The other day I rushed into the elevator so that I could make it to yoga in just the nick of time, much like I do every day. I always tell myself that I’ll leave earlier and it never happens. I’m the girl who’s hurrying down from the hill where there’s free street parking and hoping that they don’t lock the door before I make it in.
Usually there’s no one else around or the people accompanying me are clearly part of my tribe, flushed with the stress of rushing to fit exercise into their daily routine. We always make it, but just barely. This day was different. A lone young man in street clothes already inhabited the dim, dull space of the elevator’s generic interior. He asked me what floor I needed and I responded as I always do: “Two, please.”
Usually the “regular” people in the building already know what floor I’m going to name – I mean, I’m wearing workout clothes and carrying a yoga mat – or they simply hit my requested button in pleasant silence.
Not this guy. Oh no. He couldn’t just be a nice, normal human being. Even as he pressed the button, he snarkily observed, “Oh, two, huh? Definitely couldn’t have taken the stairs for that.” His tone was so caustic and the words so unexpectedly rude that I was stunned into confusion.
Screw. You. That’s what my brain said. Out of my mouth flew an explanation, as if I needed to give this dickhole any validation. As I heard myself tell him that you can’t access the building stairs from the outside for some reason – “I’ve never understood it myself, of COURSE I would take them otherwise” – I loathed myself for being so pleasant, even apologetic, in the face of his snide comment. Why was I letting yet another man get away with treating me like shit and somehow acting like I deserved it?
I stewed over it for days. I’m still stewing. I’m actually legitimately angry, both at him for imagining he was flirting by insulting me and at myself for allowing him to get away without teaching him a valuable lesson.
Granted, I only had a few seconds in the elevator with him, but I ardently wish I had handled it differently. I should’ve spoken my truth. I should’ve confronted him and called him out on the way he talked to me. A few seconds was enough for me to allow him to dominate and demean me. A few seconds was enough for me to willingly accept the submissive position he thrust upon me.
You might think I’m blowing a small incident out of proportion. You might think I’m being dramatic or exaggerating or holding on to something I should let go. I’m willing to bet that if you’re thinking that, you’re a man. If you’re a woman, you understand exactly what I’m talking about because men slowly and subtly steal our power away from us in endless “small” interactions such as this one every single day.
If I had called that man out and told him he was being rude, maybe he’d think twice the next time he spoke like that to another woman. Maybe he would’ve finally understood that it’s not cute to talk to us in a patronizing and condescending manner. With men like that walking around saying who knows what to who knows how many women in the course of a single day, it’s no wonder we feel trodden down and put upon. All the little interactions add up and numb our minds. If we let them continue, we are allowing ourselves to be conditioned to behave as if we deserve passive-aggressive dominance by men.
Unfortunately, I didn’t call him out, and that’s why I’m disappointed in myself. I’m disappointed because I know better. I finally believe that I deserve to be treated in a way that doesn’t make me feel bad about myself, and I should’ve stood up and defended that belief. I have a right to take the elevator if I want without judgment and ridicule. Who the hell does that guy think he is, commenting on how I decide to get to my yoga class? He doesn’t know me. I would never have said something like that to a stranger. Shut your obnoxious mouth and keep to yourself, you entitled jackass. That’s what I should’ve said.
I am not afraid of men like that – men who are trying to cling to their dominance in a world where women are overwhelmingly proving that we are more than capable of doing everything without them – but yet, I fell into the trap of the societal norm I’ve been taught. I’m a nice girl. I should be pleasant to everyone, regardless of how they treat me.
No. I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that because I’m not scared, I need to set an example. I need to stand up for myself. I’m not some empty vessel made to hold an insecure man’s vitriol. I need to be a reminder that women are no longer going to let ourselves be defined based on how “likeable” we are. Fuck likability. We get shit done and we do it well, and even if the stairs ARE available, we can take the damn elevator anywhere we like.
I disappointed myself this time, but you better believe I won’t make the same mistake twice.