(In which I address the daughter I never had, with the advice I always wanted to give.)
Dear Imaginary Daughter,
I want to talk to you about schmucks. See, you’ve grown up surrounded by good men, who respect women as equals. Your father is good man. Your uncle is a good man. Your brother is growing up to be a good man. Your extended family is full of good men. So, you might be surprised one day when you sit down next to a man at the company baseball game, and as you bite into your hot dog, he leans over to leer, “Can you fit that whole thing in your mouth? I’ll bet you can.”
You might be surprised because your first thought will be, “What did he just say?” Followed rapidly by, “What did that mean? Surely he’s not making a beej reference at a company event. Is he? Surely not.”
When he follows it up with a growly, “I’d like to see what else you can fit in there,” you might feel the bottom drop out of your stomach because—well, that leaves little room for doubt.
You’ll be amazed at how many scenarios your brain can process in the next three seconds, and you might slink home later, feeling gross and upset with yourself for having just laughed in response, but most of those scenarios probably ended with you looking like a fool, so what were you supposed to do?
I’m here to help you answer that question.
First, let me assure you that if your gut tells you someone is being inappropriate with you, they probably are. If you need to explain away the behavior in order to make it into a normal interaction, it isn’t a normal interaction. If I’m around, all you need to do is show me your eyebrows, and I will come deliver some second wave feminism*, but if I’m not around, I’d like you to do the following: Stop, drop, and roll.
Yes. I want you to follow fire safety rules. Stop. Drop. Roll.
Stop whatever it is you are doing—put down whatever you are holding. Get still, and plant your feet. A schmuck is trying to throw you off balance mentally. Get hold of your balance physically before you address him.
Drop your hands to your side, or your hips.
Roll those beautiful eyes, then narrow them, fix them on the schmuck, raise your voice and say, “I don’t understand what you mean by that. Explain what you mean.” Don’t ask it as a question. Say it. Loudly.
Why do I want you to do that? Because your body language will telegraph that you are dead serious and the change in your posture will catch the attention of the people around you—it will also throw the schmuck off guard. Your facial expression will telegraph that you are above the conversation, but not above calling him out and setting him straight, and the volume of your words will force him to back off, or risk exposure.
Most schmucks are bullies. They won’t risk anyone standing up to them. They’ll try to put you in a position where you feel like you need to back away quickly to avoid a scene, and they’ll chase you into a corner if they can. When you draw the line immediately, most of them will stop. But then the conversation can go a few ways, and I want you to be prepared for that.
These are some things schmucks like to say, and one-liners you should memorize and have at the ready:
Schmuck Line (SL): I’m just kidding. Jeez. Can’t you take a joke?
Your Line (YL): I don’t know. Say something funny.
SL: What’s wrong with you?! Ugh! Dirty mind.
YL: I don’t understand. Please explain yourself.
SL: It’s a compliment. Can’t you take a compliment?
YL: I don’t see how that is a compliment. Please explain.
SL: You’re an ugly bitch anyway.
SL: I thought you were cool.
YL: You thought wrong.
SL: What’s wrong with you?
YL: Apparently, the company I keep.
SL: Well, the way you are dressed/look/acting/drinking, I thought you were up for it/asking for it/looking for it.
YL: You thought wrong.
Quite honestly, the only thing you really ever need to say is, “I don’t understand. Please explain.” That will shut down most schmucks easily. But, there are very aggressive schmucks in the world. There are men who really, honestly, down to the marrow hate women. If you run into one of those, I want you to remember one thing, and one thing only: You are always free to leave.
I don’t care if it is a teacher, a preacher, a family member, a date, a boss, a coworker, a crossing guard, or the President of the United States. If a man (or woman) is treating you with disrespect, you are free to leave.
Your father and I will always have your back, and we will help you with any fallout you might face.
And that’s a big thing, Imaginary Daughter. Because there might be fallout. Don’t be afraid of fallout. Don’t be afraid to push back. Don’t be afraid of retaliation.
Bullies try to scare you out of your own defense. Don’t let them.
One more thing. If in the moment you forgot all of the above, and all you felt like you could do was laugh and slink away, don’t feel bad about that. Bullies are trying to hurt and intimidate in order to make themselves feel powerful. There will be times when a schmuck will blindside you so hard, it will be all you can do to stay upright. You just remember who you are, roll with the punch, and learn from the experience.
Then, call me. Grandma, and I will take care of things. Grandma, Mammaw, and I will take it upon ourselves to fill in the gaps in that schmuck’s education. If there is anything left, we’ll let Dad, Grandad, and Peepaw manage the rest. Hoo can run clean up detail.
*i.e., I will skin the man and wear him for a hat. I’ll bring back the turban.