Walking back to the front of the store after showing a customer some merchandise in our warehouse; customer walking behind me:
"Why you got that jacket on?" It wasn't quite a jacket; more like a floor-length light-weight cardigan.
"Why shouldn't I have it on?" (Internal monologue: 'He BETTER make a comment about the weather.')
"You covering up all that back there."
Sigh. Now before I let you all know how I responded, let me first explain that he is not just a random customer of mine.
If it was my first encounter with him, I would have responded with a little more...well, no. I probably would have responded the same. But this guy is someone who is a regular up at Aaron's. He comes in quite often, does repair work for us, has been around for like 10 years; so there is a familiarity which made me more comfortable responding to him the way I did.
It is also important to note that the last time he was in the store, he told me, as he was leaving, to "Stay sexy." *gag* The hell?
So yea, although what I really wanted to do was:
I instead told him rather sweetly: "My job description does not include having my body as a means of personal display and enjoyment for ya'll thirsty niggas. Show some respect. Now...when are you coming back for this tablet?"
This was met with nervous laughter, an "I'll be back in about an hour," and a very welcome toting of his ass out of our store.
Oh, the disappointment. Now, I expect this kind of sleazy behavior from our younger generation who get their lessons on how to treat a woman from the latest "music" "artists" poisoning our airwaves. But this dude here is in his late 40's, early 50's at best. He should know better, right? Right??
Regardless of age, however, this is something that has bothered me for a very long time. Why don't our Black men know how to respect us? Why, Lawd? I have a few ideas...I'll get into that in a moment. But first, a few stories...
I remember one thing that I found so pleasant about my move to the Middle East in 2004 was that I was finally in a place where I could walk out in public and not have to worry about hearing a single: "Aye, Red." "Aye, Shawty." "Your man got you out here pumping your own gas?" "Hey, sexy, you married?"
I'm talking not a single catcall. And having moved there from living in Atlanta, it was a refreshing change. It's funny how a culture portrayed in the media as one that has no respect for women proved in reality to be, in my opinion, a shining example of those who revere their women to the highest standards. Now naturally, we have our black sheep here and there that fit the stereotype; however, I hadn't met a single one in my 7 years abroad.
And speaking of catcalls, this is in fact one of the reasons why, according to a Qatari male friend of mine, the men like for their women to wear the abaya; so they don't have to fall victim to the lustful eyes of the "Aye, Shawtys" of the world. I also found it interesting that the more covered up I was, the more looks of approval I got from the opposite sex. And that's all they did: give a simple approving glance, and continue on sipping their coffee. Everything doesn't have to be vocalized for us to get the hint. We know we're cute!
So I enjoyed this moment of silence for about two years. And then the "Aye, Shawty" that I thought for sure I'd escaped, reared its ugly head once again.
I went to an "American party", as those thrown by someone who worked on the Army base there were called. I remember walking in the kitchen where some young African-American men were hanging out. They didn't say anything to me; looked but carried on with their conversations. I made myself a drink and turned to walk out of the kitchen. Obviously, they couldn't tell from the front what I was carrying in the back so it wasn't until they'd caught sight of that, the "Damn, excuse me..." chimes began.
To which I replied,
Why do our Black guys do that? And I am making this race specific because I haven't experienced it from ANY other race or nationality OTHER than our African-American brothers. I know that I am not an ugly woman; and to be fair, I have had my fellow brothers tell me that I am beautiful while looking at my face when saying so. However, this is significantly outweighed by the number of times a man didn't show me any attention and/or try to approach me, until after seeing my ass.
Why, niggas? Why? (And yes, I am using the n-word in this context because this is some nigga behavior...my Black MEN don't behave in such a way. My Black MEN know how to respect a woman, ain't that right, brothas?)
There was only one time in my life where this behavior was accepted. True story. My friend and I went to an Outkast CD signing shortly after "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" came out. We didn't even wait in line; just kind of chilled on the side until everyone had gone through. Then I went up there, went to Andre first. He was nice, smiled, signed my CD, entertained my "I'm a big fan" comments, and then I moved on to Big Boi. It was then that I heard a "GOT DAYUM!" and turned around to find Andre, who'd been sitting the whole 3 hours now on his feet, looking at me like:
Now, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't the highlight of my life up until that moment. Yes, you could only make disparaging comments about my rear end if you are a multi-platinum music artist who, at the time, I was convinced I would marry one day. The rest of ya'll niggas can sad'down!
No, but all jokes aside, I wonder if now, almost 10 years later, I would have responded with the same shy grin I shot him. Naaa, I doubt it. I probably would have asked him why my face didn't give him that same reaction.
I swear, these bodacious back-sides that we Women of Color are blessed with can in so many ways also be a curse. We should be able to walk by a man without feeling objectified by him. However, because this is the state of the world we live in, my entire style has evolved, and although I believe it was a change that came as a result of maturity as well as my experience in the Middle East and seeing the ways in which a more modest- approach to dressing can still be sexy, I think that subconsciously, it was also based on my wanting to avoid this objectification.
My wardrobe consists of a lot more flowy skirts and maxi dresses now. If I do wear form fitting pants or dresses, I have on a top or cardigan that covers my bottom. Again, I do it primarily because this is just what my personal style has evolved to; and also because I just don't want to hear it. I'm sure a lot of you women out there know what I am talking about. Even when they don't say anything, you can hear the thirst. No, the hunger. And it is so belittling.
However, I do recognize that it increasingly difficult for a lot of men to know when and when not to show respect. The way some young ladies dress these days can be quite confusing and misleading. If I walked around wearing leggings with crop tops or dresses so tight you can see my heartbeat, then I would be a fool for getting upset with the "Aye, Shawtys". Or would I? Herein lies the dilemma. Because I like crop tops and leggings; I like form-fitting dresses.
And it can be frustrating, at times, because there have been purchases I haven't made simply because I was aware of the wrong kind of attention it would garner. For example, the dress below (and this photo isn't being posted to show off, but to illustrate a point):
From the front, perfectly harmless. I loved it. The cut out design on the chest, those ripped sleeves. It was too cute. Until I turned to the side.
I posted this photo on my Facebook page to get some feedback from my girlie friends and the votes were unanimous: I should have bought the dress. I even considered going back for it but decided against it. And why? Because there is nowhere in this country where I could wear this dress without feeling the hunger. And is that fair?
Should we women feel free to wear what we want regardless of the catcalls and comments we may get or is it just standard these days to dress for respect, whatever that means? If I were to buy this dress, would I be considered one seeking attention when I wore it because it is so form-fitting, and thus, deserve the comments made only after I walked by and my viewers were made aware of what I possessed in the rear?
Well, If I hadn't gotten comments in work slacks and a floor length cardigan, I may have answered yes. Or would I? Yes, our young ladies are dressing more revealing these days; but it doesn't mean they "deserve" the catcalls, does it? Ooooh, can you see why this bothers me so?
I made a comment earlier: "dress for respect". Yes, as I mentioned above, I like crop tops and leggings; but wouldn't wear them together unless I had something to put over it to cover up the buttocks. But do I deserve more respect for this gesture than the young lady who rolls cheeks out? I guess this is a question I need to ask my brothas. Because again, when I posted that photo above, a lot of my girlfriends were saying I should have bought the dress and that I should be proud of my body etc. etc. They couldn't seem to comprehend my not wanting to get it BECAUSE of my body.
My fellas didn't comment. Just a few "Likes" here and there. I would have loved to hear feedback from them, though, because I am curious to know how guys truly perceive women who wear revealing or form-fitting clothes.
And yet all of this seems pretty irrelevant considering the fact that I do not wear revealing OR form-fitting clothes to work but it didn't stop this nigga from creating a situation where every time he comes into the store from now on, I will go hide in the back until he leaves. Geez, man. A simple "You look nice today!" would have sufficed. Now I think you're a weirdo. Great job, buddy.
Soooo, #3 on my list of things that bother me is having to deal with the declining rate of our fellow brothers who know how to pay us respectable compliments. I wonder who to blame for this. The music industry? Lack of proper upbringing? King Magazine and spreads such as this one?
Are WE to blame, ladies? Or rather, are ladies such as Miss Pretty in the spread above, as well as all of the other women who allow themselves to be sexualized in mainstream media to blame? Is it because these women obviously get a kick out of knowing that men are lusting after their bodies, that men now believe that ALL women enjoy this kind of attention?
Again, I have had run-ins with a fair share of respectful Black men, so I am not lumping ALL men into one category. I've had them call me "sistah" and tell me that they love my style. Many have told me that I have beautiful eyes and as someone born with amblyopia (lazy eye), that is the best compliment you can give me.
But these fellas out here having conversations with my ass as I walk in front of them? Something has to be done about this.
But what can we do, ladies? My respectful Black men out there, what can you do? Because it's about to get hot outside again so my whole cover up the donk while in public to avoid the hunger games from classless niggas ain't gon' really fly in 90+ degree heat.
Holla at me...let's get a conversation going about this! Because as a people, we all represent one body...and there is a sickness within our temple that needs healing. What can we do? How do we kick off these lessons on respect?