Friday, November 12th, 2010

What's the Worst Thing a Man Believes He Can Call a Woman?

On my last night in Washington, D.C., where I’ve been working, a very weird thing happened: a drunk guy in a bar took an instant personal dislike to me, insulted my short haircut, told me I looked like the child from The Omen and said that I had “666” written on my head (I have to assume this is also an Omen reference). At the end of this string of craziness, he also called me a dyke.

I wasn’t alone in the bar: I was with three co-workers (who are also friends) having a drink to cap off my going away party. The guy who was obsessed with my haircut—late 20s, Vineyard Vines-style prep wear, face slightly puffed from too much beer—was with a friend of similar appearance. We’d all gotten off on the wrong foot: As we four women entered the bar, a place called Urbana in the ground floor of the Palomar Hotel in Dupont Circle, the two guys lunged for the empty seat next to them, and announced their intentions to save it for a friend. (This left my group with three seats together, next to their ‘saved’ empty seat. There was also another empty seat on the other side of them, further down the bar.) Naturally, my friends and I wanted the barstool. But, sensing their desperation, we let them keep it. One of my friends dragged a stool over from the other end of the bar, and we crowded together and sat down.

The bartender would not accept one of my friend’s ID (she is not American) and she asked to speak with the manager, having had drinks in that bar before without incident. I asked for a bottle of some kind of beer on their list of seemingly randomly selected brews, but they were out of Peroni (I got a Dos Equis, instead). As these two dudes sitting in front of a sausage pizza watched us, they started to get angry: Apparently hoping to use an empty chair, asking to be served when you are of age and have legal identification and ordering a beer were all offensive things for a gaggle of women aged 23-35 to do.

So offensive, in fact, that as the two guys got up to take a smoke break, they told us we were "entitled" as they walked out the door to the patio.

When they came back inside, one of my companions could not stop herself from uttering the word douchebag, loudly, many times, while looking in their direction. This got the non-haircut-obsessed guy going. His friend kept pretty mum. Until he looked at me and told me I had both “the ugliest haircut” he’d “ever seen” and “hate on my face.” Hence the 666 comment, I guess. The dyke comment was clearly because of my hair (which, by the way, is sort of like Janine Turner circa “Northern Exposure” meets Pat Benatar. Sort of).

A similar thing happened to me once, and so as not to just bash D.C. for its high proportion of jerks in too-big pleated pants, blow outs worthy of Judd Nelson in “St. Elmo’s Fire” and print button-down shirts with white collars, I will be up front about the fact that the other instance took place in New York City. It was the 90s at the Brooklyn Inn, where I was having a beer with a friend. A beefy dude kept trying to talk to me, telling me I had a pretty face but “why did I have the short hair?” I kept asking him to leave me alone; I said I was having a drink with my friend, who I rarely saw. That was when, if I remember correctly, he called me “a fucking lesbian” and suggested a few things I could do with my friend, as his face conveyed a level of anger and ecstasy I’d never before witnessed in a public space. This ‘insult’ really seemed to be a turn on for the guy, and then he REALLY couldn’t leave me alone. But this was New York: The bartender got involved and threw the guy out, and bought me and my friend a round of Brooklyn Lagers.

I had once relayed the story about the Brooklyn Inn to Kathleen Hanna when I interviewed her for a profile in The Nation. I think we were talking about how sometimes it was still hard for women to be left alone by aggressive men in bars and clubs, and about how young women needed safe and fun places to dance, and I told her the story. We ended up talking about how complicated and bizarre it is for a guy to try and insult a woman with words like ‘lesbian’ and ‘dyke.’ If you don’t take it as an insult—because it isn’t an insult—how do you respond?

I don’t remember what I said to the guy at the Brooklyn Inn. Last night I momentarily started to raise my left hand to display to the clearly conservative prick (he had a heyday laughing about my name, since of course Hillary Clinton is surely the biggest secret dyke of all!) the wedding ring on my fourth finger. The words “I’m married to a man!” started to crawl up my throat. But my brain—and all the reasonableness it managed to contain whilst encountering crazytown—kept my hand in my lap and quieted my tongue for a few seconds, allowing me to think of what I actually wanted to say.

Being married should not give people privileges over others—social, material or otherwise. Nor should it be something that grants people special reprieve from certain assholes. In other words, just as being called a dyke isn’t an insult, the fact of my being married wasn’t a defense. For a few seconds I thought deeply about what could have possibly motivated him (or another guy like him) to be so angry at me.

I thought: Someone like me had rejected him at some point.

So instead of telling him I’m married and straight, I said instead: “I’m sorry that it’s been such a long time since you’ve had sex.”

This actually shut him up. He didn’t even protest.

I wish I could say that put an end to our hotel bar strife, but it didn’t quite; though my non-American friend told the men she found them ‘repulsive,’ they kept exclaiming over her cuteness. After their ‘friend,’ a woman who seemed fully aware of the awfulness of her man-pals, sucked down a pink drink in a martini glass, the three of them left without saying a last word.

At first I thought the lesson of the evening was that my return to New York was happening just in time. We don’t have people like this at home! Brooklyn is a paradise of love and diversity and happiness and SHORT HAIR. But, actually, the truth I gleaned was sadder. As my friend, desperate that I not leave a city she loves thinking that everyone in it is rotten, said to me, “assholes are everywhere.”

I wanted to protest, but she had a point: the guy who told me I looked like the kid from The Omen was born and bred on the Upper West Side.

Still, Hillary Frey is pleased to be back.

77 Comments / Post A Comment

Kevin Patterson (#5,933)

Safe and fun places for "straight" women to hang out and dance are called gay clubs. Please leave your purses at home though.

Polly Peachum (#8,145)

Terrible story. But a bit confusing. How did a stranger know the author's name? How did the author know the stranger's birthplace?

janine (#248)

Don't know about the birthplace, but if they're all sitting side by side at the same bar, the name would be easy to hear.

Polly Peachum (#8,145)

If I were in close quarters with someone who was threatening to me, the last thing I would do is reveal any information about myself (or have my friends do so).
It was confusing.

cherrispryte (#444)

If this is the place I'm thinking of, this is what you get for going to douchey bars.

Birdie (#5,811)

Ha! My thought exactly.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

So she was asking for it?

sunnyciegos (#551)

It's definitely a specific scene, and not my kind of place at all. Hillary, next time come to Beacon Bar or ChurchKey.

Douchebar + pretty girl w/short hair = 100% guaranteed horny drunk frat boy verbal assault.

cherrispryte (#444)

@bod – you know, as I posted that, I thought "ugh, I'm victim-blaming" but then I realized I wasn't on Jezebel and I could probably get away with it. I stand corrected, good sir.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@cherri: I don't mean to go too far off topic, but this is probably the fifth time in a row that I've replied to one of your comments and then immediately thought "Oh no, the tone of that was waaay more dickish than I intended, I hope she's not mad at me." So, yeah. Thanks for being cool. I don't think you're a victim-blamer either!

cherrispryte (#444)

@bod: I find you delightful. No worries!

Polly Peachum (#8,145)

There's a world of difference between having the right to go anywhere and exercising that right. So while I certainly don't think the writer was "asking for it," I don't think you were victim-blaming. I assume they didn't know what was likely to crawl in there.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@cherri and @boy I <3 Awl commenters!

also, ladies, never let assholes like these deter a cute, short haircut. don't let the terrorists win!

cherrispryte (#444)

There has been a fantastic amount of commenter love coming my way over the past few days. It's been great.

Multiphasic (#411)

Ahh, the dreaded "Gawker circa 2008" effect.

It'll all end in tears and/or me publicly pretending to be Conbon.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I imagine the same sort of logic is at work that leads the same sort of guys to call me "faggot" if I accidentally step on a foot or jostle them in a crowded bar.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

right. Welcome to the Power&Grabass district.

deepomega (#1,720)

Fun fact: I wrote up the code for KP&L's calendar page. And the number one takeaway I had from that was FUCK THE CENTRAL TIME ZONE.

cherrispryte (#444)

I think it's more complicated than that? There's a "oh, you don't want me, you must not want any man at all" motivation behind the dyke-as-insult contingency. That her hair, in his mind, proved her point was just the icing on the cake.

DMcK (#5,027)

I tend to think it's more a case of douchebags like this being so homophobically terrified of being attracted to a woman with "boyish" looks that such nonsensical overcompensation becomes necessary to said DB's.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

@cherri – oh, no doubt. I just meant that the same line of logic that views "dyke" as a nonsensical, yet awful, insult is the same logic that thinks "faggot" is the worst possible thing another guy could be.

@deep – If my view of the central time zone was filtered through P&L, I'd feel the same way. It is a dreadful, sad place.

That was not the worst thing I thought it was going to be. (Fuck those guys, by the way. Not only are they fucks in general, but they make me feel like an asshole by virtue of being the same gender)

deepomega (#1,720)

Were you expecting "Feminist"?

Multiphasic (#411)


Propagatrix (#8,654)


BadUncle (#153)

only in DC would someone under 80 still wear pleated pants.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

They also are into easy listening music and John McCain.

BadUncle (#153)

All the aesthetics of On Golden Pond with all the anger of Red Dawn. "Avenge me, Noooohmaaan! Aveeeenge meeee!"

This has happened to me more times than I can count. I wear a simple, short pixie cut, plenty of makeup and ruffles/dresses, and a wedding ring signifying my marriage to a guy. Still, almost every time I go out with friends some drunk fuckhead calls me a dyke, usually out of nowhere, often a guy I haven't even been speaking with. I live in Indianapolis. I'll go ahead and blame the location.

Edited to add: I have actually heard "pretty girl, shame about the short hair" or "you'd be so pretty if you grew out that hair" even more often than "dyke." Like they think they're making a helpful suggestion.

iantenna (#5,160)

i know a shitload of amazing people from indianapolis but they all moved to california to get away from that guy.

You should tell them you were collaborating with the Germans.

I eventually started saying, "What's it matter, I'd never fuck you either way," which shuts 'em right up. But I'm slow on the uptake, so I stood around stuttering for a while the first few times.

iantenna (#5,160)

i've been to dc exactly once for a conference in college and we ended up at, ugh, georgetown bars because i guess that's where you end up when you're college students and have no fucking clue where to drink. a married version of this asshole hit on my friend all night to the point where i, in blacked out knight mode, challenged him to step outside. he declined, which was good because i could barely stand much less throw a punch (not to mention the fact that my last fight was in the 5th grade and i got my ass kicked). my point is, your friend is wrong, i'm pretty sure that dc is home to a particularly awful form of entitled misogynist.

cherrispryte (#444)

your last sentence – totally on the ball! It is possible to avoid such assholes, depending where you go, but georgetown, dupont, and a few of the capitol hill bars are crawling with jerks like these.

Andrew Piccone (#7,185)

People: the worst!

zidaane (#373)

I always think women with really short cropped hair are on the verge of breakdown. That coincides with who I like to date.

LondonLee (#922)

"my hair (which, by the way, is sort of like Janine Turner circa “Northern Exposure” meets Pat Benatar. Sort of)."

I think I'm in love.

I logged in to say the same…

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"the guy who told me I looked like the kid from The Omen was born and bred on the Upper West Side".

Upper West Side: the DC of NYC. It's true that there are douchebags everywhere, this is why you have to keep the maps of places to avid updated. For example, here in Williamsburg the area between N7 and N12 west of Bedford is the Upper West Side of Williamsburg. Avoid!

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

Ugh this is a bit northier but once I stepped into Berry Park because I was walking back from Greenpoint & thirsty and it was very much "aaah who are these people!? Escape! Escape!"

Multiphasic (#411)

Go to the roof! Stay on the roof! Only good thing about that place, but what a good thing it is.

Slava (#216)

Does it matter?!?

Jane Minty (#8,051)

For the most part, this kind of thing really doesn't happen in Brooklyn. The rare incidents usually involve out-of-towners, or the random asshole who happens to be new to the area. They don't expect to be challenged, but quickly shut up when they find out otherwise. Also, “I’m sorry that it’s been such a long time since you’ve had sex" is possibly the most appropriate response to such behavior.

Multiphasic (#411)

Hey, I know you.

Sinestro (#6,581)

Isn't the Gramercy/Murray Hill area clearly the DC of New York, and isn't that why everybody hates it?

Multiphasic (#411)


HelloTitty (#830)

Your encounter reminds me of similar encounters I've had with a certain kind of man that becomes ENRAGED by the presence of a woman he considers ugly (whether or not he also thinks she's a lesbian). These men scare the crap out of me. *shiver*

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Ladies, I think you're all beautiful.

Multiphasic (#411)


Multiphasic (#411)


erikonymous (#3,231)


Should have gone to The Raven

Multiphasic (#411)


That's so funny! I once relayed a story about Park Avenue Country Club to Ted Nugent when I interviewed him for a profile in National Review!

spanish bombs (#562)

Dude, although the guys in this story seem like jerks, you and your friends are also not very nice.

umm.. how are they "not very nice"? wouldn't you ask for a second opinion if your friend's ID was refused in a bar where it hadn't been before? And how was it any of those other dudes business anyway? “I’m sorry that it’s been such a long time since you’ve had sex” is so spot on – it's the kind of well-placed comeback I always wish I'd thought up instead of just blurting out "go fuck yourself."

spanish bombs (#562)

Well, one complaint I have would be loudly referring to strangers who it seems you will not make friends with as douchebags, thus starting shit. Another complaint is that there are alternative responses to rude comments (calling a short-haired person a lesbian, which the author seemed to find offensive only conceptually anyway) than even more rude, probably more cutting to the recipient, comebacks that are not even witty. And if one simply MUST respond to rudeness in kind, something like City_Dater's suggestion below is a good way to say "go fuck yourself" without making someone sad and bragging about it on the internet.

There is no problem with asking for a second opinion on an ID.

end all answer, 3rd grade version: they started it!

Multiphasic (#411)


City_Dater (#2,500)

A good response to the ever-popular "DYKE!" is a calm "are you the alternative?", preferably uttered while glancing dismissively at the crotch of the offender.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

I have hair that's fairly short but don't get the dyke comments, but I wouldn't care if I did.

Also, next time you use that retort refer to the DB as "Tiny".

Multiphasic (#411)

Scroll_lock's a girl?

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I know, right?

zidaane (#373)


scroll_lock (#4,122)

@multi, boy, zidaane: Let me check. Yep, definitely a chick.

randomnessish (#6,799)

I rocked the pixie cut from high school through college and it was only my friends and my sister who gave me shit, like "Why do you insist on looking like a boy," and "Hey, this is my sister! Doesn't she look like a lesbian?" So this is pretty fucking fantastic.

Also this reminds me of a Hank Hill quote:
(Talking about his lawn)
"There's something missing, something wrong…it's like a pretty girl with short hair."

cinetrix (#47)

Reminds me of when I bemoaned an unsuccessful short haircut to my brother by saying I looked like a big dyke. His response? "You're not that big." Come to think of it, also an apropos retort to the DB in the post.

Travytrav (#8,579)

so..@Spanish Bombs. I think, perhaps, you've confused a bit of the plot. The douche-bag comment came after the privilege insult. Though lesbian isn't an insult, dyke is. Most lesbians find 'dyke' to be an insult. Its like calling a black person the n word and saying "well, it's true." Also, she's not a lesbian. You may not be insulted if I said you had pink hair, but its still annoying and can be insulting if that's the intention behind it. And really, what she told him was brilliant. If he's sad about it, then perhaps he should think twice. We need a jerk defense training course. How to come up with witty responses to those pricks. Ohh or better yet, let's put them in a class where they can learn to be civil. Hmmm….

hrayovac (#8,439)

I've always favored, "Does anybody here have a shovel so we can get this guy off the pavement?" I know, it leads to a fight but there are times..

bluesuedeshoes (#8,610)

I get this a lot and I don't have short hair. I have red hair and bangs and generally and dressed up and have makeup on. I think it's because of my "scowling at people at bars" face that has been well-documented in photos.
Best things I have been called lately: "cunty lesbian," "dickhead," and "hot-to-trot."

The "cunty lesbian" comment actually came from a gay man who was trying to hit on my friend. "cunty lesbian" was at Sing Sing in LES, "dickhead" was while trying to cross the street in West Philly, and "hot-to-trot" was at Brooklyn Inn.

So, yeah, I guess the answer is either: (1) assholes are everywhere or (2) I am an asshole.

Leon (#6,596)

When I saw "Whats the worst thing a man believes he can call a woman?" I was pretty sure the answer would lead seawards.

Konfess (#198,135)

I've had a variety of insults hurled at me over the years. "Dyke", "Lesbian", "fucking dyke". One was from a guy I used to date because I didn't respond to him sexually the way he wanted me to. I was supposed to overlook the fact that he was a misogynistic, egotistical, entitled dickhead that wanted a woman that had a full time job but not a full time brain. The other was a competitor, for lack of a better definition, whose competition strategy was to shit talk everyone else out of the industry so as to 'thin the herd' of competition. The truth is I never take it as an insult. It's more amusing to me than anything. Luckily I never like any of the people who insult me enough to point out the flawed logic used in this insult: Pairing a woman who has personally offended you with the foremost erotic pretext you like to see women in only reinforces the fact that you're only insulted because she either (1) is better than you or (2) doesn't need your stupid ass in the first place.

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