A friend called me today with an interesting conundrum. Simply put, despite her best efforts, she gets hit on at the gym all the time. Now, before you go off rolling your eyes and muttering about how pretty people need real problems, she brings up an interesting point. As women, we have to walk a fine line: if we are too cold we’re a bitch (pardon my French), if we are too friendly then we’re a cock tease (again, with the French). And that middle ground – friendly, accommodating but definitely not interested in getting our cardio in the broom closet – can be hard to find. Because it often varies based on the perception of each individual man.
Let me start by saying that this rarely happens to me. At the gym I work out at, the men that work out at the time of day I am there are to a man polite, kind and never inappropriate. It also helps that the vast majority are geriatric. But my friend works out a different kind of gym at a different time of day leading to a much more meat-market atmosphere. And her problem is important because it has consequences beyond mere interrupted weight sets and winks in the mirror.
Just today I came across this article idiotically titled “Advice 4 Women: How Not To Get a “Deserved” Raping.” The author, who describes himself as nicer than most men, writes about an experience at a club where a woman initiated dancing with him. According to him, the dancing was your standard bump-n-grind club fare. After several dances of this sort, he was convinced that “Dang, I know we’re just dancing but she must really want me to give it to her right!” and went in for some additional action. She shut him down cold. Here’s where the story gets very uncomfortable – he then writes that since he’s “nice” he let her go but “had I been a less-than-understanding guy (i.e., a forceful-type of guy who always “gets what he wants by any means necessary”), I could have just as easily forced a kiss on her, or worse – waited until after the club let out to follow her to her car, then followed her to her house. And, when she got out her car, I could have been right there ready to pounce on her, saying: ‘I think you owe me something, lady!!'” (Charlotte’s note: “Owe him”?!? Excuse me? It sounds to me like he already got a free lap dance out of it.)
I have been in the situation where someone “forced a kiss” on me in a club (and we weren’t even dancing!) It seriously freaked me out. And that kind of thing really sticks with you. So that’s the problem men. If you’re a stranger, we don’t know what kind of guy you are or what kind of expectations you have. Are you the type to go postal, grab me and yell in my face if you perceive my refusal as a personal affront to your manliness? (Also happened to me.) Or will you just be chill and expect nothing from me even if I plant myself directly in front of you in booty shorts and a sports bra? And then drop my towel? (Not that I do that!)
And so we return to my friend. She was in a position with several physically intimidating men. They were not in any way threatening her but being a woman in our society means you have to be very careful. So when one of the men approached her and introduced himself, she wasn’t sure how to reply. At first she was a bit cold – she told me she wished she would have had her iPod because then at least she could have pretended she didn’t hear him – but then later felt bad and went over on her way out and thanked him for being friendly. By the time she got to the parking lot, she’d second-guessed herself again and wondered if she’d given him “the wrong idea.”
I think this situation is even more precarious in a gym setting since people are a) wearing a lot less clothing than usual, b) often there to look at bodies (especially their own) and c) doing some interesting and occassionally downright sexy moves. Tell me you’ve never seen someone draped all over a Swiss ball or in Downward Facing Dog and didn’t giggle like a 6th grader. And that’s not even taking intentionally sexy workouts like Hip Hop or The S Factor into account.
While I agree that in most situations honesty is the best policy, this has awkward written all over it:
Him: Uh, hi there. I’m Oberon.
Her: Hi! I’m Ramona! And my husband’s name is Leslie which I know sounds like a girl but it was actually a traditionally boy name before the girls misappropriated it like they do with so many other traditionally boy names. You know, like Jordan, Sharon and Terry? Which incidentally are my three kids names. Wanna see pics?
Him: Actually, I was just hoping I could use that weight bench behind you. But thanks for the offer.
Her: Hey, any time! That’s what us motherly types are for!
So what’s a (married/in-a-relationship/just-not-interested) girl to do? Girls: how do you walk that line between friendly and feisty? Men: what exactly should my friend say the next time this happens to her? Is there a way to let a (hopefully nice, non-rapist) man know that you’re not being mean but you just aren’t interested? Somehow I think our own Prof. Platek will have a lot to say on this!