Sunday, April 1, 2012

Making Nice (a tangential Palm Sunday rant, er, reflection)

Several months ago, while picking up a few items at the grocery store, a man hit on me in the cheese section. He leaned into my line of sight as I was contemplating cheddars, and said "Your skin is radiant." (It's worth noting -- although it's not the point -- that as compliments go, this one's lame. My skin is radiant? What does that mean? Is my forehead sweating, is my face flushed? Whatever, dude.) I looked at him, smiled oh-so-briefly, and continued shopping. Apparently my response was not satisfactory, because the man doubled-back to me just moments later and said, "What's your problem, bi***?" Then he left. Just like that.

Retrospectively, I wish that I'd said ... well, no, actually I still don't know what I might have said. In any event, I just stood there for a minute or two, mouth agape, before resuming my errand. I don't think anyone's called me a bi*** since my ex-husband.

Fast forward. I'm at the grocery story today, with my children this time. At the conclusion of our shopping trip, I'm unloading bags of groceries into the car trunk while the kiddos are eating their snacks in the back seat of the car. A man approaches. (Bad idea. My thoughts immediately turn to safety when a stranger comes up to me in a parking lot.) This man asks, "Do you have a moment, may I tell you something?" I look at him, expressionless, to let him know that I'm listening, and he continues: "I just wanted to say that, um, you should know you're beautiful." Seriously? I don't smile, but say "Thank you" and continue filling the trunk. "I suppose you're married or something?" he asks. I stare at him for a beat. "Thank you," I repeat more firmly. He gets the hint and leaves. I get in my car and lock the doors.

I find myself increasingly tired of the presumption that, simply because I walk into a grocery store, I am issuing an open invitation for men to tell me their opinion of my appearance. And, because I have invited men to comment merely by my act of grocery shopping, I am obligated to "make nice" by smiling or fluttering my eyelashes or acquiescing in response. Of course, this dynamic is nothing new for women, but lately it's been wearing me thin. Probably because it's been compounded by the whole [male] government considering itself to be invited to tell me its opinion of my uterus and my sex, with the same expectation that I will "make nice" in response ... that I will flirt and say "Oh you're soooo smart to tell me all about my own reproductive needs."

Uh-huh. I don't think so.

In its least significant form, this story of arrogance-expects-acquiescence manifests as an inappropriate pick-up in a grocery store parking lot. In its most violent form, the story is played out on the streets of a gated community -- actually, the streets and sidewalks of any community, town or city -- when one man presumes that his opinion of a teen's appearance must be communicated (forcibly) to the youth. The older man privileges himself to have an open invitation to define the younger man, and his presumption demands the teen's acquiescence: to make nice, to defer to the adult's opinion of him, to change his clothes, to walk differently or walk elsewhere, to defer and to not meet the older man's eyes ... that is, to accept the adult's assessment of him and obligingly correct himself.

"Make nice" is not-so-subtle code for "Let the other guy be right in his assessment and subsequent treatment of you."

On this Palm Sunday, I'm holding onto the good news that Jesus was not a "make nice" kind of guy. He chose a contradictory ass instead of a noble horse to make his grand entrance; he washed feet and ran with the wrong crowd; he didn't pay attention to matters of reputation (much to his mother's chagrin); and when others called him names and tried to bully him into saying that he was someone other than himself, he didn't acquiesce.

Jesus didn't play nice.

Yes, I'm going to hold onto that good news pretty tightly ... and not just this week, but for many weeks to come (this being an election year).

No comments: