Sunday, August 12, 2007

Six Degrees of Stargate

I am right this very moment watching Stargate on SciFi with my roommate and I recognized the lead actor as the douche from Mannequin without realizing that he is none other than James Spader, an actor I adore as much for his turn in 2002's Secretary (with the dishy Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose brother resembles a friend of mine, rendering all of our interactions fraught with sexual tension because holy crap Jake is such a hottie, a fact we've discussed in this space before, but which always bears repeating), as for his caustic and vaguely heartless shenanigans on Boston Legal.

Upon looking up Mannequin on IMDB, I was surprised to learn that I recognized the name of the actress who played the titular character (ha! "titular"): Kim Cattrall. For real. Kim Cattrall played the mannequin in that very weird 80's movie about a woman trapped in a mannequin's body who falls in love with the socially awkward guy who designs the windows for a large department store. Who thought of that plot and what were they smoking?

Speaking of people whom you imagine must be under the influence: an older (read: my dad's age), male colleague on Friday asked if I aspired to be "Samantha from Sex in the City."

Why would any person in their right mind ask a much younger, female colleague if they aspired to be a notoriously sex-obsessed character from a racy HBO show primarily focused on sex? Because I volunteered to help a friend with his P.R. and Samantha ran a P.R. firm. Basically, I stared at him in disbelief, before stuttering, "No!" and throwing a look at him that I hoped would disintegrate his insides or at least highlight the impertinence of his suggestion.

All of this occurred before he asked if I wanted to share his seat as we watched a demonstration. Now, I don't think he was trying to be inappropriate. I don't even think he realized the extent to which his offers and allusions were uncomfortable for me. And to be honest, I have had these odd interactions with men before: where they seem uncertain what to do with me, their brains seemingly incapable of straddling the image projected to them in media of hot, young women and the reality of one sitting before them.

More probably, it's the false dichotomy established between the hot, young women and their ability to think and act as agents outside of their young hottness: the dichotomy between women as objects and women as agents. Being a woman who is attractive is not mutually exclusive to being a woman who is able to think and act as a human being. It's not "hot or smart," as Beauty and the Geek may suggest. Sometimes, it's hot AND smart (as all the people who write for this website are).

In that moment, in that meeting, I wanted to say: "It's okay, don't worry. I'm a person, you can treat me like one. I won't bite, I swear." Or, more accurately, "Hey, you there, think of me like a guy. Just another guy. Talk to me as if I were not a girl, a fact that clearly makes you uncomfortable and uncertain of how to deal with me."

For ages, I dressed in a way that discouraged such discomfort. Prettyboy still claims that I dress conservatively, but he didn't know me back in the days before I owned shorts or wore sleeveless shirts, when I always, always, always wore layers to obscure my curves, before I even owned jeans. I did not cover myself because of any notions of tzniut, but because I was simultaneously embarrassed by my body and nervous that I would never be taken seriously if I was any more than a walking brain.

Then I got tired of dressing so modestly. Frankly, I got sweaty one summer and invested in a tank top, imperfect arms be damned. As I got more comfortable with my body, I realized that, so long as I was dressed appropriately for the situation, maybe it was okay if I occasionally revealed that I had curves under all these layers. Further down the line, after graduating college, I even bought clothing that emphasized the more pleasant characteristics of my body (i.e., clothing that fit).

What is it that makes us feel so uncomfortable about our bodies? Why do I feel so guilty when someone else feels uncomfortable around me, even when I am doing nothing wrong? When I'm wearing perfectly appropriate attire and behaving in a entirely professional manner. And even if I weren't dressed appropriately, even if I were living in some alternate universe where I was dressed in an entirely inappropriate way for any situation, have I somehow brought strange and unnerving behavior upon myself? Or are people responsible for their responses to a situation: is the onus for an appropriate response on each individual?

In this long, rambling post, what I'm really trying to say is that men have and will respond to me in an openly uncomfortable, awkward, vaguely creepy way, and that nothing I do or have done seems to deter them. I'm not sure they can deter themselves. All of which leads me to wonder: is there any thing I can do, any way I can dress, any magical incantation I can say, to stop these situations from occurring? Given that the answer's probably "No," I think I'll continue to dress and act as I do and just perfect my angry death stare.

What does any of this rambling have to do with Stargate or James Spader? James Spader is awesome and Stargate is an excellent movie.

And now, 10 minutes later, upon re-reading this post, I realize that I sound terribly immodest. But it's worth it to sound like a goober, I guess, if it means that I'm starting a dialogue (or more probably, filling up the time that you would otherwise spend working, making a spreadsheet or something).


Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

"More probably, it's the false dichotomy established between the hot, young women and their ability to think and act as agents outside of their young hottness: the dichotomy between women as objects and women as agents."

That's right, Harley. A woman can be an object AND an agent, all at the same time.

Annie said...

Ew, if older male colleague is who I think he is, then all I have to say is eeeeeeeeeeeeew.

sarah said...

Here's an interesting and disturbing occurance:

J. and I were walking along a wooded path to get to some hot springs in Oregon. A young couple passed us going the other way, smiled, and said hi (as we have come to expect Oregonians to do). A few minutes later, an older man passed, head down, in a hurry.

A few minutes later, we came upon a park ranger, an older couple we had seen in the parking lot who had out-trekked us (we later found out that they're also big game hunters, but that's a different story), and a dad (we presumed) with his daughters. The ranger asked us if we had seen the older man walking the other way; we said we had but that he hadn't said anything. We also offered that he had seemed in a hurry. We didn't get any more information and didn't ask for it.

Further along the trail, I felt sort of queasy (despite literally growing up inches from a forest, the woods kind of scare me, and not always in a good way). J. made light conversation--"wow, I wonder if he's their grandfather and has Alzheimer's and wandered off...."

Later on, soaking naked in some hot springs with aforementioned older couple (chatting about hunting), the same ranger came over. Now, we were all naked, but these were naked springs (although J., being not into public nudity and also not so into hot water, was wearing trunks), and the ranger wasn't fazed. Nudity all around! Anyhow, he asked us again about the man, and said he must have jumped off the trail (they didn't find him). He also said that he was running from the father, who had given chase when he discovered the man masturbating while watching his daughters.

Anyhow, I felt yucky the whole afternoon, but couldn't quite place it. Everyone said, "oh, he's a pervert, etc.," except I don't know if I'd call it perverted to think the girls were sexy....the other comment was, "oh, as soon as I saw those girls in bikinis, I knew what was going on." Assumption being, apparently, that girls in bikinis provoke men to do inappropriate things. It felt a little too blame-the-victim for me, but then again, would he have done that if they had been more clothed?

Anyhow, that wasn't so coherent, but it did make me think, and I'm still mulling the whole thing over. The next two nights we camped in a really remote location, and I kept thinking we'd be killed.

subtitle: how I spent my summer vacation.