Friday, December 13, 2013

The time I engaged with a pickup-artist

By Anči

The moment I became flustered, I knew my rejection wouldn't take.  Not that it was my responsibility to project earnestness, when a verbal 'no thank you' should have sufficed.
But something in his expression had alerted me of a cynical tendency to disregard protests like mine.

It's the curse of every anxious woman, whose shaky refusals are rarely afforded the respect they deserve. It's not enough to say no, we also must be convincing- a challenge I am rarely up to.

The fact is, getting approached by strange men makes me nervous--  the last time I turned down a pleasant-looking fellow, he had snapped "you're not even good-looking. You look totally country."
At the time, I had played it cool; swinging my hips as I marched away.  But the encounter had  left me feeling shaken.
Was I going to be insulted every time I refused to indulge some lonely bro's ego?
 I've also been called a slut once, for refusing to engage a leering creep, while sunning myself in a bikini. (How dare I expose my skin, and not expect harassment? ) But the most predictable (and painful) backlash in these types of situations is the classic crack about my stutter.

 This was one one of those times:
"Calm down, you're stuttering a lot," (Really, calm down?  I've had a stutter since I was four year's old, pal.)

I knew I was being negged, and the realization annoyed me, almost as much as it intrigued me.
 No, not like that. Give me some credit: I'm a 26 year old feminist with an aversion to both cologne and bullshit. (in other words, don't waste your time trying.)
  But I've also experienced my share of humiliation at the hands of a man eager to exploit my insecurity and inexperience.
And for some reason I  saw this exchange as my chance to flip the script.

When I was 19, I started dating a 25 year old. 
 A few weeks into our courtship, I agreed to come up to his room. And as we began kissing that night, I started making it clear that things wouldn't progress any further.
 It was only when my rebuffs grew insistent, that he gloomily began winding things down.  Naturally I had been annoyed by his forceful attempts at persuasion, but at the same time, I was a teenage girl who badly wanted the approval, of an 'older man.' So instead of getting up to leave or launching into a speech about consent,  I offered up a weak smile.
He half-heartedly began to caress my shoulder. 
 "What's up?" I asked.  
 "Nothing. Although... I thought you said you liked to work out." 
"I do workout."
"It's kinda hard to tell," he answered, looking me over slowly;  and then I knew I was  being punished for my frigidity.

What I didn't realize, was that that remark would herald the beginning of a culturally indentured servitude to every scorned suitor with the emotional intelligence of a child. 
It was the start of negging seasons.

Now at 26,  I stirred my cappuccino, and observed my new acquaintance; making note of his increasingly aggressive (and ridiculous) posturing: chest out; fingers suggestively encircling the loops of his belt.  And as I stared back icily, I thought "I'm gonna take this negging motherfucker down."

 According to a forum for pick up artists (which I am not going to link to): "A neg can be many things as long as it accomplishes the purpose of diminishing the target’s value in a manner that flies under her radar. A neg should always come off in a way that makes it look accidental or unintentional....You can take anything that is less than stellar about her and draw attention to it while pretending to be charmed in a friendly way. Eventually you will be able to instantly spot things about a woman that can be turned into negs and poked at in front of her friends."
 (Notice here, that women are "targets" not people.)

Luckily for me, I come equipped with an easily-exploited "shortcoming" of my own. My stutter-- and what better way to rattle me, than by drawing unwanted attention to it. (zero points for creativity, though.)

A stutter is a tricky thing to navigate. For one thing it  exists in a grey area of social consciousness, oscillating between a quirk and a handicap. And unlike commensurate quips about a commonly recognized disability, (such as deafness)  digs at my speech aren't necessarily read as cruel.  In fact it's simple to toss in an offhand reference to my disfluency, while keeping the conversation light. (The expectation of course, being that in an attempt to appear laid back, I will laugh along with my bully--- thereby relinquishing the mythical 'upper hand,' along with the rest of my dignity. )

"are you always this shy?" The man continued excitedly.
 Here was my chance. I breathed in through my nose, like my speech therapist had shown me, enunciating every syllable clearly:   "Actually, I'm surprised that you brought up my stutter. I thought that was something only the mean kids did."
I didn't have to wait long for the words to register. In the second it took me to look up, he had become flustered, and remorseful, swearing he hadn't meant any offense. (and unwisely adding that he found my stutter "cute.")
I maintained a neutral expression, visibly unmoved by his efforts... as his approach shifted back to nervous 'charm.'
The resulting impression was that of  a formerly cocky "playa"committed to a humiliating (and unsolicited) exercise in verbal self-flagellation. (As evidenced by his readiness to brand himself as "an asshole", about twenty times in succession.)  He paused his ramblings once or twice to breathe, and then again, to work in a  bizarre request for my number. (really?)  As I sat back and watched him squirm, I felt satisfied.  I'd also had enough of this pitiful performance.
Declining his last appeal, I stood up to leave-- nodding once, goodbye.

Turns out that while it's  easy, (and cowardly) to confuse a teenage girl, It's harder to face a woman who's called you on your bullshit.

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