Women’s Studies with Professor Genius

I posted two sexist rants last week documenting my exclusion from events based solely on my anatomy. So it’s only fair that I write one post that says “I hear you, ladies! You get a raw deal too!” All I ask is that you bear with me because it takes a while to get to the first epiphany. You’ll be asking “What the HELL does this have to do with women?” and “How the sweet HELL did I end up on this site? Who do I have to unfriend over this shit??!” But I’ll get to a point, I promise.

I was at a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue in the middle of one fine workday because there’s Starbucks in my building, that’s why. I was stirring the cream and sugar into my dark roast most thoroughly when a man approached me.

“That’s an interesting ring,” he said, pointing to the skull ring I wore on my left hand pointer finger. I guess I should also note that it’s the only ring I wear since I lost my wedding band. “Why are you wearing a ring like that? Is there a story behind it?” This man was extremely well put together. He was wearing a suit that made me think I’d have to knock over an armored truck full of cash and not die in the ensuing shootout to afford one like it. A big, gaudy skull ring seemed to be the last thing he’d wear.

I didn’t think much of it though. I told him the story behind it (I won it in a Facebook contest), grabbed my coffee, and bounced back upstairs to crank out even more stellar marketing and communications.

Fast-forward a couple months. I was at Baconfest with my in-laws. We were standing at a tall-boy (one of those tall tables that you stand at when you’re at a place that wants you to stand). Next to us was another group of guys and we all start talking about bacon. Except for their hipster choice of beer—PBR—they were pretty much right about everything. We had many laughs.

While we were chawing and jawing, I got the impression that these guys were gay. It’s an assessment based on nothing more than a vibe. It didn’t matter to me, one way or the other.

As we were discussing our latest pig flesh conquest, one of our new friends pointed to the ring on my finger—the same skull ring on the same finger I noted earlier—and asked: “That’s an interesting ring. Why are you wearing a ring like that?” I swear the phrasing was so similar that I instantly thought of the Starbucks guy. It’s why I remembered it so vividly. It was almost like déjà vu. “Is it a Keith Richards thing?”

It caught me off-guard. I told him the Facebook contest story. He probably thought I was weird because I’m sure I had this faraway look on my face. As I was talking, I was remembering how I had this same moment just a couple of months before. I felt bad for going vacant and weird like that.

It was a moment and then it was gone and then bacon.

I went to the office that Monday and did some Google searches for “skull ring on left hand” to see if it meant something I didn’t know about. Was I flying a flag? I found nothing. And I’m not close enough to any gay men to ask them if I was sending out some hidden signal. So I thought it was just a fluke. It was odd that the questions were nearly identical, but the ring is huge and it commands a lot of attention. It’s a total conversation piece that just happens to draw men into conversation.

Or maybe I’m just a subconscious homophobe. I checked my doubts and moved on.

Just one month later I was riding on the Metra. It was a hot day in late May and I was sitting in the upper level. I was looking down at my phone. Holding it in my left hand. Something moved in my field of vision.

In the lower level, a man was nodding and bobbing his head up at me. Vigorously. He was looking right at me. With eyebrows raised. With a smile on his face. There was no mistaking that he was trying to get my attention.

I assumed that he thought he knew me. I looked directly at him so he could see that he didn’t really know me. But he wasn’t dissuaded. He kept tossing his head like “Hey you.”

So I ignored him.

I searched my memory—did I know him? Could he be someone I went to school with? Someone familiar hidden behind a mask of doughy years? No, I was positive that I had never seen this guy before.

Then it clicked. It was the ring. Had to be. From below, the ring was easily visible because I was holding my left hand up to look at my phone. Of course, I couldn’t be certain. The Metra guy didn’t exactly shout: “HEY THAT’S AN INTERESTING RING!” But it was my best guess. I’ve ridden the Metra twice a day FOR YEARS and never had anything like this happen.

The whole ride home he kept periodically checking me out. I felt trapped up there. I felt his gaze and his hope. I felt his persistence. I would have happily jumped out the window of the moving train to be away from him.

And this is the point I’ve been driving to. The reason this is a “women’s study” post. Because in that moment I sort of got how it might be for a woman dealing with unwanted attention. I never understood women who complained about all the attention they got. I hate to say it, but I always thought that they should feel flattered. After all, they were desirable. The center of someone’s thoughts. How great to be so wanted!

But this? This was unbearable. If every excursion into the public sphere meant a fresh ogling from someone I didn’t want to get to know, then I’d take a cheese grater to my face to be free from the eyes.

Maybe I wouldn’t have thought much about Metra Guy if Starbucks Guy and Baconfest Guy hadn’t asked about the ring. I think it was the progression of events that made Metra Guy worse. The other two were curious but respectful. This guy was tossing his head like he was at a Quiet Riot concert. It was really obnoxious. If I didn’t already have it in my mind that the ring was a signal to other men, then I might have just laughed it off.

Does that make sense? Oh, please feel free to light up the comments section if I’ve come off as confusing or confused or confusing.

But wait! There’s more. We also need to examine the Basic Bitch label.

In a completely unrelated incident, my coworkers and I learned of a label being slapped all over the ladies by Ri-Ri: Basic Bitch. It means you’re standard. You’re not “next-level.” And you don’t even have the vision to follow the visionaries. It means you like yoga and Gwyneth Paltrow and you’re pretty standard and irrelevant. Here’s a College Humor video to explain it all.

We all had laughs, my coworkers (who are all female) and I. Of course wanted to find out if I was basic. But the Buzzfeed quiz, was only for girls. So I began looking for the basic guy quiz. And I found nothing. I looked up “can guys be basic?” and the search results returned only dance moves or basic training results. I came to the realization that “basic” was a cultural conversation meant to marginalize and humiliate women—for being women. And I guess the humor-flavored misogyny sort of surprised me.

So we decided to restore balance. Someone came up with Basic Bros and together we assembled a list of things that Basic Bros would like. It’s not finalized—it’s always growing—but here it is:

Basic Bros Like:

Girls

Talking about what they do with girls

Lifting weights

Talking about lifting weights

Farting

Goatees

Chipotle

Calling chipotle “chipotes”

The Blackhawks even though they grew up in Ohio and just moved to Chicago

Microbrews

Bragging about being outdoorsy

Scarface posters

Saying chalula is their jam

Quoting pulp fiction

Quoting Family Guy

Hooters

Bacon

Fist bumps

Muscle cars

Woodworking

Maxim magazine

Spike TV

Futurama

We hope that by making this Basic Bros list and putting a fresh wrong out into the cultural conversation, that we have somehow righted the Basic Bitch wrong that already existed. THAT’S how we fix problems in 2014.

So there they are, two windows into the American Female experience that I was able to look through for a short time, and spin into a post.

I think everyone could do with a little more understanding.

6 Comments

  1. Feminist.

  2. Also, I think you need to credit TechUSA via Cristina for inspiration for the Basic Bro quiz

    • jeffandjill

      06/10/2014 at 10:43 pm

      I’ll ask her. She may not want to be associated with this post or blog.But I won’t credit Tech USA. WON’T.

  3. I was getting off the train one day and a guy who had been riding in my train car gave me a big smile and a “hey there” nod as soon as I looked up from my phone. I gave thin the squinty eyes, then rolled my eyes, hand huffed off the the stairs aiming to get lost in the crowd so his eyes couldn’t follow me. I figure the creep in the business suit had been staring me down the whole train ride.

    A couple days later I came up to a neighbor in the park who was tossing a ball to his dog. We made small talk about our dogs, as we usually do, and he added “hey, I saw you at the train station the other day!” Oh jeezus. I didn’t recognize him with a suit and bald head instead of T-shirt and baseball cap! I felt so bad for dismissing him, but that was just my programmed response after being ogled and cat called countless times.

    I’m impressed that it only took you three strikes to go from barely noticing to “go away, creep.”

    • jeffandjill

      06/11/2014 at 5:48 pm

      Funny, awkward story!!

      Guys never just approach random guys and begin to kick up a conversation. The baconfest guy made sense because bacon. The Starbucks guy was out of nowhere but the Metra guy was in a whole other league. I’ve never had to deal with unwanted attention like that. So maybe the learning curve is just more severe and sudden?

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