Twilight Zone: well, one of my co-workers is moving, so we had a going away shin-dig for her last night, at her favourite bar. It’s a country bar, maybe the only one in the city (I don’t know for sure, I don’t keep track of these kinds of things). I’ve never been there before, seeing as I don’t like country music too much. When I walked in with my peeps, it felt like entering the twilight zone, or maybe another planet. And I was the alien.
It felt so weird – I was so completely out of place. In fact, I’ve never felt so out of place before. I guess it’s custom there for the owner of the bar to call out people who are celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and going-aways onto the dance floor and make them objects of gawking and gaping, then force them to start the dancing off. This happened to my group, yours truly included. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. It was awkward. The song was something about riding a cowboy.
There was a band, and a lot of people who were really quite good dancers who go there regularly to cut a rug. There was one girl who was the hit of the party, she kind of pranced a bit and leapt like a leprechaun or an elf when she danced. Nobody was out of place, though – except for me.
I don’t really understand the whole fake fashion-cowboy thing. We live in a city, and there aren’t really a lot of horses and cows around here. The girls kept saying to me, “maybe you’ll find yourself a cowboy, Thinking Girl.” I kept saying, “here are no cowboys in here!” If you’ve got no livestock, you’re not a cowboy. Sorry.
Arrogant Bravado: I did however meet a guy who was quite amiable and chatty. And talking to him brought me to a realization.
Here’s the thing: when I go out, I like to dress nicely, and fix my hair nicely, and put on makeup I might not wear on a daily basis, and wear pretty shoes. (there’s a whole ‘nother discussion that can be had around this femininity practicing, and the patriarchal nature of these things that I claim I like to do, that I claim I choose to do, and pressures and coercion and feminine beauty ideals and marginalization, but that’s not the point right now.) So when I go out, I look pretty good. Also, when I go out, I go out to have a good time, to have fun with friends. I don’t go out self-consciously, looking to meet a potential boyfriend or find someone to take home. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my motivation for leaving my house on a Friday night. So, when I go out, I’m having a good time, and I’m pretty comfortable and confident with myself.
So, sometimes when I am out with friends, men approach me. Typically, these guys are arrogant, smarmy, pushy, and obnoxious. They almost always mention something about how I look, my outfit, my hair, my shoes, or my lipstick. Often they say something about liking confident women. And then they have nothing else to say, except “Can I buy you a drink/Do you want to dance/Come here often/Do you have a boyfriend?”. And they don’t seem to get it that I am not interested. They are pushy. And so eventually, I have to “be a bitch” to make them go away. (by “be a bitch”, I mean I have to tell them directly and clearly that I am not interested and to please leave me alone. I’m not usually rude about this, but I am firm. If it doesn’t work the first time, which it often doesn’t, then I unfortunately have to be rude. This usually includes the phrase “Fuck off”.) Alternatively, they seem nice enough, and so I agree to let them buy me a drink, and then they seem to think that accepting a drink means I will go home with them. At which point I have to “be a bitch” to make them go away. And these are the guys who actually have the “courtesy” to talk to you – unlike the Octopi-guys who simply approach you from behind on the dance floor and start grinding their crotches against your ass or hip. Yes, really. At which point I have to “be a bitch” to make them go away. So these encounters almost always end with me “being a bitch.” Which is fine, so long as they go away.
Is this a familiar cycle to anyone else? It seems like, with most of my friends, we all have experiences like this. And we all find it tiring. Of course, the Arrogant Bravado Strategy is often successful, thanks to deeply encoded gender scripts that tell women to be coy and shy and reserved and wait for the man to make a move first because otherwise you’re a SLUT and to also choose a man that seems like he’s strong and capable and brave. Which is why guys continue to employ it.
Which brings me to the guy I met last night. He fit the typical pattern, but he wasn’t all that smarmy (at first?). He actually just kind of came off as a bit nervous. He told me he and his buddies thought I was attractive (“not that it matters, but my buddies and I voted you the best-looking girl here” – gack, voting on women’s appearances like women only leave the house looking nice to be rated like pieces of meat), that he would like to buy me a drink if it wasn’t obvious I was completely sober (which I was), asked me “where’s your boyfriend?” and subsequently why I don’t have one (“I don’t particularly want one” was my answer, which he found funny and “honest”) and that this was his first time there, and was it mine too? He then went on to tell me that he finds women don’t respond well to the usual way men approach them in bars (The Arrogant Bravado Strategy), and even when he feels he is jsut “being friendly,” women respond to him the way they respond to the smarmy asshats. And so he’s learned to downplay his approach. He also told me that he “would never expect anything from a woman” just because he had bought her drinks for her, and that he thinks this expectation some men seem to have is ridiculous, considering buying a woman drinks might typically cost a guy about $20-30 depending on how many and how expensive the drinks, and the going rate for a blow job from a prostitute is more than that (I cringed at this comment too). Then he went on to say that these guys really piss him off because they give guys like him a bad name, and asked how many boyfriends I have met in bars (0) and why I thought that might be (I said I don’t think a bar is a great place to meet people), how big my family is, and when I told him I have no brothers or sisters he told me that meant I was “highly intelligent and very sensitive”, which he could also tell by the way I behaved in the 3 hours he had been watching me. At which point I politely told him I had to go, and I left. (Hint: telling someone you’ve been watching them for 3 hours is creepy.)
So, my realization. Actually it was a two-fold realization: 1) this is the Alternative Nice-Guy Strategy guys use to talk to women in bars – distancing themselves from the typical smarmy guys who use the Arrogant Bravado Strategy makes them appear a million times better in comparison when they’re really just being polite and normal (at least for a while), and 2) it must be hard for men to talk to women they find attractive in bars, or other social settings, but particularly bars, which have a weird dynamic all their own. Even if this guy was using the Alternative Nice-Guy Strategy, that he feels he needs a strategy to talk to women is kind of sad.
Which brings me full-circle to the Arrogant Bravado Strategy: Part 2 of my realization necessitates (or so some men think) Part 1, the Arrogant Bravado/Alternative Nice-Guy Strategies. Because it’s not easy to talk to women in bars, societal pressures of masculinity firmly in place, the Arrogant Bravado guys have to work up the nerve. And so, the arrogance. The bravado. The pushiness. The obnoxiousness. Throw in a couple drinks of liquid courage and the package is complete. Considering that appearance is the only thing we have to go on when we first meet someone new, here come the compliments about how a woman looks. And when a woman appears quite confident, a man has to at least match that, if not overcome it, with confidence of his own (or so say the rules of patriarchal intergender bar-room interaction). Which is maybe why I have always thought when men say they like a confident woman, what they mean is that it’s more of a challenge to dominate her (what fun!). Conversely, with the Alternative Nice-Guy Strategy, at least the nervousness about talking to a woman you find attractive can work in your favour.
So, that’s my analysis of gendered bar behaviour. What do you think about this, readers? What have your experiences been? How do you normally approach someone you find attractive? What attracts you, or repels you, when you meet someone new? Since my experience is only heterosexual, how might this differ in same-sex scenarios?
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