Anytime you claim that men find you intimidating or “scary”, it generates debate. In a world where men are taught to look to women for support, not competition, some men do find a woman intimidating if she shows her intelligence or demonstrates self-sufficiency. The counter usually boils down to, “Just because you’re smart/self-sufficient doesn’t mean that’s why they reject you/ignore you. Maybe they do it because you’re just not nice.”
The problem with that argument is that niceness is required of women and looked down upon in men. We’re told “nice guys finish last.” We may like how nice they are, but they don’t get the promotions, the hot dates, the hard work from their employees, etc. (or so we’re conditioned to think). Conversely, when women are as authoritative, fair but unsympathetic, and aggressive as men are congratulated on being, we often get labeled “bitch.”
Katems at Feministing talks about having mixed feelings because men fear her.
Apparently my landlord, the man of the couple that lives next door, my husband’s mother and brother and everyone else I’ve ever told off have all confided in my husband that they are afraid of me. Both of us find this pretty hilarious considering that I’m barely 5’3 and around 100 lbs. I asked my husband what exactly scares people when I call them out on being ass-holes. He says it’s a combination of my intensity and the fact that I sugarcoat nothing and have a habit off cutting people to the core with my words.
That’s me. I read a lot of stories in which women describe harassment and the feeling of being scared and not knowing what to do, or thinking of some great comeback minutes after the event is over. My response is quite different: my adrenaline surges, I zone in quickly on that person’s insecurities, my vision goes a little hazy, and I want to physically hurt the person. I have to restrain that urge and redirect my energy into a verbal barb or a gesture that lets them know to back off.
For example: if a man tries to touch me in a remotely inappropriate way, I’ll try to edge away politely if the situation permits. If he’s insistent, I am 100% fully entitled to hit him. And I have done it. It stuns people, but to their credit I must say no one has ever criticized me for it. Several men have even congratulated me, and I’m not talking feminist ally types: I’m talking about men from all walks of life who simply don’t think women should be bullied.
This isn’t limited to men or sexual harassment. When AT&T tried to screw me over recently, I called them on every line of bullshit they shoveled my way until they realized they hadn’t a leg to stand on. When a medical billing company tried to charge me for something they weren’t supposed to and on top of that made it nearly impossible for me to reach anyone, I gave them hell to the point that the supervisor called my doctor, realized I was right and called me back, sounding scared. I am very forgiving of mistakes – we all make them. I also restrain myself when dealing with the people who aren’t responsible but get used as human shielding for those who are (i.e., customer service reps). But I just cannot tolerate bullshit, not even when it would be to my advantage to tolerate it for the moment. And even when I avoid being overly sarcastic or using my more colorful vocabulary, there’s a tone in my voice that says, “Nobody’s going home until either I’m satisfied with the outcome or you’re bleeding.”
If at this point you think I sound like a ranting bitch… I feel sorry for you. Get out more – you might just meet some people (not just women) who can be firm and unyielding without being mean or demeaning. It happens.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if a man who tolerates as little bullshit as I do would not also be considered “intimidating.” While men are conditioned to tolerate less crap than women, I think most people are uncomfortable enough with confrontation to prefer letting slights slide. I’m uncomfortable with confrontation, too, but for me the confrontation begins when someone bullies me, not when I choose not to let it slide, and since I’m already in I might as well kick some ass.