night. Y’all, that has never happened to me in my life. (Ok, maybe once in my twenties when I was acting a fool.) Grace got a little flirty, and the guys were completely mesmerized by everything thing she did and said. They paid no attention to me. One guy finally asked if I was her homegirl, and laughed out loud when Grace said, “Yea she is!” They probably thought I was her bouncer or something.
Grace had no problem telling these guys that she and I met in jail and had become friends. I struck up a conversation with one of the guys who was very full of himself and ready to put on a show. I asked him where he was from, how he got to Florida, and what his story was. I finally felt comfortable enough to ask him what made him talk to Grace and call us over. He said he knew she was a stripper. I assumed he must have seen her dance somewhere, but he said no. He just knew. He said that it’s the woman’s job to “set the tone” when she walks into a room. I asked him if he realized he was treating my friend like a piece of meat. He said she “put that out there” with her “aura”. I called BS. No one wants to be treated like a slut, so what gives him the right to do that?
He said it’s all on the girl. He just responds to what she “puts out there”. I told him it sounds like he is controlled by women. He agreed. He said it was the woman’s job to “put out there” how she wants to be treated.
Now, I just have to confess that in this moment I wanted to kick this guy where it hurts most. It actually took every bit of self control I possess to not engage in a physical altercation. I took a deep breath, though, and remembered his story. And then I challenged him by saying, “What if you decided to treat all women with dignity, regardless of what they put out there?”
He stared at me blankly, then shook his head and said, “Nah. You just gotta understand, this is just how men are. This is what we do.”
I left that interaction so angry and discouraged. I have been married to an amazing man for 8 months and have almost forgotten how bad it was when I was out and single and in the bar scene. I have forgotten that guys used to grab my butt or worse with no invitation. I have forgotten how horrible people treat each other. I have forgotten how rare it is for the average guy or girl in a bar to treat each other with dignity.
My heart has hurt this this conversation. I live in a bubble where people either treat each other well, or just don’t talk about how they really think and feel. I have forgotten just how broken we all are and how we see others and their worth. Y’all, we have to be having different conversations with people. Just telling people to “do better” isn’t working and it isn’t going to work. Silence isn’t going to work.
Most of us treat people they way we have been treated or been taught to treat others. A young man who was raised by his buddies and the internet is not going to treat a woman with dignity. The waitress who judged my friend based on her appearance is obviously harboring some feeling and opinions towards other women. The middle aged men who were creeping around Grace have formed some sort of belief about young, single women.
No amount of shaming or blaming is going to change how people treat each other. We need to be in relationships that change others as well as ourselves. We need to have conversations that change hearts, not just behaviors.
Something needs to change, or I am going to end up in a bar fight.