For Women Under a Certain Age

Toward the end of my teaching career I was honored to escort several female students to an awards luncheon in a downtown Denver hotel. Smart, gifted, good-looking girls, they’d dressed for the occasion in heels and the pencil skirts then back in fashion. We parked a block away. In that one city block the girls were called to by four or five men. Ignoring or waving them off, my students never blinked, were used to it. I was not. I was well past the age of being visible to men on the street.

There’s a short skit with Amy Schumer and sister comedian/actresses about reaching the age when you’re no longer fuckable. (It’s hysterical. See it on YouTube.) For Tina Fey and friends, it meant instead of being the love interest you start getting cast as the mother. For me, it meant no more catcalls on the street. I experienced it as relief. That day decades later with my students made me recall how you brace for it, develop a repertoire of responses: firm enough to keep them at bay, polite enough so they won’t get ugly. A delicate balance.

All that came back to me today as I read a Facebook post by a woman I know. Attractive, divorced, the mother of three fine children related to me, perhaps in her late 30s. She described a travel experience she just had:

“I do everything I can to make sure I’m safe when traveling alone. I don’t book flights that get in late at night. I stay in nice hotels that have bars and restaurants, so I don’t have to leave at night. I share my location with friends. I share my Uber trips. I wear a fake wedding ring. I always try to be discreet sharing my room number when I’m charging things at the hotel. The list could go on and on…

Last night I apparently was not quiet enough giving the bartender my room number. I woke up at one a.m. to my room phone ringing with a man asking me what I was doing. I can only assume it was one of the guys near me when I was watching Sunday night football at the bar.”

In the comments, her friends had further advice: always get two room keys to make it seem like someone else is joining you. Even though you don’t have one, talk about a husband as if you do. Arrange for family or friends to get your check-in texts: when you arrive at the hotel, when you leave; when you get in the Uber, when you get out.

It makes me tired. Because I was no longer accustomed to it, that day with my students felt like a barrage of undesirable and possibly dangerous attention. I wanted to be a mother hen, spread my wings to shelter them. I know, I know: those capable high school girls would have said, thanks, Ms. Dubrava, but we got this.

Still, it’s outrageous that women alone must always be on defense, that if you’re still fuckable by male standards, you have to restrict your movements just to feel safe. This woman is a sports fan and having a beer with the Sunday night football game was a ritual she often shared with her father, who recently died. Doing that was a way of being with him. So long as we remember those who have passed, they aren’t lost.

But listen to how I’m reduced to justifying why she was there. A pretty woman in a bar by herself? What was she thinking? We know what the guy in the bar thought. A woman hasn’t the right to watch a football game in a bar, a right men automatically have. The jerk who called her at one a.m.—he thought she was asking for it.

No wonder, after that call, that she concluded her post: “Don’t worry, I’m in a new room today.” But what a shame, that today, in America, she must take such measures.



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5 Responses to For Women Under a Certain Age

  1. Sue Holbrook says:

    Sadly, Pat, it’s not just the young who must take precautions today. In Vero Beach, which is populated by women of a certain age, we are learning that we are targets for men and even women who want what we have (not our bodies for sure but for the material resources we represent…credit cards, cash, cars!) and we are learning to make adjustments for even basic activities like loading groceries into the trunk of the car. It’s a vulnerable position. But those catcalls on the street…those were some different days! Exciting…scary…and you were always in danger of being accused of asking for it.

    • dubrava says:

      Well said, Sue and a good reminder, that predators see older women as easy targets too, in the purse-snatching category.

  2. Deb r. says:

    The thing that occurred to me as I read the ways women can protect themselves (wedding rings, two keys etc.) are not helpful techniques to use if your skin is a different color. As a woman living alone in New Orleans, I went out at night a lot and had to think about my safety at all times, but, constant awareness of danger is something I’ve never had to deal with. I feel like women have it pretty easy.

    • dubrava says:

      Deb, you mean white women? I agree that life is and has been harder for women of color and people of color in general. When we first moved to our then predominantly black neighborhood in 1984, those most in danger who walked these streets were young black men.

  3. Jenny-Lynn says:

    I feel for those girls, for all of us. And no longer fuckable doesn’t mean no longer assaultable. This world! Great post, Pat.

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