While out one Friday night a couple years ago playing pool with an old friend, something hit me. That something that would later transpire into the topic of this essay initially came in the form of a guy’s elbow, and it came full force into my freshly poured Harpoon IPA. Most of the beer ended up on my shirt, and without so much as a glance back the culprit muttered a barely perceptible “sorry” as he continued past me and my assaulted pale ale.
Maybe I’m naïve to think that the absolute least this guy could have done was stop to assess the damage. Perhaps he could have apologized and offered to get me a paper towel, or at least a damn bar napkin that was readily available around the corner. Or, and even better, he could have offered to buy me a new drink (since he sent mine to an early grave).
But no, he didn’t even turn his head. A younger version of myself would have chased this guy down and put him in his place. But the twenty-three-year-old version of myself just exhaled (loud enough for him to hear) asshole as I brushed off the yet to be absorbed droplets trickling down my favorite shirt.
I stood there for a moment in between a state of shock and palpable outrage, wondering how some people can be so inconsiderate. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that some questions never render a satisfying answer, and I headed over to the bar for a paper towel. The culprit and an accomplice were at the bar getting beers of their own (probably Coors Lights). As I strutted up from behind them, I had half a mind to aggressively wedge my way in between them to get to the bartender, but instead veered to the right at the last moment for a decidedly less hostile approach. I thought maybe he would pretend he didn’t hear or see me as I asked for “a paper towel, please,” but to my surprise he turned and apologized, this time to my face.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to bump into you.” His words were kind, but his tone of voice mirrored that of a child whose authoritative mother was standing over his shoulder forcing him to apologize for something he was not sorry for at all.
He seemed more annoyed at the situation than I was. “I can buy you another drink…if you want.” I glared harder. Is this guy daft? Or just an asshole?
“At least you’re wearing a black shirt,” he asserted. I could feel my eyes narrow as my irritation mounted. For all he knew my shirt was white and dry-clean only. He never turned around to find out. He interpreted my condemning silence as an invitation to keep going. “My friend heard you called me an asshole.” I waited for him to continue, but I actually think he was waiting for an apology from me. I laughed. “Well, yeah,” I began in the most condescending of tones. “You didn’t even turn around after spilling a drink on someone. That was kind of an asshole move.”
The bartender brought my paper towel and in his eyes I swore I could see sympathy. In my assaulter’s? None.
I could tell this was the kind of guy who never learned to respect women. I could also tell he was used to hearing apologies where it was his place to give them. You know these kinds of guys, ladies? The ones who use their good looks and candor, and try to pass them off as charm; the male equivalent of the pretty girl batting her eyelashes at the opposite sex, the Jedi mind trick of the sexes to induce submissiveness. Some of us are on to you, Darth.
“Well, it’s not like I meant to do it. I just said I was sorry.” His apology was pathetic, and I decided that he was wasting my time. I had gotten what I had come for, more so the apology than the paper towel, so I said “it’s okay” and abruptly departed before I could take him up on that drink that he didn’t really seem intent on buying me.
It was never about the drink.
I returned to my friend who was in line for a billiards rack and told her what happened. “What did he say?” she asked. “He said at least I was wearing a black shirt.” Her jaw dropped. “And he didn’t buy you another drink?” she said shocked. “What a dick.”
I told her that I didn’t really want his stupid drink. In all honesty, however, I did. Since his apology was insincere, the drink felt like the retribution that I never got. But an hour later I got my second chance when I passed him again, and he offered another explanation. “I guess I’m just used to spilling drinks on girls at parties who just laugh it off and go like this [insert ‘ditzy-girl’ hand gestures accompanied by shrilling laughter].”
Aha, of course! Why didn’t I see it before?
He didn’t care because he didn’t respect me. He didn’t respect me because I am a female.
Ladies, does this sound familiar? All too often women are subjected to this kind of treatment. It happens everywhere: at our workplaces, at our schools, and even in our homes.
As a twenty-five-year-old female bartender, at least several times a shift I am condescended to, talked at, told what is best for me from a man I have never met before. But these men who patronize me daily hardly ever even know they’re doing it because we live in a society in which male dominance and female submissiveness are the norm. We live in a society that is littered with ads and is full of people who worship reality shows that both promote and reinforce these harmful stereotypes. We live in society that raises men who, after spilling a beer on a strange girl in a bar, are quicker to treat the situation as if it were a wet t-shirt contest than to apologize.