Blog 8: “Would you like a side with that?”

Written by Leigh, Edited by A Wordless Blogger

I am a waitress. It’s not my dream job, but most days it’s fine enough. There are days when I really don’t like it but today was not one of those days. Actually, today was pretty good. There was just this one table that soured the mood, somewhat.

At lunchtime a table of five men joined us in the restaurant. One man in particular was a bit of a pain, being rude and demanding, but honestly none of the comments he made were what pissed me off. I guess you could say that it’s part of the job.

What did get up my back was the tiny little phrase he made right at the beginning of the meal. In response to my question whether anyone on the table would like a side dish with their meal he said “Well actually, I was thinking of having you on the side.”

I did a double take. You what now?

I do not get paid enough to listen to whatever you are insinuating.

First off, what do you even mean? I know what the answer to that question would be. Something along the lines of, “I don’t mean anything, I’m just having a laugh!” or “It was just a compliment, relax”. I know because I’ve heard that answer many times before. I’ve been told that it’s my fault for misunderstanding. It’s clever, I suppose, because there’s a play on words between the side dish, like fries and a bed partner? Someone who serves to titillate and to be provocative.

Is it really necessary to clarify my role here? I wait on you, and if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. However, I am not here for you to sexualize me. Really, that should go without saying.

I am glad that I work in a place where I feel safe, so I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by his comments, but the idea that a man who must be near enough twice my age, can somehow phrase the idea between the two of us in a way that leaves no room for my consent… it’s scary.

I don’t want you to have me on the side. It is not a compliment. I am not gratified to find that I am somehow attractive to you. There is no way that what you’re saying to me right now is in any way beneficiary to my self-esteem.

Or is that not the point? Perhaps I’m just meant to stand there, play the prop, so that you can get your own kicks from your little joke. And since it’s ‘just a joke’ and not some major crime (like the one the you’re so subtly implying), there is no reason for me to be upset? You didn’t touch me so I suppose it’s ok then?

How have we come to the point where such thing can somehow be normalized? That all the shitty stuff that isn’t as bad as the things that – could have happened – is somehow not a problem anymore? It’s little things like this, these derogatory comments, are the things that lead to these very serious crimes. It’s the first step.

While writing this piece, I had to stop myself from typing phrases like ‘it was just-‘, and ‘no big deal’, because what happened to me wasn’t particularly newsworthy or out of the ordinary. It’s probably not even the most offensive thing someone’s said to me this week.

But that’s what’s wrong with it in the first place, isn’t it? Apparently this man’s four companions didn’t have a problem with it, since they didn’t say anything or react in any way. Were they cringing inside? Were they wishing they had just that little bit more courage to be able to say to their friend, “dude, that’s not cool, you shouldn’t be saying things like that,”?

I’m sure there are many people who would say that I’m overreacting, that I’m making something out of nothing, that I’m the one causing the problems. And you know what? I’m okay with it if I am.

Hell, be upset. Be horrified. I know that he’s just an asshole who’s ‘not worth getting upset about’, but you know what? Assholes don’t stop being assholes until something makes them. People will say that I should worry about the big problems before we worry about the little ones but maybe it’s these little things that slip through our fingers that start to add up, piece by piece, that make these big problems. I think we should start at the beginning: zero tolerance for bullshit. Force people to think before they speak. And to have some respect, dammit.

I am angry because today a man said inappropriate things to me and it was no big deal. This is my invitation to you to be angry, too.

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Blog 7: “I’m not Boring, I’m Introverted”

Last time I wrote a blog for the Project, I wrote about body image and dealing with people around you who may tell you that you shouldn’t look the way you look. I tried to make the point that you should do what you want to do and feel good no matter what people say. That’s want to talk about today, too.

So, I’m an introvert. And for a long time, I’ve felt really insecure about this. I’ve never been the person who’s had a big group of friends or who would go out several nights a week. When I was younger I used to be pretty quiet and I would have to get used to a new situation before being comfortable enough to speak. I’ve mostly grown out of it since then. It’s easier to talk to strangers for me now but I still consider myself to be extremely introverted.

When I was a teenager, everything around me was telling me to do things. Go out more, meet people, drink, experience things. And because I’m a teenager and I’m easily influenced, I felt obligated to do these things even though I didn’t feel like it. For a long time I felt extremely guilty for having to answer ‘nothing, just hung out at home’ to the question ‘so, what did you do this weekend?’

And it wasn’t even just socially that it had influence on my life. When I was in college, I had to do three internships/work placements. On several occasions I was told in my assessment that I was too quiet, I didn’t show enough of myself, I didn’t show enough initiative. And naturally these things made me feel really bad.

It wasn’t till later, when I was about 21, when I came across a book called ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain in Waterstones, that I started to understand why I didn’t want the things ‘normal teenagers/students’ want. What caught my attention was the sub-title ‘The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. I had identified myself as an introvert before but I didn’t really start accepting that until I read this book.

Cain goes to explain that the world has an extrovert ideal. We are told that we need to be extroverted to be successful. Introverted qualities such as sensitivity and seriousness are often considered to be negative or undesirable. Introverts are being shamed for being introverted, basically.

When I started reading Quiet, a new world opened for me. I started to understand and see the extroverted ideal that Cain was talking about in her book and I really took to heart the extensive research that she’s done on the difference between introverts and extroverts and the positive qualities in being an introvert. And, for the first time in my life I started to say to myself: you know what? I’m staying in and that’s okay.

We’re often told that ‘nothing will ever happen if you don’t go out there’ or that ‘being bored is for boring people’ but I think that some of us don’t feel the need to be adventurous all the time. I’m 23 now and in my last year of university. This would be the time to get wasted and go out every night and be a ‘typical student’ but I don’t feel the need to. I’d rather stay in and watch episodes of Hannibal while updating my blog than go out and go to a busy nightclub which will cost me loads of money.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, which I also tried to make in my last blog, is that you should do what you want to do and not let society convince you that it’s not good enough. If you want to go out, that’s absolutely fine. Go have fun. If you want to stay in, sit in your PJs on friday and saturday night and read a book, that’s absolutely fine, too.

I recommend Quiet for everyone who’s an introvert and might not be completely comfortable with it yet. This book will let you see yourself in a whole different light.

Be proud of who you are.

Some quotes from Quiet

“We live in a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. (..) Introversion is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.” (p. 4)

“Those considered charismatic by their top executives had bigger salaries but not better corporate performance.” (p. 53)

“Since when is solitude one of the Seven Deadly Sins?” (p.66)

Blog 1: Body Image.

Hi. First off, next to the note spreading aspect of our project, we’ve decided that once a week we’re going to do a blog on subjects that are related to what this project is about. That means that it could be about bullying, or body-image, or feminism or sexism or something that the blogger has experienced in their own life or whatever we can come up with. Every week there’s a blog written by a different person, which will usually be posted on Wednesday.

Today, I’m going to talk a little about myself and society and I do have to say it’s a little intimidating to write this for you all right now as it’s not something that I usually talk about ‘en plain public’.

If you have looked at my picture that I’ve put up on the ‘About’ page, you can probably see that I’m not the skinniest of people. I have never been skinny and I will never will be. No matter how much I exercise or diet or be ‘healthy’, I am for 100% certain that it will never happen. How do I know this? Because I used to be an athlete. From the age of 6 till I was about 15 I was a swimmer. At the high point I had practice 7 times a week. So that was about 14 hours of intense exercise a week. And guess what, I was still considered ‘big’ in comparison to the people who I was competing against.

The first time I remember that I was worrying about weight and how I looked was at the age of 6. Now, I’m no expert but I think that 6 is a tick early to worry about that sort of thing. That was pretty much the starting point.

There are so many examples in my adolescence that I can name where people have ‘advised’ me to lose weight. One of the most horrifying experiences in my life was when my coach wanted to talk to me right in the middle of the pool’s cafeteria. He asked me if I realized that every kilo that I weighed was equal to a bottle of milk. I walked away crying.

After I quit swimming (which is a different story all together) things only got worse for me. Of course, there is the story of the ex-boyfriend who on breaking up with me told me that if I could be really attractive if I lost a bit of weight. An ex co-worker who exclaimed ‘oh! So you didn’t always look like this?!’ when I told her about my swimming. I could go on and on and on. But probably the worst is a story about my GP. She’s been my doctor for years and from probably the age of 13 at almost every visit she would ask about my weight. Sure, she can be worried for health reasons but I would go there for a throat infection and she would end up berating me about my weight. She tested me several times for diabetes II, despite it being negative every time. I remember going there when I was really ill and she asked me how I got there today. I told her that my dad brought me and she ‘subtly’ suggested that going by bike was also ‘a good idea’. It has honestly gotten to the point that I feel hesitant about going to the doctor, only going when it’s absolutely necessary. My mom and I sometimes joke about it, ‘oh you got a broken toe? Gotta lose weight!’ We joke but it’s not really funny.

But the point that I’m trying to make with this post is the pressure that girls and boys are under to look skinny. Not healthy, not pretty, skinny. Because ‘fat’ does not automatically mean that you’re unhealthy and skinny does not automatically mean you are. I was in my town’s city center to spread some notes for the project and I overheard a conversation between a couple of teen girls. I think they were about 13 – 14 years old. One of them was telling her friends that she got there by bike and her friend exclaimed ‘OH is it because you’re on a diet??’ and her friend replied that she was because she really wanted to lose some weight. At that point I looked up and saw this girl was tall and already really skinny. Not even slender, just skinny. I think she was maybe a size 2-4. She did not need to lose any weight. At all. It’s things like this that really worry me. Society’s message that we need to be healthy has really moved to just being thin. Forget about models and actresses, just the commercials on tv about being healthy and people treating weight like it’s the most awful thing in the world has such an influence on these young girls.

It’s probably one of the things that I want to achieve most through this project. I want to reach girls who are like I was. Although I probably would have thought something along the lines of ‘Yea, right’ if I had gotten a note that says ‘You’re beautiful’, I want to put them out there because if there’s a chance that I can make even one boy or girl feel a bit better about themselves, and maybe give them the strength to say “screw what you think. I’m healthy, there’s nothing wrong with me and it’s a beautiful day so I’m going to eat this damn ice cream” then it’s worth it.

Because that’s what people tend to forget nowadays. A bit more body fat does not mean unhealthy or unattractive or lazy or disgusting. We don’t know what these people do. Maybe they work their ass off. Maybe this is what they’re meant to look like. Whatever it is, they deserve our respect as a person. It does not make them inferior human beings, it does not give us the permission to say things like ‘kill it before it lays eggs’ or ‘it’s funny because she’s fat’.

It’s the old saying of don’t judge a book on its cover that is applicable here.  No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, you deserve the right to be happy about the way you look. All of you. No exceptions.

Love always,

Emma