Recently my father and I went to go see his father and take him to a doctor's appointment, take him out out to lunch, get him some groceries, etc. (Status report: the old man is doing just fine.) We went to Whole Foods to buy him some cheese blintzes and ruggelah, and in the car driving over to his house, my dad said, "if I was a single guy I would go to Whole Foods to meet women."
"And why is that?"
"Didn't you notice," he said, "the place was full of single women. Well, maybe not single women, but it was full of women. Some of them had to be single." I hadn't noticed.
"Okay, so, how would you go about meeting these single women, or determining if they're single?" I was only half involved in the conversation because I was reading a NY Times article on my phone.
He shrugged. "I dunno... I would bump carts by accidentally or something." As you can tell, it's been a long time since my dad's been single.
"Don't you think they'd see right through that?" I asked.
"Sure, but if they were interested they'd see through it and know that I was interested and if not they would go about their day and I would go about mine and nothing would really be that different."
"You don't think or care that they might be annoyed by the intrusion?"
"What are you supposed to do, never talk to a stranger because they might be annoyed by the intrusion? I am intruded upon 500 times a day, it happens. We live in a world with other people. Sometimes we have to interact with them."
And so on.
I don't recall exactly how it happened, but somehow we got onto the subject of winking. More specifically whether or not it is inappropriate for a man who is shopping at Whole Foods to wink at a woman he has never met who is shopping at Whole Foods. I posited that yes, it is categorically inappropriate. My father was outraged. "So you're saying that winking at a woman is an aggressive, inappropriate act? You're over-reacting. You're so concerned about fighting sexism that you see it in places where it isn't even there. Winking is benign and if you put it on the same category as saying 'hey baby, nice gams' and whistling like a Looney Tunes wolf, it diminishes the seriousness of those acts by comparing them to something relatively innocuous."
"Look," I began, at this point my phone was away and I was totally paying attention, "I just don't think it's innocuous. Everything has a context, and your hypothetical wink at Whole Foods falls squarely into a continuum of shitty behavior perpetrated by men towards women from the time they reach puberty. It may not be the same thing but it is all interrelated."
"That's ridiculous and you're inventing context that isn't there. A wink is just a wink."
"I just disagree with you there. And I might as well tell you now, you're never going to convince me. I don't think you are a bad person or have any malicious intent, and I appreciate that this conversation is all hypothetical and we're not discussing the fact that you DID wink at a woman in Whole Foods because I don't think you would do that. But the fact of the matter is, I have had conversations with many of the women in my life about being winked at and I know how they feel about it, so no matter how compelling an argument you craft in defense of men's Right to Wink, I am not going to be swayed because it is just conjecture by a man and is meaningless compared to the shared experience and testimony of the countless women I have talked to about this." I should note that I've been paraphrasing this whole time and I most assuredly was NOT that articulate in real life. Luckily, I'm the one recounting the discussion.
"That is crazy." He was shaking his head. "So you're saying that men aren't allowed to have opinions?"
"Of course not! I'm just saying that in this instance we're discussing something that affects women more than men and I'm going to side with the opinion of the people that are affected over someone on the outside conjecturing. Look, I know this isn't an issue because you don't actually go around winking at ladies, but have you ever had a discussion with any women in your life about how they feel when men wink at them?"
He shook his head no. I dialed my mom on speakerphone.
Ring ring ring ring ring "Hello?"
"Hey Ma, I got a a hypothetical situation for you. You're in a Whole Foods shopping for groceries..."
"What am I doing in a Whole Foods, I hate Whole Foods!"
"Ma, come on, lemme finish. You're in a Whole Foods shopping for groceries and you're walking down an aisle and a guy you've never seen before is walking the other way down the aisle and as you pass by he winks at you. How does that make you feel?"
"I would shout 'FUCK YOU!' at the guy" she said, without missing a beat. "I would yell, 'WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE WINKING AT?'"
I looked over and my dad was chuckling. I asked my mom, "Why?"
And she said, "Because a wink is too intimate a gesture to share with a stranger and the implications of a stranger winking at me in a Whole Foods are totally pervy. You wink at your friends. You wink when you're sharing a confidence, when you're both in on a secret. It's just not appropriate to wink at a stranger."
I texted my kid sister the same question. I said, "if you are in a Whole Foods and a man you don't know winks at you, how does that make you feel?"
"Gross," she wrote back almost immediately, followed a few moments later by, "and disgusting."
I showed the texts to my dad and he said, "well I guess I have to reconsider."
The point of all this is not that my dad is some skeezy jerkoff. He's a really nice and respectful guy and I think I got a lot of pretty awesome traits from him. But he is a Male Dude who was raised in America and he had a Male Dude for a father and his brother was a Male Dude and all his friends growing up were other Male Dudes and they were predominantly, maybe almost entirely Straight Male Dudes and they weren't scumbags or anything any more or any less than all Male Dudes in the world are trained to be scumbags from like, the second they hit puberty, a process which is possibly equally (but definitely differently) traumatic to being sexually objectified from the moment one hits puberty, although we'll never really know conclusively since part of that training is to cut ourselves off from our emotions and NEVER EVER EVER NEVER NERVER admit that anything could possibly be traumatizing to us.
The night before going to visit my grandfather I spent the night at my folks' house and I was sitting around eating defrosted pizza and watching cable on their TV at like, 2am, and I saw this show on MTV called "Guy Code" or something which was like, all these shitty comedians talking about why it is imperative that men fuck all the women. Here are some real quotes. I wish I could attribute them to the actual dudes that said them and then we could all get together and crush their nuts with a big piece of wood like Charlotte Gainsbourg does to Willem Defoe in Anti-Christ. (For all the defensive babies out there, I am joking around and I don't actually advocate crushing men's nutsacks because they say idiot shit.) This is on the subject of having friendships with women:
"The only time I'll keep a girl as a friend is if she has a lot of hot friends for me to hook up with."This is fucked, right? This is on MTV, which is like, the channel that is supposed to be for teenagers. I don't think MTV is actually teaching kids anything substantial or is to blame for shitty Dude Behavior, but I do think that it is certainly reflective of where we are at as a culture, and if nothing else, serves to reinforce shithead belief systems that are learned and taught everywhere else in the culture.
"You're giving her all the things she's used to giving sex to get, so what the fuck is she gonna fuck you for?"
But the point is this: it is really easy for those of us who identify as Male Dudes to sit around and conjecture all day long about what it's like to be a lady and what behavior is appropriate and what behavior isn't but the only way to really figure that out is to just talk to women we know. And that part is easy, but here is the hard part: listen to what they have to say non-judgmentally and internalize it and think about it. Ask your moms and sisters how they feel. Ask your girlfriends or friends, because despite what "the Guy Code" says, I'm am pretty sure most straight dudes still have at least one female friend. And then do some research on your own. The internet is huge! Read a few things on Shakesville or Tiger Beatdown. And when you feel attacked or defensive, instead of getting your back up, take a step back and thinking about what it is you are feeling attacked by? What is it you are defending? Is winking at ladies an integral part of your personality, a kernel of truth at the very core of your being, that you could never give up? Is it your right to continue to be unaware of the weight of the patriarchy on the women in your life and the ways that you are complicit? Just be thoughtful and be open-minded. These are hard things to do, and the ladies in your life may not want to hold your hand all the time, but if you are actually a caring person and you actually want to know, you can educate yourself and these things and people will be willing to talk to you.
And now I have to go because I'm going to be late for work.