The art center where I took the wheel pottery class did a Student Expo at the end of the term, with work on display from all the classes. The teachers did such a cool job setting all the projects up as if they were pieces in a museum. My pieces, which had previously looked lumpy and tipped to me, now looked like Significant Primitives With Artistic Value. And I will have more to say about the pottery class, now that it’s over, but I want to wait until I have all my pieces back (some things haven’t been fired yet) (or do I mean kilned) (anyway they’re not done) so that I can illustrate the post with a picture—and because the way those final pieces turn out will contribute to my final evaluation of the class.
What I wanted to talk about today is that as I was looking at all the art, a guy came up to me and started telling me about the acrylic paintings I was looking at. I thought he must have been a member of that class, so I nodded and smiled politely. Then I moved on to the next display, with work from another class. He followed me, and started telling me about that display too, standing at Friend Closeness instead of Stranger Distance. I showed even less interest. I started being more deliberate with my body language: closed, turned away, stepping back to Stranger Distance, no eye contact, sounds instead of words, leaving the display as soon as he joined me and going to one across the room rather than to the next natural one along the path. He kept following me and talking, and there was no one else in the room. I had been feeling uncomfortable from the beginning, but now I started to feel increasingly anxious. Why was he telling me all this? Why did he know so much about every single class? Did he work here, or had he taken all the classes, or was he Not Quite Right and he was making it all up?
Then Paul, who had been looking at something in the next room over, came over and joined me. The guy turned into mist and vanished. I was relieved, and also upset. I felt as if I’d had to use Paul’s protection—and that the guy had respected Paul’s mere existence as a man, when he hadn’t respected my clear social signals to leave me alone. The guy had been nearing the point where, if Paul hadn’t been there, I would have had to either leave the building or else start an uncomfortable confrontation. But Paul just appears next to me, and THAT’S what communicates to this guy that I don’t want him near me? If he were actually genuinely thinking I wanted to have him following me and talking to me, he would have stayed and continued “educating” me even with Paul there, and in fact would have included Paul in his informative lectures; his swift departure indicates that he knew perfectly well I didn’t want him around me, and that he was counting on social pressure to keep me from saying anything to stop him.
Thinking about this in the days afterward, I’ve wished a bunch of things. I wished I were Holtzmann in Ghostbusters. She would have glanced in his direction and then licked a gun or something, and he would have backed away, first slowly and then much more rapidly. I wished I were someone who would say the uncomfortable thing and get rid of the guy myself. I wished for, like, a completely different culture, where women don’t have very good reasons to feel nervous about the risks involved in strange men and confronting them.