Tuesday, January 31, 2012

To Men, From "Alternative" Chicks

   The day before yesterday my husband and I wrapped up an amazing weekend of learning and association with some of our closest friends at a leadership convention in Columbus, Ohio. We grabbed the last of our things, notebooks filled to the brim along with our hats and gloves, and we began the short but, cold walk to our car for the drive home. In the elevator a man much older than myself told me that he "felt compelled to tell me something" and not knowing how to respond I just said "Ok". He mumbled something but I couldn't quite catch it entirely, but I thought that was it... so when the doors opened and we all stepped out I was a little surprised when he asked me if he could tell me something. I, wanting to be polite, said yes.

   Turns out that what he felt compelled to tell me was a rather crude joke about a teenager with a colorful mohawk, an adult male, some confusion over a night of drinking and something rather crass about a parrot. The punchline was essentially that the man was staring because he thought that the kid could be his son. I'll leave it at that for those who haven't heard the joke before. Sadly, I had. It wasn't any funnier this time around. The whole interchange left me feeling extremely uncomfortable. Even so the man did not seem to have ill intent, just a bad sense of humor... and propriety for that matter. So I did what I normally do in situations like this and attempted and smile and tried to squeeze out a polite half-laugh.

   You see, the reason that he felt particularly "compelled" (in his own words) to tell me this was because of my hair. My purple and blue hair. He then, ignoring my dis-ease, proceeded to start in with the "well I as long as you're not damaging your hair... " nonsense that I am so very used to hearing.  My husband came to my rescue at this point and casually reminded the guy that hair is in fact already dead, to which the man responded by telling us how his wife had been a hairdresser for many years and "well, uh, ya, i guess you're right". Then as if it made everything all better he informed me that his daughter "does her hair like that."

   Looking back I wish I had asked him how he would feel about men telling his daughter jokes like the one he just told me.

   This interaction got me thinking about two different, but very important to me subjects. One being the commonly discussed problem in our modern society, of women being viewed as to blame for any kind of negative or inappropriate attention they receive. Or worse yet attacks. The second issue being the misconception many people seem to harbor about people who choose to dress "outlandishly"; that they must not only be comfortable with attention but actually be seeking it. There are some of those people in the world. I am not one.

   I do, at some point in the future intend to cover the first of the two issues, it being the more serious of the two and very close to my heart. But for now I want to clear up something in terms of those of us out there who, like me have purple hair, or something equally gawk-worthy about their outward appearance. Particularly women. We do  not, I repeat do NOT, all want your attention. I am speaking both in general terms and directly to the men in the world who see things of this nature as a green light for raunchy, inappropriate talk or gestures toward "us". Wild hair, heavy makeup, tattoos, piercings, fill in your trigger aesthetic here... do not equate to trashy. They do not indicate that we have little self-respect and therefore are not worthy of yours. My aesthetic choices are not an invitation for an opinion, though I know it is commonly seen otherwise.

   Yes, I want people to like the way I look. Yes, I do love the compliments I get and even sometimes, on rare occasions, the questions from intrigued strangers. But, more often than not the attention (positive or negative), when based solely on the obviously abnormal part of myself, makes me uncomfortable. I would rather be addressed like everyone else. That is a naive thing to expect and I know it. That desire is also not strong enough to override my need to look on the outside, the way that I visualize myself on the inside. What I am getting here is that this is me being vulnerable. This is not shock value or attention seeking, or confusion. This is me being comfortable in my own skin. For the first time in my life. This passed year has been the first where 9 times out of 10 I am able to forget entirely about my appearance when I walk out my door. I don't feel like a fraud anymore. I am not worried somebody is going to "find me out". Call me out on the fact that my looks don't match the person wearing them.

   Many times, however I am quickly reminded that I am different. I knew that would be the case going into this, and for me it has proven easier to overcome other people's reactions than it was feeling uncomfortable in my skin. BUT! All that being said, I will not accept this attitude any longer that a woman, by choosing a certain, in this case alternative, aesthetic is waving an "anything goes" pass around for anyone wanting to take her up on it. In conversation or any other arena. If you wouldn't say it to your daughter, please, do not say it to me.

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