Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Confidence and Zero Tolerance

Well, poppets, I had an interesting evening out.

To recap, I am in my native Toronto, visiting my family and my friends, old haunts and new dives. It's great to see my loved ones and to see the town from the perspective of someone who hasn't seen it in a year. I enjoy hearing people's news, and I enjoy having news for people. My literary friends are thriving: this one won a major award, that one's latest book has gone into its second edition. It's great.

Yesterday I went with a literary pal to a poetry night and met another one there. The joint, as they say, was jumping. To my surprise, the first poet to read was a former prof of mine; I hadn't seen him in almost twenty years, but I've always remembered the fascinating stories he told us in class about the Canadian poets he'd met. After he read his work, I went over to him, introduced myself and told him that I still remembered what he had said about Elizabeth Smart twenty years ago. We chatted amiably for a bit and then I went back to my friends.

What is remarkable about this is that five years ago (let alone twenty) I would have been too shy. I would have sat behind my table agonizing "Should I or shouldn't I? What if...? But on the other hand...?"

But last night I didn't feel a qualm. I didn't feel self-conscious. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world, to go up to a now-famous prof and say, "What you said then sticks with me even now." Maybe it's one of the gifts that comes with having real books with your name on them. Or maybe it's the gift that comes with age if you didn't have it young.

Other poets read. The open mic (as in microphone) performances began, and the featured speakers and their friends began to drift downstairs, out of the bar. My old prof waved to me, and I thought of my business cards in my little zippered card case. I keep all my cards in it--bank, credit, library--so I took them all out to look for the bright bit of cardboard. And the guy across the table from me, known to my friend but a stranger to me, made a sudden swooping movement with his head and plucked away my bank card.

This stranger looked in his fifties, bearded, balding, small, nondescript. He had an English accent; B.A. would have been able to peg "what" and "where" at once. He had been introduced to me, and told where I lived, and that was necessarily the extent of our conversation.

But I wasn't registering all this when he snatched away my bank card. My heart froze, and I made a lunge. He opened his eyes in playful mockery and held my bank card out of reach.

I hit him with a beer glass. No, I didn't. I gave him a look that melted his face--or certainly scared him enough to give my card back. I shoved it in my card case, shoved card case in handbag, picked up my coat and announced "I'm leaving." Then I left.

Downstairs I thought regretfully of my startled girlfriends upstairs, my beloved girlfriends whom I hadn't seen in over a year. Was I really going to walk out on them because they were sitting with the kind of man who thinks it flirty and funny to steal a stranger's bank card and hold it out of reach?

Yes, I was.

On my train, I pondered my hair-trigger reaction. Five years ago, I am reasonably certain, I would have smiled weakly and been "nice" about it. Perhaps I would have, as expected, made sad doggy eyes and mimed supplication, politely silent as the open mic poet banged on about what a rotten world it is, while my heart fluttered with panic.

But not now. Now I have zero tolerance for the inappropriate behaviour of male strangers. Just as I can approach a literary lion, I can walk away from a literary loser or any other man who evidently thinks he is being "playful" when he is simply being a drip.

Go and do likewise, my little Singles.

10 comments:

sciencegirl said...

Good for you on both counts! It is remarkable how long it takes to build that kind of confidence -- the confidence to let all the awkwardness fall on the one who should be ashamed of himself. Had you stayed trapped out of misplaced social obligation, the jerk would have enjoyed himself hugely. Now he didn't. Good for you.

Anne said...

Good for you! That was completely inappropriate and certainly illegal. I once had another customer in a grocery store call me by my name, he told me he read it off my credit card as I was buying groceries. I did not laugh along with him as he expected. I had another person lunge towards me as I was riding my bike on a trail near my house, then pull away and laugh. Startled me out of my mind. I should have maced him.

healthily sanguine said...

It is hard to keep liking men in general sometimes.

Seraphic said...

Thanks, ladies!

Well, do you know, I think men in general are fine. It's men doing stupid, unkind, inappropriate things that gets up my nose.

It occurs to me that another reason why I could slay with a glance and walk out is that for three years I have been subjected to big brother style banter from my husband and his pals. For three years, I've had to counter sallies and cap them with my own. It's toughened me up. I will take teasing from the men I choose to spend time with, but not from complete bloody strangers.

Now I understand what readers mean when they tell me they get along with men because they had so many older brothers.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I wish you had hit him with a beer glass! (If it was thick enough not to break.)

I'm just appalled that any one, male or female, would consider grabbing someone's bank card to be cute and funny.

I think you did your girlfriends a favor by showing, by your behavior, that you thought he was an utter jerk.

--C.B.

RMVB said...

I want to share this post with the world!!! I have had numerous friends tell me stories of men being inapropriate jerkfaces and they respond by being "nice" nd it makes me angry as well as leaving them frustrated. I certainly was used to doing that in the past but I think I hit a point where, being single, I decided that I needed to protect myself if no one else was going to do so....Another good thing that came from my particular singlehood!
My housemate recently let a man have it who was making mysogynistic (sp?) jokes in front of teen girls. I am so proud....

Catherine said...

You should use Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati as the Swashbuckler Protector one day - Since he can be chosen for his looks AND holiness!

Seraphic said...

CB, actually, I would never hit a man with a beer glass. There is much too much of that kind of thing in Scotland, and it is a point of pride with me that I have not hit anyone in anger for about 20 years. And it is always dangerous for a woman to hit a man because she never really knows if he will strike back, and if he does, he will hit harder, almost guaranteed. Outside of the boxing ring, it is best to save such extreme measures for scary situations. End of homily!

Charming Disarray said...

Good grief, that kind of thing is intolerable in a teenage boy but in a grown man....!!

I'm glad you reacted that way. I know exactly how you feel about having to leave your friends behind but sadly that's also a message that has to be sent sometimes, even besides sending the message to badly behaved men. I had a friend who stopped going to parties (some thrown by me) because of a guy who was always a jerk to her while pretending to "tease." I regret that it took me a while to realize I should have stopped inviting him if he was treating my friend that way.

Sundancer said...

My older sister always tells me that society controls us by making us feel terrified at the thought of being called a b****. That is why we put up with all sorts of atrocious behavior from others, to avoid having that awful label used against us if we react in such a way as to defend ourselves.
She has advised me many a time that standing up for myself does not make me a mean person.