An Open Letter to People Who Took Issue with an Open Letter

I had intended to post something else today.  A post with a bunch of mini restaurant reviews was scheduled to appear two minutes after I received another thoughtful comment taking issue with my last post.  This is an amalgamation of emails exchanged with a few readers who took particular umbrage with what they perceived as the smallness of calling women names in this space.

I hate to give one of those political apologies which are generally devoid of meaning as it is apology without acknowledgement… but I apologize for any offense I might have caused, it was not my intent.  I respectfully disagree, however, with much of the characterizations levied in both public and private.

With regard to the pettiness of the post and the outsized nature of my indignation, I gave considerable thought to that interpretation.  My initial reaction was to agree with the supposition; however, after some more mental marinating, I have grown to think that position is largely the result of interpretation through personal experiences.  Through the prism of women who have surely been the recipient of unwanted attention, my indignation might seem to have been an overreaction, but how was it really?

As some acknowledged in comments, my blog is a space for me to bitch about any number of topics.  How much did I really bitch though?  I wrote that accusing a man of wanting to “check out [your] ass” in a voluble tone was conduct not befitting a lady and I contend that it is not.

I described a woman as Plain Jane which can be read as a pejorative, but I solely intended as a descriptor.  Had it been a man that had been rude to me I am sure I would have written something about his corporate khaki and polo uniform.  I further wrote that her response made me doubt the existence of a man that would marry her – that would have been a bridge too far if stated to her in reply, and admittedly may have been in this context as well, but I still don’t think it an egregious thought to express anonymously (both author and subject) in this space.

The past her prime platinum blonde line was inspired at least as much by my affinity for alliteration as it was an effort to describe a woman who was far too old to wear a skirt that short, a top cut that low, and generally looking like a 50 year old club kid wannabe.  For the record, I would have described a man dressed in equally age inappropriate attire in similar ways.

As I noted and some graciously acknowledged, empathy is tough for men here. But the converse applies as well.  I don’t think there is any value in comparing the difficulty of having one’s motivations constantly questioned versus receiving unwanted and or crude sexual attention.  But it is worth considering how it might have felt for me on that day, on the many days that this has occurred.  How many women can empathize with the frustration associated with the accumulated indignities from the tactic and implicit questioning of one’s integrity in that manner?

“Get over it” was the suggestion from more than one reader, and I should be flattered that readers consider this place somehow above such pettiness.  I don’t think it was anything extraordinary that I ranted about a slightly shitty day, as I have ranted about far less.

Many of you may still disagree with me on the merits of that post.  In fact, I know some of you still do.  I will concede that the post could have been more artfully written to have avoided that reasoned perception but I hope that this missive finds us all on more common than divergent ground.


P.S. New Recipe on My Recipe Blog – Braised Short Ribs with Truffled French Fries


25 Responses to An Open Letter to People Who Took Issue with an Open Letter

  1. Titania says:

    For whatever is worth, I don’t think you have anything to apologize for. You just said whatever everyone else probably would have thought (if they didn’t thought worse) had they been in the same situation. Those women were rude. And, this may be coming from me being an alien in the US and from the fact that I come from a culture that is very different, but the whole “politically correctness” craze that seems to drive many of the situations I observe daily many times strikes me as unhealthy and hypocritical (*). Your blog is your space to say whatever you may feel like, and if someone does not like it, they can go read another one. Just my opinion.

    (*) and for those that may want to tell me to go back to my country, I say this because I have learned to love the US and despite me disliking this about this country, there are other many things I do like.

    Ok, back to work.

    I don’t think that this is inherently a case of political correctness run amok, rather people allowing themselves to assume the worst in others and using that assumption as cover to behave badly.

  2. k8 says:

    I have taken to reading feminist blogs all over the place and learning a new language of interaction, which does not include things like the word “lady” and “act like one” in the same sentence because somehow that means that the patriarchy is somehow winning because we are still judged by our behavior, looks and words rather than our innate worth.

    Okay. Fine. But reality is, we live in a world that judges us all the time. And you are entitled to your judgement, RR. All of us are. I could judge you as a male chauvanistic pig for having “labeled” these women. Or I can see what you’re truly trying to say. Which I believe to be that you are intending to be kind to all women from all walks of life – regardless of their looks or station. And that those things might have not been so apparent to you had they responded in a kind way to your gestures. Am I right? I may not be, but that’s how I see it.

    We don’t usually see or seek out people’s flaws (in looks, behavior or words) until they have crossed us somehow.

    Just my take on it. And you can open a door for me any day of the week.

    Something that I really wish I had noted in the Letter about the Letter was that I would and often do have these conversations/interactions with men with equal frequency.

    Thanks for you words.

  3. citygirlblogs says:

    Agree with Titania that you had nothing to apologize for and that your blog is your space to do with what you wish! Also enjoyed both this post and the original Open Letter for being honest, well-written and thoughtful.

    I guess I’m of the mindset that even a supermodel who acted like Plain Jane did would have been included in your post. Rude and presumptuous are rude and presumptuous no matter the packaging. Btw, if we meet and I try to open the door for you, I’m probably trying to check out your ass *wink*.

    Given the additional questions this post has raised for some, I am wondering if I should have let sleeping dogs stay asleep. And if you hold open that door, I will walk though it thinking only the best thoughts about you regardless of your intentions.

  4. I thought it was interesting that people took offense to your being offended by all those rude interactions. I guess you were just supposed to take it like a man. 8-\

    I love that you found levity in this mess.

  5. justjp says:

    I thought your open letter was both poignant and eloquently written. One would hope for such candor when reading about such egregious offenses that you experienced, while just trying to exchange in the pleasantries of everyday discourse. Your above enouncement signifies that you sir, are aware of the devoid nuances in our society. Well played.

    I really wish that I had taken more time to write the original post to have avoided the appearance of inappropriate.

  6. Jamie says:

    I don’t think your post (or your actions that motivated it) was a big deal, but an observation. Would any of those situations have arisen with a man? I mean, would you hold the door for a man, or try to strike up a conversation, or compliment their shoes, or offer them a light?

    While personally I don’t find any of these offensive in any way, and might do the same thing, I think it’s reasonable to categorize them as the kind of attention that a heterosexual man would only pay to a woman, and not to another man.

    It is indisputable that women get this kind of attention far, far more often than men. Maybe it just becomes tiring. I have no idea what it must be like, for example, to be cat-called or ass-grabbed every time you walk two blocks on 14th Street in Columbia Heights, like by girlfriend says happens to her EVERY DAY.

    I don’t have a problem with anything you did, but I do think its important to consider everything that women have to deal with every day that men do not. It’s a little unfair to judge their response harshly without ever having been in their (possibly nice) shoes.

    I would have held a door, complimented attire, asked a question about how someone would prepare skate, or lit a cigarette for a man. There is no doubt about that because I have done all of those things in the past.

    My point remains that there is no excuse for hostility in the face of civility. If someone has had such an awful day that s/he is incapable of not being rude to other human beings then should go only to places where interaction is not possible.

  7. Jamie says:

    Just to be clear I’m not comparing your actions to cat-calling and ass-grabbing, but rather saying that if you have been putting up with that kind of crap all day long, any kind of unsolicited attention from a man (even if it’s just polite) probably still feels like flirting — maybe some people just want to be left alone and I can understand why women might feel that way sometimes given what they could be dealing with.

  8. Shannon says:

    The world must be ending, because I find myself agreeing with Jamie.

    Sure, when complimented, the polite answer is, ‘Thank you.’ But when you’re a woman, it can be hard to distinguish between a polite compliment and an unwelcome intrusion. That’s because all day, every day, everywhere you go, you are regarded as public property, on display, and available to receive all sorts of unwelcome commentary (luckily, at 5’2″, I’m below the ass-grab radius of most men).

    Example: No man I know has ever had a stranger come up to him and say, “Smile,” or, “You’d be so pretty if you gave us a smile!” Happens to women all the damn time. Happened to me just this week. It’s intrusive and creepy and appallingly sexist. (Also, a huge peeve of mine…can you guess?) Most of these men mean no harm, and they probably think it’s a compliment, but it’s an unwelcome and presumptuous intrusion.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, even if you’re shot down, and your first response is, “Well, I never!” it might be better to use your generosity of spirit and realize it’s not personal. They’re just bristling at the intrusion, whether it’s kindly meant or not.

    Shannon, you completely miss my point as your comment assumes that I was flirting with any of these women rather than just being polite. How do you compare the obviously flirtatious (and intrusive) “smile” statement to holding a door, or offering a light – two gestures that were offered without words? Similarly, anyone with enough culinary savvy to purchase skate would understand that it is an unusual fish and would inspire curiosity from other gourmands.

  9. littlemsblogger says:

    The fact you are apologizing for an entry in which you repeated rude comments you received makes me laugh.

    Aside from repeating the comments, who cares about the adjectives you used to described these women. They were rude and you did not deserve to be at the end of their sharp tongues.

    Did you physically harm these women after they insulted you? No. If you had, apologize.

    Everyone has a right to express their opinion and everyone reading has a right to stop reading.

    I think that if I had actually said any of those things then I would have been horribly rude. I have yet to be convinced that thinking them and writing them in this space is somehow rude.

  10. Lemmonex says:

    Bottom line is this: while you may have described a man who was rude, I doubt you would have felt the need to mention his age. Women are judged all day every day for their looks and that was the first thing you did when you were rebuffed. These women were rude, but that doesn’t make you right.

    No, Lemmonex, that was not the first thing that I did when these women acted crudely and rudely towards me. The first thing that I did was swallow my disdain and find a gracious way to continue. Writing about it on an anonymous blog and keeping them anonymous as well… I guess we have to disagree on this one, because I am trying to find the source of so much outrage. Especially in the about the points that I conceded.

  11. kitty says:

    we live in a world where terrible awful things are happening all the damn time. being addressed by a stranger just isn’t one of those things.

    maybe i’m just young and not yet jaded enough to get uptight about compliments. but honestly? i think i’ll miss them once i get past my prime.

    There was only one compliment in the four experiences. None of this had anything to do with any attraction for them and I wish that I had a written that better.

  12. Lemmonex says:

    Well, ok, you are you and I am me and I don’t think either of us is gonna concede on this.

    I am just gonna agree with Kitty, then: there are far bigger things to worry about than someone complimenting your shoes. Also, far ruder things than a woman’s misplaced anger at what she perceives as a sexual advance.

    Yes, agreed, there are far ruder things than the indignities I experienced. However, are you suggesting that blogs are no longer a good place to vent about slights regardless of magnitude?

  13. Fearless says:

    Perhaps you should consider History, Context and the Benefit of Doubt, and you might find the source you seek.

  14. I seriously don’t understand why some people took offense to that….. You met some people that went out of their way to be shitty to you & you wrote about it. I don’t get it. It isn’t really “your job” to figure out why they were shitty- that’s THEIR problem. Just like it isn’t the “job” of anyone else to decide how you react to it.

  15. Lemmonex says:

    Oh, no, you can vent all you like, but I think it is a tad dramatic to sincerely call what you experienced an indignity. Indignity is someone spitting on you or shitting your pants, or being in a hospital gown and needing someone to bathe you…I am all for hyperbole, as you know, but this seems sincere.

    Bitch away. I love to bitch. I AM a bitch sometimes. But don’t post something like this and get all twisted when people tell you how they feel.

    Yanno, just saying. We don’t have to agree. We can still be friends even if I ain’t buying what you are selling.

    End scene.

  16. ps- in today’s “god forfuckingbid a stranger talk to me” paranoid & disconnected society, I’ll bet that had you “twittered” those comments to the women, they’d be thrilled. Go figure.

  17. kate.d. says:

    in light of your follow-up post and other comments here, i just want to re-assert that i would never presume to tell you what they *should* or *shouldn’t* write about on their own blog, but was merely sharing my own personal reaction to your post. i wouldn’t say that it was “rude” of you to write what you wrote in this space – it’s your space. i was merely responding to what i was reading from my own personal perspective.

    i just feel like that’s an important distinction to make – i don’t advocate trying to be the Thought Police on someone else’s blog! i just thought it was a little much, given some contextual issues, and said so in the spirit of a comment section being a conversation space.

  18. elle dubya says:

    wow. i must be a complete simpleton. i found zero offense in the earlier post. looks like a duck, walks like a duck, eh?

  19. lol…you should hear how women talk about other women… not ladylike at all… in my were prob kind in your choice words…

  20. magda says:

    It’s possible I’m just waaaay off the mark from normal, but I found your open-letter post enjoyable and, actually, entertaining. I could see those interactions so clearly, and I’ve seen them before; I wonder, sometimes, if the rudeness of some is what drives men to shed their chivalry. I didn’t see your post as a critique on women at all, but rather a commentary on the way things are. I liked it. And I’ll thank you for complimenting my shoes any time : )

  21. nicole says:

    i was at a bar w/ a girlfriend recently and a gentleman complimented on her patent leather leopard print pumps. she was flattered, and i found it sweet that a man would notice such things. i mean, he definitely wanted to do “something” with her or those shoes….but whatever…he just liked her shoes. we laughed and she said thank you.

  22. nicole says:

    oh and ps. i like open letters about open letters.

  23. J says:

    For those who insist it is difficult for women to put up with compliments and open doors, please dress in drag. The rest of us appreciate your behavior, please do not stop!
    Further, in your descriptions, if it looks like a duck, I would call it a duck- I don’t care if it is a swan waiting to grow up.
    I appreciated your first post, the catty comments in response and this second post was not necessary. I enjoy your writing and hope that you will continue.

  24. f.B says:

    I think there’s a lot of really unfortunate truth, here. Some of it is that many women simply cannot afford not to assume the worst in countless interactions with men. They’ve been robbed of that trust.

    But, their loss reveals ours as well. For many of us, if our communication is tainted by what women expect to hear, then we either don’t speak or are misheard (as the first post suggested).

    I don’t dare equate the expectations we have. And I agree that the sensitivity of word choice is important when RR told the stories. But if the only answer some are willing to accept is that men just “get it” and “deal,” well, we shouldn’t be surprised not to make much progress.

    We have to be better about respectfully revealing our intentions, even though we may not feel we owe explanations. And women have to be better at giving us a chance, even though they have every reason to doubt us.

  25. NATUI says:

    I hope all your commentors who told you to “suck it up” or “get over it” take their own advice the next time someone reacts to them in a rude manner. Maybe they ought to just get over your open letter and quit dissecting it. I can say that if I had witnessed any of those situations you wrote about I would have described them in exactly the same way. Thanks for these two enjoyable posts.

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