A few weeks ago, I found myself stopped at a red light on my way to work. It was a bright mid-august Monday morning, complete with golden sunlight, dew-glittered fields, and cool air. I’m stopped at this light most mornings, I still haven’t figured out the pattern to work in my favor. I was in the right lane when an orange truck pulled up next to me.
People often joke that there are two seasons in Wisconsin – Winter and Construction. It’s true. They’e always finding new ways to tangle the highways and frustrate commuters. As August falls into Construction season, the truck didn’t really draw my eye, though I assume the point of the color is to alert drivers of potential hazards. But construction sites and all their accessories have really just turned into one more blemish of a highway drive, like a billboard or wind turbine.
Any moment free of social obligations is one I savor. Typically my resting bitchy face is defense enough against bland small talk and handsome men in coffee shops. (To deal with the slightest romantic anxiety, I’ve developed these really cool defense mechanisms that basically say, “I’m going to avoid eye contact with that handsome man so he doesn’t think I’m at all interested in him. The few moments of potential polite rejection isn’t worth the potential payout of meeting my soulmate.”) Does this enhance my life? Probably not. But I’ve accepted that I’m just not one of those naturally social people who makes a new friend weekly.
When I’m not humming along to music, I’m wearing my resting bitchy face during my morning commute, so I was surprised to hear a man greeting me. “Mornin!” He hollered over the idling engines. One wrist rested on the steering wheel, and he held his nonchalant but purposeful gaze on me. His sun-bleach facial hair contrasted sharply against his tanned skin. Sunglasses covered his eyes, but I was sure he had winked behind the lenses. His reflective vest indicated his destination.
“Good morning,” I said.
“How you doing?” He asked in that leery tone, accentuating “you”.
“I’m doing well.”
“Yeah?” He nodded, prodding for more.
This is exactly why I hate small talk. Small talk so clearly demonstrates the checks and balances of conversation, and no one is ever sure of the final value of a shallow exchange. I loathe owing somebody a response for nothing. But I’d rather fill the silence than endure the discomfort of going against social expectations.
“Yeah, you know. It’s Monday,” I said, defaulting to the lowest common denominator. I started to question the intention of this interaction. What did this guy have to gain?
“Yeah,” he said, grinning widely. “Can’t wait for hump day!” He paused slightly before laughing heartily.I laughed that empty obligatory chuckle. I looked forward and pretended to focus on the traffic light.
It took me a moment. Hump day? Wednesday? Who looks forward to Wednesday? Who looks forward to the middle of the week? Just to have the satisfaction of knowing the workweek is half done? You still have two more days of work – why not look forward to Friday?
By time the light turned green, I got it. The subtext became clear by the time he started his left turn. Hump day. He was just being pervy. Way to rise to your stereotype, sir.
What made him think this was a good idea? Had this worked for him in the past? What was the best possible outcome in his mind? Me suggesting we celebrate hump day together? My shock swiftly shifted to disgust. What a gross way to start my week. I had just been sipping my coffee, minding my own business – certainly not inviting casual discussion of genital friction. What had started out as a beautiful morning now had the grime of some man insinuating that he wanted to hump me. I didn’t need that clouding my week.
In the right context, most women wouldn’t hate that sentiment. But even contexts of the most generous musings don’t involve separate cars and a 15-second exchange between strangers. The few words he yelled over at me essentially told me: “I don’t value you, your comfort, or your dignity. But I do kinda want to rub against you.” That momentarily robbed me of my humanity.
The momentary loss of of one’s humanity might seem like a negligible loss, but when those moments are compounded, the result can shift your perception of what is right. Most women have been harassed, honked at, or otherwise objectified by strangers and have just come to realize it comes with the territory. The fact that he was comfortable making a crude joke is indicative of a culture that disregards women’s right to a personal realm.
What I wish I had done (in my fantasy, I immediately realize what he was really saying) is remove my sunglasses and looked him in the eye to say this: “I don’t appreciate your insinuation, sir. For future reference, it is not acceptable to imply that you want to hump a woman. Fuck off.”