Monday, June 6, 2011

How to become invisible.

Boston's a great walking city; whether it's socializing, shopping, studying, or just getting outside, I spend a lot of time on the sidewalk, and so do lots of my neighbors. When I go out alone, people talk to me. Friends say hi, tourists ask for directions, street people ask for money, shop clerks say "can I help you?", cellphone salesmen make obnoxious pitches, clipboard people ask for signatures and donations, and people randomly comment on the weather and whatnot.

When I go out with a guy... friends say hi. Sometimes. Everything else goes through the guy. It doesn't matter who the guy is--a guy my age looks like my boyfriend, an older guy looks like my dad, and a guy with a group looks like the leader. Anyone with a question to ask goes to him.

Maybe it's just me. I do have a meek side. Sometimes I let the other person do the talking when I'm with female friends too. I went back and forth over whether this post was a little too paranoid, and it might be.

But every time a man and I walk up to a counter together and hear "can I help you, sir?", it serves as a very subtle, polite little reminder that I've been transformed from "a person" to "a person and the girl with him."


  1. Interesting, when Im out with the wife she is the one that gets the bulk of the attention or questions. Maybe that is because she is outgoing and nice looking, or maybe its because she's french. I dont mind, it gives me more time to check out people without having to directly address them. :)

  2. Here's a fun one: I have (on more than one occasion) been at a gun show and had somebody ask the guy I was with how much he wanted for the gun I was carrying.

  3. Tam - I've had the reverse experience in gun shops, where the clerk can't believe that I actually came in knowing what I want, so they're a little too solicitous with the "can I help you find something? do you need help with this big confusing selection? have you ever shot a gun before?" attempts to help. I mean, they are trying to be nice, but I never see them pulling aside male customers to explain which end the bullets come out of.

  4. (Also a problem in computer shops and hardware stores. God, I had a hell of a time convincing the guy in the Apple store that I had actually done research and just needed him to hand me the specific widget, not to get all "well, let's talk about your needs and see what's right for you" about it.)

  5. That's one hell of a vague question. Depends what it's for, man.

    I'm not about to throw down with every argument we've ever had just because you're commenting in an inoffensive way on an unrelated topic, no.

  6. Not so vague, pretty direct actually. I dont hold grudges regardless of how offensive I think your views are.
    There is another way to look at your experience on the streets. Were most of the people you experienced the change with men? If yes, there is a relatively easy reason why.

  7. I'm afraid to ask what that reason is, but actually, men and women do it about equally.

  8. From a different perspective, i've got pretty bad social anxiety, and when i go out, i tend to get treated like i have no clue. Even from sales people who are selling me something i know more about than them, it's just when my anxiety gets really bad i can't find the words to describe things. When i had a SO, sometimes they would just start talking to the woman, so it's not always by sex, but also body language i think. Not saying a lot of it isn't sexism, because i'm sure there is a lot of that, and it does feel like crap, that's for sure.

  9. Youre right, most men and women do it equally. I think it is referred to as "marking your territory". Some are ignorant of it, others test the boundaries intentionally.

  10. @Tit for Tat
    What's the "relatively easy reason why"? That they choose to interact with other men because "men understand men better"?

  11. Hershele OstropolerJune 6, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    My mother always makes me or my father come with her to buy/have serviced computers or cars. For computers she somewhat has a point, but it's hard to live in places other people live and know less about cars than I do. But I am male.

  12. Marking my whooziewhatsit? I have no idea what that has to do with ignoring women who have men next to them.

  13. I had a similar experience this weekend while apartment hunting with my husband. The realtor was only asking him questions, and it was entirely frustrating. My husband kept giving me odd looks, as he noticed it also.

    Whenever the realtor asked a question not specifically directed to my husband, I made an effort to answer (even when the realtor was looking in my husband's direction). Eventually we were both spoken to but getting to that point shouldn't be necessary in the first place.

    Maybe it's because I'm a girl, maybe it's because I seem like the quiet type (and maybe I am), but darned if I appreciate being ignored like that.

    Is there a better way to push against this sort of thing?

  14. Really Holly? If a man doesnt know if the woman is a girlfriend or wife he will rightly or wrongly out of respect address the man first. Interestingly enough women do the same. Are you not aware of that aspect of human behaviour?

  15. @Tit for Tat - Respect for what, exactly?

  16. That's not "respect." Or if it is, it's definitely "wrongly."

    I'm not territory, I'm a whole entire person! And it's not exactly cuckolding for a clerk to ask me "can I help you, ma'am?" That does not constitute a sexual advance, and any partner of mine who thought it did wouldn't be performing "human behavior," he'd be scary as fuck.

  17. I'm sorry- out of RESPECT? That scenario is only okay when you're ask a dog owner if it's okay to pet their dog. You don't need anyone's permission to address the person standing next to them.

  18. Okay, T4T, if you continue much longer in this vein I'm blocking you again so that we can have a reasonable discussion here. I tried not to hold a grudge, and look what you did.

    I hate it when I give people second chances and they don't even take a break before getting right back to their old tricks.

  19. Im just giving you a potential reason why this could be happening. I am not saying it is right. MANY people do think this way, to ignore that fact is just putting your head in the sand. The idea of respect comes from that misguided belief. Dont jump the gun Holly, you might end up seeing something that is really there. ;)

  20. What's funny is that there is one scenario where I'm familiar with this--certain high-protocol Doms in the D/s scene want people to ask them for permission to talk to their subs.

    However, this is rare and controversial even in BDSM.

    Outside of it (and with the woman as automatic sub) it would be straight up creepy, and absolutely isn't--or shouldn't be--a normal part of interaction.

  21. I'm with @Laura, women are not to be addressed like dogs - patriarchy or not. :/

    I don't really sure where you got the idea that it's respectful to address a man when you're unsure of a woman's relation to him, but where I'm from it's pretty damn DISrespectful.

  22. I dunno, man, I keep picturing this scenario in my head:

    "A man and woman enter a restaurant.

    Server (male): Can I get anything to start with, ma'am?
    Man: Excuse me! Are you speaking to my wife? Just like that? Without my permission?

    The server acknowledges this as everyday human behavior, apologizes, and does not worry in the slightest about that relationship."

  23. However, this is rare and controversial even in BDSM.(Holly)

    You may be surprised, but it aint so rare in the real world. In fact when you get around certain groups it is very common on both fronts, male and female. Of course its disrespectful but that doesnt mean it doesnt exist.

  24. Just a possibility here... I've read quite a few times that people equate height with authority (isn't it something like 2/3rds of all Presidents elected in the last 100 years were the taller candidate?), and CEO's and the like tend to be taller on average than their lower-ranking colleagues, etc.

    And the average American man is 5-6 inches taller than the average American woman. So it's possible that it's not (directly) about gender in a lot of these cases, but instead about an equally-dumb reason-for-bias (height).

    And on the personal level, let's face it, as Treebeard would say, you are very small. How often are you the tallest one in your pair, triad, crowd, etc.?

  25. Jack - I'm the shortest person I spend time with on a regular basis if you don't count the guinea pigs. Could be an explanation, or at least a partial one. I'd need to check with short guys and tall women.

  26. Interesting. I could see how my actions could be interpreted as such.

    My point of focus slides from the lady's face before making eye contact with the gentleman, as I greet a couple who's on the sidewalk. Eyes slide back the other away across the lady's face as I step out of the way.

    Though I'm not addressing only the man, I could see how that would also be misconstrued. Not necessarily true from my perspective, but it's just as much in the eye of the beholder as anything else in this life.

  27. A tall woman/short man study would be interesting.

    Until then... ?

  28. T4T- you are engaging in tautology: We live in a patriarchy, therefore, we act as if we are in a patriarchy. Tautologies are not useful and add nothing to the discussion.

    As for me, this always happens to me and I am short, as well. even in heels. it's frustrating when I'm with Hubby, because he is painfully shy around strangers, so people need to talk to me. They just won't.

    and in a hardware store? I use all the power tools. you can't trust him with a hammer. yet even if he manages to explain that, they still address me through him.

  29. I suspect this is paranoia, whilst it would certainly be true in the extreme in some cultures for a woman to be a non-entity without the presence of a man (whether husband, brother, father, etc). My personal experiences do not replicate your findings.

    Albeit i'm cis-male, but sometimes experience being snubbed by sales staff in favour of other acquaintances with me (as often as not, female).
    I put it down to body language, as Adrian K and tfangel commented upon.

    I'll grant that perhaps the patriarchy could be to blame for some of the snobbery you receive (perhaps in dealing with mechanics, cellphone salesmen or electronic repair technicians). But then again maybe not. Tradesmen and specialists sometimes treat everyone as idiots and assume that the individual knows nothing - men as well as women.

    And as regards gun store clerks I'd like to be able to say that gun sales are gender skewed more to men than women. However a quick google search yields nothing on actual sale of weapons broken down by gender. But for the sake of making a point, one might assume that gun store salesmen are less concerned with sexism and simply about the uncommonness (lower frequency?) of women purchasing weapons, as I would expect to receive similar attention from sales staff if I were perusing a lingerie store.

  30. My experience is that they'll refer to me when I'm actually acting assertive. I've also noticed that when there's a male in the group I'll tend to drift back and let them take over, whether they're good at it or not. I wonder what that says about me :)

    In the end it's rude. Look at the person who you're talking to or go away.

  31. T4T: I am not property. A man who addresses my husband with a question that ought to be directed toward me is not being respectful of my husband's boundaries. He is being disrespectful toward me.

    It still happens, of course, because sexism is deeply entrenched in our society. Nobody here is disagreeing with you on that point. The point where we diverge is on whether or not people who do that sort of thing are assholes.

    (Incidentally, I'm not convinced about the height thing. I'm fairly tall--same height as my husband, in fact--and I still get looked past as often as not.)

  32. I think it's interesting that the response in the comments so far breaks down almost precisely along gender lines, with men saying they haven't noticed it or offering alternate explanations, and women saying they have experienced it.

    It may speak as much to what men notice (not because they're jerks or anything, but just because it doesn't happen to them personally) compared to what women do.

  33. i haven't noticed this in retail, but not because it doesn't happen to me (i'm a woman) but because i am shy and often avoid directly engaging with sales personnel. so they're preferably forced into addressing whomever i'm with first.

    i HAVE noticed a version of it in this scenario: i used to work at Subway. i would work a two person shift with my coworker, a guy named Jeff. frequently customers would come in the store and beeline straight to him for whatever they wanted, *even if i addressed them first and he was obviously engaged in doing something else.* he would usually courteously direct them with, "oh, we can certainly help you with that! gabrielle right here will be happy to assist you in getting that sandwich!" sigh.

  34. @Gabrielle: Works quite the opposite in Wetside coffee shops, I've noticed. That play out the same way over on the Dryside?

  35. Adrian K - What do "wetside" and "dryside" mean? I even googled, and nothing.

    Also, your way of looking at people is... weirdly specific.

  36. It's a Washington State thing. West side of the Cascade Range is mostly temperate rain forest with really fucking big trees. 50 miles east to the other side and the primary native vegetation is sagebrush and it gets as hot as Arizona.

    As for specifics, I work for a homeless shelter. Every body has a story.

  37. I lived in Washington State for ten years and never heard that! (Things are generally more socially conservative in the eastern half, for sure.)

    I'm not sure what to make of that second part. I work in an ER, and when I run into a couple on the street, I pretty much just look at 'em.

  38. Might be more prevalent among motorcyclists. But people don't look at me any more strangely when I use that term than they normally do.

    There's definitely more than a couple homeless people in Seattle though. We provide services and assistance to ~7,000 people each year.

  39. I haven't had that happen frequently, though I tend to be a good deal more visually striking (and significantly more outgoing) than my male companions. I typically put a good deal of effort into be noticeable, though I am reasonably certain that if I did not, my companions would be addressed before I would.

  40. Not paranoia. I experience the same thing. Especially annoying in discussions on topics I'm an expert on, and my SO doesn't know much about, and even emphasizes that I do and he doesn't, other men still talk to him. Even if he doesn't actually say much and I do all the talking, he is still the one being addressed. He actually gets pissed off about this even more than I do, maybe because I'm more used to it. I just can't go off each and every time, it is too exhausting.

  41. Just the opposite for me. If I'm alone I'm invisible. No one will say a word or even look at me. But then if I'm in a group people will pick me out of the group or just generally focus me. It's like oh you have people with you now you might not be as insane as I previously prejudged you were. For the record I'm an average height guy.

  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

  43. I will add myself to the list of guys who were just completely oblivious to this on the receiving end. I'l try and see what I observe now that someone's pointed it out.

    It would not terribly surprise me if I do this when meeting people as well. Again, I've not been paying attention up til now. I do know that:
    1) I'm slightly more comfortable talking with male strangers than with female strangers. (And slightly more comfortable talking with women I do know than men I do know.)
    2) I *never* compliment the appearance of a woman I don't know, whereas I will say "nice beard" or "nice hat" to a guy I don't know.

    I think the first one is probably just the shadow of a holdover from adolescence and the whole "talking to girls is scary" thing. The second is because I don't want do anything that could be street harassment. This might indicate that I have a general tendency to talk to men, particularly in situations wherein I'm concerned about being awkward or creeping someone out.

    my 2c
    -- Andrew Farrell

  44. Not paranoid. The first time I tried to buy a house, I brought my father with me, because he's bought a couple and I hadn't yet bought any.

    I booked the appointment with the realtor. I made it clear that I was the one buying the house, all by myself.

    Day of the appointment, the realtor shook my father's hand, engaged him in small talk, and completely ignored me. Didn't offer to shake my hand, didn't say hello. Proceeded to attempt to sell the house to my father, without so much as making eye contact with me.

    To his credit, my father said "hey, talk to her. She's the one with the money." Not that it worked.

    He was also much more successful negotiating the deal for my first car than I was at negotiating the deal for my second, even though I walked in and made it very clear that I knew what I was doing, what I wanted, and what I should reasonably expect to pay for it.

    My current workplace is male-dominated. I sit between two men. They talk to each other around me, never making an attempt to include me in conversation. Talking to them? Does not help.

    And I could cite another dozen examples. *sigh*

  45. I wonder if this is less prevalent in the states that use 'y'all' for talking to several people?

  46. armorsmith, thanks.

    my own related experience: I'm a woman, and I feel slightly more comfortable talking to stranger men than with women, because I have this stupid leftover feeling from an earlier indoctrination that "maybe they won't like that I talk to them but at least they will get talked to by a women!" Approaching people is scary, but starting conversations with women is sometimes doubly so.

    I also have felt shy to talk to other people's boyfriends, because that could have meant Intentions - or admitting my egoistic crazy fantasy that they still want to talk with me, despite having already that cool girlfriend.

    I do want to kick out this feeling from my head, but at the moment I have to admit it's still there. :/

  47. One specific reason that it may happen when encountering dudes when you're with another dude is that they don't want to be seen as "hitting on the other guy's woman".

    In retail, of course, they're addressing the one they think has the cash, or at least will have the final say over how it is spent.

    While the latter is a (thankfully) fading social construct, I think the former might be a little more deeply rooted in long-standing monkey habits.

  48. Not paranoid. I'm not the most social of butterflies but if I'm with my boyfriend everyone will address him and barely glance my way. I wonder if it doesn't help that I'm always dressed like either a sexy librarian or a 1950s housewife...
    Why have I never noticed. I mean, jesus. If I'm out buying jewellery or clothes or freaking manchester with the boyfriend he's always the first to be addressed. You know, all that stereotypical girly stuff that women are expected to be interested in, ugh. 9_9

    PS. First time commenting; love your blog, keep it up you wonderful person you! ^_^

  49. By the way, I live in Australia. Not much different here it seems.

    ... And I'm the one out of the two of us with the money, egad.

  50. I think it's interesting that the response in the comments so far breaks down almost precisely along gender lines, with men saying they haven't noticed it or offering alternate explanations, and women saying they have experienced it.

    It may speak as much to what men notice (not because they're jerks or anything, but just because it doesn't happen to them personally) compared to what women do.

    I'm a guy, and I have pretty much always noticed this (well, since I was a pre-teen, at least). The reason I offer an alternate possibility (which I presented as 'just a possibility' -- I don't have sufficient empirical evidence to even state it's definitely a factor, never mind the dominant one) is because I've run into a lot of anecdotal evidence about height-vs.-power dynamics, men are on average taller, Holly's personally rather undertall, etc.

    One personal anecdotal bit of fluff -- too small a sample for general use, but one that makes me think -- is when my girls and I go out, if I'm not the first one addressed, then Kerry is. Kellie is almost invariably the last-addressed, if at all. Kerry's 5'10, Kellie's 5'4ish. So that makes me wonder.

    Oddly enough, that's in most vanilla situations; in most social (vs. high-protocol/formal/what-have-you) D/s situations, they get addressed equally. I got no idea why on that.

    But I don't think the height thing is the be-all, end-all reason for this, any more than I think the patriarchy is strictly responsible, or one's apparent wealth level, or one's age (25-55 get the first attention, if I recall correctly; older or younger get short-shrifted), or even apparent ability/disability. Life is seldom that simple. I suspect it's a combination of several, or all, of these factors.

    That being said, gender as a reason for dropping-down the social-power dynamic ladder is the most concerning of the reasons I think of for the overall phenomenon.

  51. Jack - My guess would be that the difference between Kerry and Kellie has something to do with age, too. (And that's the one thing I would consider legit; maybe I'm ageist, but I think that absent any other cues it's polite to talk to the oldest person first.)

    Armorsmith - Thanks for acknowledging the difference between "it doesn't happen" and "I never noticed." I'm full-on oblivious to lots of ways men get treated socially, I'm sure.

  52. I don't get that as much. Although I haven't really thought to notice if it changes based on the height of the man I'm with.

    I'm usually a socially dynamic person, and better about catching someone's eye. I've noticed at restaurants, even before we start interacting with the waitstaff, even when I'm with a tall partner who dresses like more money than I do, often the waitstaff will talk to me. Sometimes, they talk to me exclusively, which is a bit weird. I assume there's something subtle about our relative body language.

    My fiance is a small guy, introverted but quite comfortable and capable of dealing with people. He just likes it when I handle people, because I'm better at it. I'm deferential to him, due to our D/s dynamic. We're not being all kinky out in public but I know my body language is still deferential. I've noticed retail people seeming confused about which of us they should address. The one with the eye contact and the smile, or the one who's clearly in charge?

    Hm. Or maybe it does happen, and I don't notice as much because I'm also focused on my partner and thus it makes sense for the rest of the world to be too.

  53. Hershele OstropolerJune 7, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Albeit i'm cis-male, but sometimes experience being snubbed by sales staff in favour of other acquaintances with me (as often as not, female).

    This actually serves as an excellent (inadvertant) illustration of privilege: you sometimes experience it, and notice when it happens for being unusual; Holly is saying she typically experiences it, and notices it for being frustrating but common.

    I don't notice it myself, and again, it's an illustration of privilege; there's no shame or blaming in merely having privilege (at least, no productive discussion can be had if you consider shame or blaming the proper response to the mere possession of privilege) but I think that's a far more likely explanation than paranoia.

    maybe I'm ageist, but I think that absent any other cues it's polite to talk to the oldest person first.

    That can get you in trouble too, though; women and increasingly men don't like to be thought of as old for some reason.

  54. *HILARIOUS* that a dude says he hasn't observed it personally, therefore it's "paranoia."

    And really good point about the BDSM high-protocol folks, because that's exactly what this is like: the unspoken assumption is that women are under men's care/protection/control/ownership. Fuck that!


  55. I've definitely noticed this happening, and I'm a woman. When I'm out with my boyfriend, most of it I can chalk up to the fact that he is the more outgoing and socially comfortable one, and will frequently engage the other person in conversation first. What is annoying and amusing, however, is when we go out to eat and I order for the two of us, but they hand him the check. Or they've given us the check and saw that I was the one to put my card in, but they hand it back to my boyfriend after ringing us up. That last scenario doesn't happen a lot, but it has happened.

    I also work in a male-dominated industry. Recently I worked on a project where I was the lead for one of the departments. I was also the only woman on the team. At the beginning of the project, the project lead would talk to one of the men in my department about things he should have talked to me about. I had to be very watchful to make sure that the guys didn't try to go around me and leave me out of the loop. Eventually they got better about noticing me and deferring to me, but it was something I had to deal with for the duration of the project. Not fun.

  56. On a related note: a few years ago, when I was hanging out with a group of friends, one of the guys kissed me. It came as a total surprise; he gets touchy-feely when he's drunk, and I was next to him, and I was turned slightly away from him and in mid-sentence of a story when suddenly his tongue was in my mouth. He apologized afterward and I told him it was fine; that in future I'd like him to ask permission first, but I wasn't super-angry or anything.

    The other night our same crowd was hanging out drinking and this same boy made a point of mentioning two or three times "I have to remember that I can't kiss you because you have a boyfriend now!"

    I didn't want to start a whole huge thing over this but it bugged the hell out of me. Yeah, buddy; that's why you can't make out with me; because I belong to another guy. If I were single I guess I'd be fair game. GRRR.

  57. Perversecowgirl - I get a lot of guys hitting on me by asking "do you have a boyfriend?" which in my case is twice over the wrong question.

    I usually just say "yes," but the full answer is:

    "Yes, but he wants me to sleep with other guys, but I'm not attracted to you so it makes no difference in your case whether I'm 'taken' or not."

  58. As a rather shy person who generally wishes salespeople would never talk to me at all, I don't have much evidence to contribute to that part of the discussion, but I know that my mother gets treated like this whenever there's a problem with our car. Even though she's the only one who the mechanic ever sees (my dad is busy during the day) when they call it's "Can I talk to Mr. ____?" and "When can he come pick it up?" People other than Tough Manly Mechanics seem to be more reasonable about letting her be the spokesperson for the family. I haven't really noticed who gets addressed first, but it doesn't seem like she has too much trouble being part of the conversation when my dad is there. They're pretty much the same height, if that makes a difference.

  59. This happens to me too, but since I don't actually like talking to salespeople, I just go with it. I don't think it happens to me nearly as much when I'm in a purely social situation.

    Another factor in retail is that the salesperson wants to talk to the person who can be convinced to buy more things. My boyfriend is that guy that always wants to get the extra widget option or if there's two good flavors, just get both. Once he starts agreeing to buy things, salespeople are obviously going to try selling more things to him rather than me. At places like the mac store, where they're selling you expensive, partially customizable things, part of their job is suggesting that you're wrong and you really do want more RAM, or whatever. I think a lot of the condescension in sales is almost a PUA like technique to make you doubt your own original intentions and be more suggestible. Not that that explains the gender dynamic.

  60. I just remembered an amusing event while reading through the comments. My parents brought me out for a drink to celebrate my graduation. We ordered and finished our first round and the waitress is coming back. Note, it's just me and my parents, and I'm female. She asks us if we want another round and I say "yes" because I wanted another drink, but was not sure if my parents did. By the time I had turned to my parents with the Question Look she was halfway across the room, and brought back 3 drinks. Throughout the entire interaction she addressed me first and my parents only as an afterthought. I thought it was the weirdest thing, as they are both clearly older and my father was there.

    @Emma: My father is the same way. I know our Schwan's man loves him because he'll buy at least one or two things over what he was originally going to get just because they're on sale. My mother is much more likely to send him on his way without a sale.

  61. Not reading all comments:

    Male with crippling social anxiety speaking.

    I probably am guilty of this. However, it's because when a male and a female are together, I am afraid that if I speak to the female the male will think I am coming on to His Female and become jealous and aggressive and maybe get mad at His Female too. Sometimes I'll try addressing both together but that only works so long.

  62. I'm a woman with a male partner. Maybe it's a regional thing (Western US here), but I don't see this happening very often to me. I am much more outgoing than he is though, so maybe that's it? He is quite happy to let me chat up the sales people/clerks/what have you and stay as quiet as possible himself.

    The one place that I notice this ugly dynamic coming fully into play is restaurants. Not very often mind you, but once in a while, we'll get a server who WILL NOT look at me or address me. When that happens, I make sure to be the one grab the check, in full view of them. They usually do a double take and then act crestfallen as they realize their chances of getting a good tip have all but vanished. Hopefully they learn not to do it to the next couple.

  63. Haha, the height discussion amuses me immensely - my boyfriend is a short little dude (5'2) and he will tell you for days all about how short men aren't respected, get ignored, are assumed to not be the ones in control, etc. And it's true that when he and I are in public together, I do get addressed equally as often as him if not more, which, I guess height being equal and the lady being more outgoing, people will tend towards speaking to the lady.

    But! If height is a relevant factor in who gets assumed to have the power, I think it's because short men are already viewed as more feminine (as well as sometimes childlike, which, I think any woman here can speak to the conflation of "feminine" and "childish" in many stereotypes.) If a man's masculinity is based heavily in his physical ability to aggress and intimidate, even based on sheer size alone, then a smaller man must not be as masculine, and will therefore be seen in a more even power differential with a woman.

    I can't really speak to the being-addressed-less-frequently thing, because he's the only guy I ever really go anywhere one-on-one with, but I sure as hell believe it happens.

  64. I am guilty of this - not in the retail context, but definitely in the walking on the street saying hi context. Like a previous commenter mentioned, I'm terrified of giving the impression I want to have sex with the woman.

    This is because I want to have sex with the woman. Or part of me does, anyway. I'm not going to have sex - I'm incredibly selective about who I have sex with - but I want to. I have a huge sex drive that I don't know what to do with. I can't stop imagining eating out most of the women I meet. I have been embarrassed by it.

    You know what? Maybe it's time to say no more. I'm not going to magically stop thinking about crotches, but I know I care too much about consent to go around randomly attacking people, and I try to act as considerate as possible to give clear signals that it won't happen, so...

    So, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I've been using my sex drive as an excuse for my rudeness. I never really thought about it this way until now. I still don't know how to stop imagining your pubic hair, but that's no reason to be impolite.

    Please don't take this the wrong way - I'm honestly trying to figure out how to have a healthy attitude about this. Suggestions welcome.

  65. Story time!!

    (From my LJ)

    Mar. 24, 2008

    "I went to get new tires on my car today, and I asked J to come with me. Mostly to keep them from trying to sell me crap I don't need (which they ALWAYS do unless I go in with a boy...).

    So, the guy asks J what we need. I tell him I need tires and an oil change for my car. Then he asks J for a phone number. I give him mine. Then he asks J for a name! I give him mine and at this point, explicitly and in no uncertain terms inform him that it is my car, not my friend's. An hour later, when we come back to pick it up, the man who rings us up --despite the job being in my name, the car being mine and having paid with my credit card-- hands the receipt to J."

  66. I've only skimmed the other comments... but, I'm female, shorter than average, living in the Boston area, and have a opposite experience of "ask for directions" interactions. Walking with a man, I get asked for directions more. The effect was much more pronounced when I had a buzz cut, and didn't reliably read "female" on my own.

    A confounding factor is that any other person or accessory will up my approachability - binoculars, bicycle, dog, child, are all just as good as a man. My theory is that I look weird/hostile alone, but almost anything that engages my attention or provides a conversational hook is sufficient to smooth over the oddities of my demeanor.

    One of my male friends commented that he never gets asked for directions alone, but with me walking with him, the two of us would be telling a stranger how to get to Harvard Square on every other block.

  67. Camilla,

    The weirdest things make you approachable! I did a study abroad semester in college in the French Alps, and for months got ignored by everyone. When spring came, I stopped wearing my winter gear all the time, including my hat, which was knit with a big pom-pom and ear-flaps. A lot of ski tourists wore them, but I didn't think anything of it. I'd had mine for a while, gotten it back in America, and since I pretty much was a tourist, didn't think there was any point in pretending not to be (not to say that I'm rude in other countries - I try to follow local customs - but since even french skiers wore those hats I figured it was inoffensive). It turned out that on days I wasn't wearing my big pom-pom hat, people came up and asked me for directions, chatted me up, everything. Then there would be a cold snap, I'd wear my hat, and be ignored again. I guess it was just touristy looking. You never know what people are picking up on!

  68. I noticed this kind of thing for a while after my wife and I moved to Korea. Shop keepers and waiters would always talk to me first, and never my wife. The interesting part was that it swapped a little while later and now everyone talks to my wife first. Someone should do a study to find out why this happens.

  69. I never really noticed this ACTIVELY before, but looking back I can see it's definitely a thing. I may be a male, but my head has almost always perceived these situations in that I am by FAR the most dominant personality and LOUDEST person in my social circles. I am often addressed first because I've already spoken!

    And re: Holly and Cowgirl and "Do you have a boyfriend?" while I understand WHY you might chafe at the question, for most people who are monogamous and view cheating as bad, and wouldn't want to be seen a rake or INTENTIONALLY trying to break up a relationship, they're just trying to find where they stand. It's a pretty innocent (if often hamfisted and awkward) question. I know I've asked it before. I don't think the girl is "owned," but in most monogamous relationships it would be understood as RUDE for me to have continued any romantic overtures.

  70. This is absolutely true. I used to waitress, and the girl training me told me to always hand the check to the man and to never ask if a couple wanted the check split. God forbid you accidently damage the precious male ego by insinuating this his woman should pay for herself.

  71. Jay R.: I see what you're saying, but remember, this dude-friend kissed me without asking and without me even making eye contact; I was actually talking and he cut me off in mid-sentence. So basically he wasn't even treating me like I was a human being who might have an opinion on being kissed. I excused this because he's generally a sweet guy and booze affects him oddly...but to have him now say "I can't do that again because you have a boyfriend now" is just...I mean, he's behaving himself because of some guy who's not even present? He's being careful of my boyfriend's feelings re: kissing but doesn't give a shit about mine? How is that fair or respectful?

    Also, times that I've been chatted up by some guy on the street, "I have a boyfriend" is the only thing that will make him go away. I've tried every variation on "I'm not interested" to no avail, only to drop the (sometimes imaginary) "boyfriend bomb" and have the guy apologize and leave. Which is also bullshit.

    Personally I think the best way for a guy to approach a girl would be simply to ask "are you interested in going out with me?"...I'm sure anyone who has a boyfriend will mention it at this point, and the question also leaves single-but-disinterested chicks room to say "no thanks". Much less hamfisted than the indirect " you have a boyfriend?" approach.

  72. @perversecowgirl - "He's being careful of my boyfriend's feelings re: kissing but doesn't give a shit about mine?" - seems to be the case!

    I've had that same experience, too, about "I have a boyfriend" being the ONLY "no" that counts.

    And then once I was walking *with* my boyfriend, but he happened to be 5-6 feet away from me, so some guys driving by catcalled me. He came over and put his arm around me, and they apologized - to him.


  73. I think I might do that sometimes, depending on what "vibe" I get from the people involved. Possible situations when it may seem like a good idea:
    - the man looks like he might hit me if I talk to the woman.
    - the man looks like he might hit the woman if I talk to her.
    - the woman looks like she brought the man along so as to not have to talk to potential rapists, and talking to her will freak her out.
    - it looks like talking to the woman and ignoring the man will imply that he has no penis.

    I view none of these scenarios as pleasant conversations, by the way.

  74. That reminds me of an interview with a disabled person I read once. The interviewee used the help of a professional assistant and was irritated that people are always addressing his assistant - even with questions about him. Or while he's trying to have a conversation with someone, the person would often ignore him and answer/engage in conversation the assistant over his head, oblivious to his invitations to speak to him directly.

    So yeah, it's definitely a thing.

  75. Sophia, NOT Loren!June 8, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    I've lived both sides of this one!

    As a transgendered woman, and a tech geek who has worked with/on computers for two thirds of my life, I can see a very clear distinction between the treatment I got in retail stores as a guy, and how I am addressed as a woman.

    As 20-something guy walking into Radio Shack, Best Buy, or Fry's, I could walk through the store and browse, or directly to the aisle with the item I needed, then up to the counter and make "shop talk" with the cashier as I finished my transaction.

    As a 30-year-old woman, I walk in and get a polite and sometimes patronizing offer to "help me find something," or if I happen to be just killing time by browsing as I always have, I get someone hovering to offer the help that I'm *sure* to need... much like Holly mentioned in that type of place and gun shops. It didn't happen when I was a guy.

    Outside of retail, I've seen a big difference in the treatment I receive from others as a woman compared to what I got as a guy; one of the most amusing to me is that I can carry a load of 60 pounds or more without significant difficulty -- in fact, I rather enjoy a chance to do some lifting and moving heavy things. I have a slender frame, but at 5'11" I'm not exactly tiny... so when I start to lift something or ask for another box on top of the stack I'm carrying, I get lots of "Oh! You poor little dear! I couldn't possibly let you do that... are you sure you'll be okay? Really?"

    Guess I'm "pretty strong, for a girl." I was always the "weakling little boy," too, and not much has changed except the perception of others.

    I have seen myself become less visible by becoming a woman.

  76. While people sometimes ask if they can pet my dog, many more will talk directly to her, without even making eye contact with me. Likewise with a baby or toddler in a stroller, many strangers ignore me and talk to the baby. (Yes, it's every bit as inane as it sounds.) I see roughly an even gender split in the people who talk to my children, with an older bias on the men and a younger bias on the women. The men tend to keep a fair distance away, and be more accurate in gauging the developmental level of the child.

    Also, a surprising percentage of the people who ask, "may I pet your dog?" try to do so anyway if you say "no."

    So the ownership/dominance theory is way too broad; I think some of the previous commenters would do better to call it a jealousy theory.

  77. My boyfriend and I are both very short and both pretty shy, but he handles social interaction, especially unsolicited or unexpected social interaction, very oddly.

    So I usually end up responding even if he is addressed, because he doesn't respond or responds in so weird a way that they'd rather just talk to me, and I usually initiate conversations for us. I know that's abnormal, though.

    At work. Yeah. That's where I notice this kind of thing often and wonder if I'm being paranoid or jealous, although even there, some degree of putting yourself out there, stepping up and speaking up, does help. That can feel like having to prove yourself constantly though, which is a little different than just striving to do a good job, and is annoying.

  78. I don't get this that often - or maybe I should say I don't notice it often? I tend to do this thing where if someone's rude, I kind of write them out of my reality as if they never existed. So it's possible I get this all the time and just never process it. Still, in general I tend to be more forward than my husband, and therefore get more attention.

    Also, this is one area where the "we live in a patriarchy, therefore we act like we are in a patriarchy" tautology may actually mean something. See, I don't think most of these people are acting this way intentionally. Some are, sure, but most people are not thinking to themselves "Hmm, girls don't know anything about computers or cars or finance, I'd better talk to the man so he can take care of it!" or "The man with that woman must be her father/boyfriend/husband/owner, I'd better talk to him so he doesn't think I'm trying to steal his woman!" They're probably not thinking about it at all. Most likely they're not even consciously aware they're doing it. They're just acting the way they've always acted, the way other people they respect have always acted, the way society has subconsciously taught them to act. They were raised in a patriarchy, and so they act patriarchal.

    Does it solve the problem, to point that out? No, but it helps define it.

    (On another note, as a non-tech-savvy woman, I tend to have weird feelings about this topic. I always feel like I'm letting down the side somehow if I walk into a computer store and don't know what I'm looking for.)

  79. If there's a "side" to be let down, perhaps you're looking at things from the wrong perspective?

    There's no teams, there's only people. And you get to choose how you want to deal with those Individual People.

  80. I think it was Miss Manners who told the story of the blind man at a formal dinner with his wife. The server asked his wife "Would Mr. So-And-So like some more chicken?" and the blind man, understandably irritated, said "How the hell would she know if I want more chicken?"

    Low status == infantile goes a long way to explain all of these, both the sexist version and the others.

    I am married to a very short and visually very effeminate man, and I'm much more outgoing than he is. Generally people will talk to me. But we have had trouble with businesses from time to time: at one otherwise good adoption agency, for example, no matter how many forms we put MY name on, everything came back with HIS name on it. (We have different last names, so this was troublesome.) I know they dealt with gay couples: I wonder how they managed? Arbitrarily picked one to be The Man?

  81. f there's a "side" to be let down, perhaps you're looking at things from the wrong perspective?

    There's no teams, there's only people. And you get to choose how you want to deal with those Individual People.

    And you're absolutely right, and intellectually I get that. On an illogical basis, though, every time I helplessly cast about for someone who can explain this stuff to me or defer to my father/husband/male friend on matters technological, I worry that I'm cementing the stereotype in other people's minds, and the next woman (who may actually know what she's doing) who enters the store is going to face just the slightest bit more condescension because of me.

    Am I silly? I have never denied that I am silly.

    When I feel this way, though, I remind myself of my mother. An ardent and fervent feminist, she chose to be (when finances permitted, of course) a housewife and mother, only pursuing a career once we kids were out of the house. Many of her old college friends regarded this choice with a mixture of pity and scorn; one comment that I remember clearly was "Oh, we had such high hopes for you!" My mother's (rather icy) take on this was that what she had fought so hard for was women's right to choose their path; for her, staying home with her kids was what she truly wanted to do, so how dare they presume to tell her her choices were wrong?

    So I guess... if women can be savvy about tech stuff and know their way around the inside of a car and do science and all those things, then I have to accept that women can also be girly and artsy and not know a motherboard from the mothership. Like me. 'Cuz, y'know, we're all individuals and stuff.

    Still makes me feel weird.

  82. @Mary: "if women can be savvy about tech stuff and know their way around the inside of a car and do science and all those things, then I have to accept that women can also be girly and artsy and not know a motherboard from the mothership."

    Now if only that could be true for men, too - maybe we could get rid of BOTH stereotypes.

    As for the men getting addressed thing....this rarely happens to me because I have what I like to think of as an "oblivous complex" where whenever I am with another person I generally just charge around like I'm alone anyway, and would almost always be the first one at the counter anyway. What does annoy me is tele-marketers assuming I'm the "man of the house" or that there must be on - I've even had my first name changed to the male version. I mean, tele-marketers are stupid and annoying anyway, but at least get my name right. Cripes.

  83. I am a female motorcyclist, and I frequently travel alone. I've traveled some seriously long distances - across the USA, across Canada, across Europe, etc.

    When I am alone I get treated like a person and an adult. Sometimes I am just treated like a normal motorcyclist and adult person. Other times I get the unicorn treatment - you know, "Oh wow, I never saw anything like you, you are so cool, let me fawn over you for a while, blah blah blah... Please tell me the secret that will make my wife love motorcycles, you must know it." The unicorn thing was gratifying at first but nowadays it grates. But in any case, whether I'm a normal adult or a unicorn, people do talk to me, they look at me, they engage me in conversation.

    But when I ride with men, then I am demoted to girlfriend/wife/annex in the eyes of every stranger we meet. I have to practically do cartwheels to force myself into the conversation, and even then I only can get about half of the people I meet to address me directly. Instead, they look at me out of the corner of their eyes while telling my male companion how lucky he is to have a woman like me who will tolerate motorcycles, and I must love him a lot, and how did he turn me into a rider, what is the secret, what does he think about my bike, why did he choose this bike for me, etc.

    It drives me nuckin' futz. I can ride all the way across the USA alone, on a bike that I chose, set up, and maintain. But just by riding to lunch with someone I'm visiting, I'm demoted to child status and treated like I can't get out of the parking lot without a man. Meanwhile my out of state plates turn him into the world traveler to be plied with questions about "our" (my!) trip.

    Oh, and btw, for the people claiming this is because of height - I am 5'11", significantly taller than the average man. I am also outgoing, confident, and not at all shy.

  84. I was playing in the US Open Chess Tournament one year, and a woman approached me between rounds and said, "We're getting together a group of 'chess widows' to go to Universal Studios, would you like to come?"

    I said, "I'm sorry, I'm playing in the next round."

    She gave me a look that would have soured milk at twenty paces, and stomped off without a further word. Apparently I was a traitor to my gender....

  85. Also, this is one area where the "we live in a patriarchy, therefore we act like we are in a patriarchy" tautology may actually mean something.(Mary)
    Does it solve the problem, to point that out? No, but it helps define it.(Mary)

    Earlier in the conversation when I pointed this out I was partially doing it tongue in cheek. I believe a more appropriate word to describe certain power situations would be Kyriarchy. I think anytime we encounter certain behaviours directed at ourselves we need to ask a fundamental question. Is the behaviour because of us or because of them? In other words, do we project on others energies that are a by product of our worldview or are they directing their energies based on their worldview, or is it a little of both. Who knows, maybe Holly's experience was because of what she projected.

  86. Yeah, I was kind of noticing the tongue-in-cheek :) I was more responding to Holly's response.

    Kyriarchy - thanks for the new word. Yeah, actually, that sounds about right, although I might instead go with the term "big sticky mess." A lot of "-ism" issues, I think, stem from big sticky messes. People internalize attitudes, even when they're not aware of it, and like you said when we interact we're all bringing those subconscious attitudes to the table. There's rarely just one root cause, and so it's really difficult to find a workable solution. (And even harder to find one that doesn't leave people feeling blamed! I don't like blame, it seems counterproductive.)

    I'm actually really curious about this now. I'm wondering if it's possible to be scientific about it - say, walk down a street by myself, walk down it with various males, some taller, some... well, I'm pretty short, so I don't think I can find many guys shorter than me. Walk down the street with the same guy but act shy one time and confident another... and just keep track of the different reactions. Hmm. Now I want to try it.

  87. well, I'm pretty short, so I don't think I can find many guys shorter than me. Walk down the street with the same guy but act shy one time and confident another... and just keep track of the different reactions. Hmm.(Mary)

    Not sure if you ever heard this one but it is appropriate.

    "Its not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog"


  88. Oh goodness, and now I have an image of me demanding attention by kicking people in the shins when they talk to the guy instead of me. (Or possibly snarling like an angry terrier. Either way, terribly impolite.)

  89. Sophia, NOT Loren!June 10, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Mary said...
    My mother's (rather icy) take on this was that what she had fought so hard for was women's right to choose their path; for her, staying home with her kids was what she truly wanted to do, so how dare they presume to tell her her choices were wrong?

    Mary -- exactly how I've explained things to (frustratingly far too many) others. I would someday love to choose to be a housewife; to find a woman who would delight in my cooking and cleaning for her -- to be a true home-maker, and I've been told that I "ought to want more from life than that, maybe try a few interesting things and actually live before giving up and settling for so little." ~sigh~

    Also, while out walking just a couple hours after I last posted, I saw a group of 4 people, three girls and a guy, all easily under 30. One of the girls had a really cute dress, the rest of them were in jeans. As I passed the group I turned to look at the girl wearing one and said, "Love the dress!" The young man in the group turned to me and said, "Thanks" as they all walked away. Seemed a little... odd.

  90. *blinks* Well, I rarely go out with my male friends anyways, but when I'm with my mother or older sister, shop people and restaurant people generally talk to them, but when I'm with my female friends, they generally address me...hmm.

    (As for the height thing: I'm 5'3", so not very tall/short.)

    Maybe it's just my personality, because I often (apparently) have aggressive body language and often speak up first ordering food or telling shop assistants to go away / ignoring them.

  91. @elizilla

    Also a female motorcyclist. Also get the unicorn treatment, although never had a word for it before (get it also when I have my chainsaw, or when someone sees me capably doing something).
    AND the invisibility when accompanied by a male...most annoyingly when said male does NOT ride, but joins me at a retail outlet or an event catering to motorbike folk.
    Also quite tall, tho a couple inches less so than you....and not at all shy or introverted.
    It's bizarre and annoying as fuck.

  92. I hate it when that happens. I also hate it when we're eating out and the check is given to him without ever asking if we want to split it.
    On two occasions, they've even returned it to him with the receipt after I handed it to them with my card, which has a girly name on it.