The Hazards of Being a Thinking Woman at Bars | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Hazards of Being a Thinking Woman at Bars

Women shouldn’t have to apologize for doing things such as reading books or journaling at a bar. Photo courtesy Flickr/Saltygal

Women shouldn’t have to apologize for doing things such as reading books or journaling at a bar. Photo courtesy Flickr/Saltygal

"Why should I apologize for being smart?" my friend asked me. I, being (I think) an intelligent person, recognized this as a rhetorical question and responded in kind. This came on the heels of a couple of instances that I've come to collectively refer to as "Hazards of Being a Thinking Woman at Bars." And then, Sloane Crosley's recent New York Times op-ed entitled, "Why Women Apologize and Should Stop" explored the paradoxical phenomenon of how we're presented with lots of strong female role models, yet continue to apologize profusely all the time for our mere existence and for things that are not our fault.

There's even a Twitter hashtag, #sorryimnotsorry. While intended to be humorous, it's one of those things that falls in the "funny because it's true" category—we apologize even for not being apologetic (though men sometimes use it, too). Why do we do it? That goes back to my friend's question about being a thinking woman.

The first of two recent incidents was one I experienced. On a Friday evening, I found myself without plans or company, and I didn't want to head right home after work. I didn't mind being alone—sometimes, I prefer it—but I did want to be around some activity as I unwound from the week.

With a new novel in tow, I headed to grab a spot at the bar of a local restaurant that has a busy Friday happy hour. I knew I'd be surrounded by hustle and bustle but would still be able to enjoy my read.

I settled in with a cocktail, observed the crowd around me and tucked into my book ("The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion. It quickly sucked me in, and I recommend it as a fun read). Then, a guy saddled up to say, dripping with mockery, "What, are you doing, a book report or something?"

Now, I get it. Maybe most people don't sit at a bar reading. But plenty actually do; I see it quite often among people dining alone and business travelers. Pretty much whenever I go somewhere by myself to eat at the bar or wait for takeout, I have reading material with me, be it a magazine or book. It gives me something to do, is more intellectually stimulating than scrolling through Facebook and provides a topic of entry if someone wants to chat.

But this fellow seemed to actually be offended that I was reading, and I don't think his mockery would have been the same had I been, say, taking selfies with my phone. I ended up talking with him (turns out, we share a profession) and his friend. I even joined them at a table for a beverage. But the entire time, he kept referring back to my reading and ribbing me about it. As if I were some sort of freak show or novelty. It was odd. The following week, it turned out that a friend had a similar experience. One evening, I met her for an after-work beverage at the bar of one of our downtown haunts. When I headed home, she stayed to get some takeout. While she waited, she pulled out her journal to do a little writing. And then, as she related it, the bro next to her leaned in over her shoulder to snark, "Oh ... so you must be important or something." What was she supposed to say to that?

I feel that what we have in these examples are case studies. Granted, they're exceptions to the rule; on countless occasions, I've read at a bar in total peace or been interrupted only to be engaged in interesting conversation sparked by the material.

Be that as it may, I continue to notice incidents like this lately. I haven't come up with a solution or snappy comeback, yet, but I do think I'll dig a little deeper and start responding with questions of my own.

Maybe I'll ask questions like "Do you think that's funny or cute?" or "What would be a more acceptable thing for me to be doing?" (Is the answer trolling for dudes to buy my drink, instead of enjoying my own company and paying for it myself? I hope not.) 
 I'll continue some field research and report back. I just picked up a new book, so I am armed and ready.

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