• Do we owe men prettiness if we’re going outside?

    by Jesse Loren

    At my recent lupus check-up, I decided to wear my favorite cowboy boots. Not stiletto heals with bangles, just real shit-kicking cowboy boots and a dress. My big hope was that the nurse would ask me to remove my Ariat Legend boots to be weighed and the scale would go down instead of up. I’ve been really working for it.

    These boots are what I put on to check the chickens in the rain, check the beehives, do chores that are dirty, and get stuff done. I slip them on when I need moral support too. After my check-up, I had to deal with the IRS and needed all the confidence I could muster.

    Ahead of me in line was a very talkative, stocky man. After making coy jokes with the secretary, he sat to the left of the receptionist, and once I checked in and sat down, he could not contain himself.

    Some people need containing.

    He leaned forward and said, “Did you break those boots in or did they come that way?”

    I immediately took offense.

    I knew there could be a bit of mud between the heel and the ball. So what.
    Did he mean that they were dirty?
    Did he mean they were ugly?
    Did he mean that they look broken in but I look too lazy to have actually broken them in myself?
    Is he speaking some thinly-veiled male-code for non-approval of my clothing?

    Do I owe him prettiness if I am to be outside?

    Suddenly I felt like my presence itself was too large and I had to become smaller, lesser. I felt… almost dirty.

    In some countries men act as if they are owed piousness, and a woman who seems impious is scorned or pinched. In this situation, I was being scolded for owing him prettiness, and it was his self-appointed duty to remind me.

    If I could have a do-over, it would go like this:

    Man: “Did you break those boots in, or did they come that way?”
    Me: “I can shove my foot up your ass like the last guy that asked stupid questions and you can tell me if you think they are broken in.”

    What I don’t know is what world the guy lives in that makes him confident enough to ask a loaded, sexist question and think that as a stranger, my life should be an object of his derision.

    The nurse called me in time to escape his conversation. She let me take my boots off for the weighing, after which I weighed four less pounds.

    • Very interesting Jesse. I talk to everyone so I probably would have made some comment. I took it that he really liked the boots but having not been there to see his expression, I am sure you read it right. Some men just need to comment on something. Weird opening for a conversation.

      • Carolyn

      • December 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm
      • Reply

      I love your response to what you should have said to the guy at the doctors office. Too bad you didn’t think of it sooner. I too think of things I should have said to rude people after that fact. I’m working on it though. Good column!

    • Huh, I took this as his admiring the boots, but why is he commenting on your appearance at all? I can remember a stranger stopping me on the streets of Berkeley in the sixties and demanding to see my small toe. He informed me that my small toe was not well formed. I thought, “what nerve,” but it took me several more years to understand that this was a cultural pattern, that men felt they had a right to comment on women’s physical appearance whenever they wanted to. Fortunately, I’ve seen a lot of that die out–but not all of it!!

      • Jesse

      • December 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm
      • Reply

      There’s a nuance to the whole thing. Part of it is what was said, then of course how it was said, then there is how I responded, and the semiotics of that.
      The bottom line is whether you look at comics or ads, women are portrayed to look a certain way and men another way. Even little girls are treated differently depending on their “princess” attire. Too much judgment, not enough love.

    Leave a Comment