The other day I was in a Jiffy Lube, and I was the only woman there amidst a room of young, sweaty dudes.
I thought to myself, “I really think boys are being raised to be more respectful of women nowadays because I used to get hit on all the time, and not one of these men looked at me today or said anything disrespectful.”
Then it occurred to me.
It’s because I’m older now.
An entire gender hadn’t suddenly become more polite—I had just become more mom-looking being in my 40s.
I quickly made this realization, and I even laughed about it, thinking, “I’m not as cute anymore! Ha! That makes sense! Duh.”
When I was in my 20s, I remember a guy was gawking at me, and I was super annoyed. I had shorts and a tank top on because I was hiking, not because I wanted some creepy stranger to get wide-eyed and droopy mouthed and look me up and down, up and down, up and down as if I were there for his uninvited visual consumption.
I complained to my guy friend that I think it’s invasive that men think they can just stare at women to the point of discomfort, to which he replied, “Trust me—You’ll be upset when we stop looking one day.”
His response made me cringe with its cocky assumption that stares from men should be conjuring confidence and self-worth from me. And, hey, I’m human and not prude. We all look at each other, of course. Look, appreciate, smile, and then look away.
When he told me I’d be upset when I got so old men would stop looking at me, I suspected then I wouldn’t be upset when that would one day happen. I had a hunch I would be relieved.
That day at Jiffy Lube, I consciously realized that “one day” had officially arrived and honestly, I am relieved.
Sure, it stinks to look in the mirror and see more lines take up camp on my face each year, but it’s also lovely to know I can go through life without grabbing the attention of aggressive dudes who think their hitting on me should be received with a shy giggle and batting of my eyelashes.
Side note—I want to punch the face of the 20-year-old version of me who did this out of discomfort and lack of confidence.
My life and the lives of women I know are chock-full of examples of men not knowing how to stop gawking or speaking disrespectfully. I’ve seen men I care about nearly lose their minds at the sight of an attractive woman.
I’ve had friends literally cross the street to get a better look at a woman’s butt.
I’ve had strangers shout at me while I rode my bike in Chicago, telling me I should be riding something else.
Again — barf.
I will give heterosexual men this: They’re most likely biologically wired to be consumed with how women look. That’s probably important to have that drive to keep the human race moving forward.
That’s cool. It makes sense.
All I’m saying is, yes, sure, go on and be attracted to women. But keep it respectful.
I am parenting my young kids with the hopes of them avoiding being the predator or prey. I am already pounding mantras of confidence, confidence, confidence! into my 9-year-old daughter so much that I need to be careful she doesn’t start being so hard around the edges she won’t let someone deserving in one day.
I already preach to my six-year-old son not to be rude and disrespectful to girls, so the little guy might be a scared kitten one day when he does decide to approach a girl. I can’t say I hate that, but that’s probably not going to be the most attractive trait to a girl. I can’t say I hate that either.
Who knows what this next generation of upcoming men and women will bring, but my skin crawls at the idea of anyone saying disrespectful things to my daughter or my son being the one saying disrespectful things to a girl.
All I can do is make sure I do my best to steer these two kids clear of that outdated narrative and hope it works most of the time and hope that everyone else is doing the same with their kids to help us all change course.
Until then, I'll be discretely looking at the dudes at Jiffy Lube more than they'll be looking at me, and I think I've earned that.