A story, and a lesson.

My girlfriend B told me a story today.

She works retail, and she’s not particularly happy there, but it’s a schedule that works for her while she’s finishing grad school and her town has an abysmal job market, so there she says for now. She has an interesting cocktail of brainthings that make her really temperamentally unsuited to retail, including anxiety and OCD, and it’s very draining for her to have to be “on” during her workdays. She tries to keep herself anchored by focusing on maintaining a meticulous organized system of one of their store’s walls of merchandise. She can get by, but it’s not ideal.

Today, while she was focused on fixing the wall (something her coworkers frequently kid her about, to which her response is usually a glib mention of her OCD), and a customer noticed her. He was maybe mid-40s, upper middle class probably. He seemed to think her cleaning was funny and said “Can I take you home with me?”

Her coworker laughed, and B said “No, I would not like that” while making what she refers to as her “I am only a young girl and know little of the ways of war” face, which is a paraphrase of a quote from the Song of Ice and Fire series, a scene in which Daenerys deliberately plays up her image as a naive young woman in order to conceal her true emotions. He laughed at this and continued to talk to her all throughout his transaction (she was not the one serving him). He was doing that thing that men do with attractive young saleswomen, the bantering, where they demand her attention even when she’s giving off soft nos. Finally he left.

That was hours ago, and she’s still rattled. She tells me she feels gross, and like he was thinking of her as an object rather than a person. She’s angry at that man for feeling like he was entitled to her attention and for making her so uncomfortable. She’s also angry at her coworker for laughing and playing along and not pointing out how fucked up it is for a man to ask a sales clerk to come home with him (albeit possibly not in a sexual context, BUT STILL).

I’m angry too. I’m angry that that guy didn’t realize that what he said was REALLY inappropriate, and I’m angry that he felt it was okay to banter with her even when she was staring back at him blankly, and I’m angry that it will never occur to him that that was not okay. I’m well aware that in his mind, it was a harmless joke, and there are probably contexts in which it would be a fine joke to make, but this was not one of them. This was a guy ignoring common sense, social cues, and the other party saying “no” in order to get what he wanted, which was the attention of a pretty girl. Then he went merrily on with his day, not even bothering to consider the effect it had on B, who was creeped out and unhappy and continued to be so for the rest of the day.

So. I don’t have the energy to write a long screed in this post about all of the reasons this is bad, so instead you get a very short thesis statement: men, consider your actions. Consider how you would feel if you were a retail worker and someone said that to you. Consider if the person was someone of your preferred gender(s) and then if they were someone of a gender that you are not attracted to. Consider. And then act accordingly in the future.