by Dani Cooke
At My Most Feminine
I. Pretty Please
A man walks in, sweat and the residue of cooking grease settling where my mascara once was.
"What can I get you?" I ask, but he does not answer.
"How old are you girls?" He gestures toward the grill, where another high-school girl preps the steak. I know these things: always answer the customers' questions, politely, and always keep a smile on your pretty makeup-ed face, if you don't want a two-percent tip and a bad Yelp review.
"Seventeen," I answer. "Now, what can I get started for you?"
Again, he does not reply, but winks at my manager, a man more than twice my age, and says, "Seventeen's the age of consent in Colorado, you know."
This is not the most inappropriate thing we might hear as young women in food service, and so the shift ends in relief. At least he didn't try to stay, we think. At least he didn't try to cross the counter. At least those weren't our manager's words.
At least we weren't alone.
II. Mixed Signals
I’d been jumpy as I walked the four blocks from University Hill to the downtown bus station — any rustling or misplaced shadow as I passed the frat houses set my heart to rattling — but this was normal, even foolish, and dismissed as the product of my own anxious nature. I’m not used to walking alone this late — 10:00 pm — but the mid-July air cultivates a sense of security after an easy summer day.
A man in his late twenties approaches on a bicycle, skims his foot against the asphalt to come to a stop, and leans in toward where I'm sitting. It doesn't matter that I have my earbuds in, that I'm not looking in his direction, that I have somewhere else to be. "Hey, baby — where are you headed?"
I know that answering might be seen as an invitation, that not answering will be seen as a sign of frigidity. "To a friend's," I reply. (It doesn't feel safe to say home.)
"You're beautiful," he says as he looks me up and down, eyes lingering.
"Thank you," I say, though suddenly I don't feel beautiful. Instead, I hesitate at the tightness of my tank top, the tilt of my heels, and the fall of my skirt. "But I don't really feel like talking right now."
For a brief moment, he pushes his body forwards, and I think he might become aggressive. Then, he strikes his foot against the pavement and speeds into the dark.
I am a young woman alone at a bus stop. It is night, and (left alone) I consider myself lucky. At least he didn't try to touch me, I think. At least he left when he could've moved closer. At least the buses are still running and I know where I'm going next.
At least nobody was around to see my rudeness.
III. The Angry Feminist
"My body, my choice!" I shout, feel the punch of my voice and the weight of my step. Male voices echo back: "Her body, her choice!"
This march is not the most revolutionary possible act. (I could strike hungrily in jail, as the most powerful women before me have done. I could shelter refugees in my home or picket on the steps of government buildings. I could shout louder, walk further, stand taller.)
At least we're doing something, I think. At least we aren't silent. At least somebody's filling the space that's being made here.
At least mine is not the only voice that's shouting.
Poems on Gender & Self