The Cool Girl and the Misogynist
Recently I went out for drinks with some friends. I was the only girl in the group of 8, so I had the vague sense of trying too hard that I tend to get in these situations. I worry that if I act too much like a girl, then I’ll seem like a wet blanket, so I laugh a little too loud at crude jokes and drink more beer than I really want and pretend not to be uncomfortable with details of sexual conquests. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hanging out with guys, it’s that being outnumbered makes me feel like everything I do or say is done or said in that way because I’m a woman.
The desire to be the “cool girl” gets me into trouble when I’m faced with a sexist asshole, like I was on Saturday. This guy - I’ll call him the asshole - walked in, did not introduce himself, jumped right into a conversation about Battlestar Galactica (my favorite show), and completely ignored my effort to join in. He was the kind of person who ruined every joke by saying something like, “You feel really good about that one, huh?” He told us about how he was dating two girls at once (yeah right) and how girls “don’t like that very much” when they find out. Hilarious!
These guys had gone to college together, so the conversation turned to people they used to know and what they were up to now. One former classmate had really “hit the jackpot” by meeting and marrying a Brazilian bombshell while sailing around the world. Someone passed an iPhone around to show off pictures of her. Everyone agreed she was super hot. Then the asshole made eye contact with me for the first time all night to say, “If he’s really lucky, she doesn’t speak any English.” His gaze felt like a challenge. Like, please say something about me being a misogynist so I can tell you to calm down. So I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to fall into the trap he had set for me. Then he said the same thing again, but louder, which is the mark of true comedic genius. “Maybe she can’t even speak to him. That would be amazing. Then I’d really be jealous.” Again I resisted the bait, so he added, “As long as she can understand when he tells her what to cook for dinner.”
I opened my mouth and all that came out was “You are a jerk.” He smiled, the way the really defiant kindergarteners in my class do when they realize their behavior has gotten to me. I immediately regretted what I said and how I said it and saying anything, really. Other people in the group jumped to the asshole’s aid immediately. “Oh, ignore him, he doesn’t mean it,” they said. But the problem is that he did mean it. The jokes weren’t funny or original. They didn’t turn the idea of someone really thinking that on its head. They objectified women and perpetuated the notion that the best kind of woman is sexy and silent. They suggested that, if everyone at the table was just being honest, that’s the dream.
I spent the rest of the night thinking of what I could have said and mentally drafting comebacks. I worried that my need to be the “cool girl” had prevented me from standing up for what I believe in. I thought of a thousand other times when I’ve been faced with misogynistic guys saying offensive things in an unfunny way. Times when I’ve spoken up and times when I’ve haven’t. The problem is that it’s always a lose-lose situation. If you allow the guy to get a rise out of you, you’re the uptight girl who can’t take a joke. (Obviously he didn’t really mean it! Why couldn’t you see that?) If you let it go unnoticed, you feel like a traitor to the entire gender. I don’t know what the right answer is. Can anything you say ever make a woman-hater stop hating women? Is it even worth it to try?