Why would somebody behave like this, and how should I have handled it?
June 9, 2015 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Please help me process this incident of horrible male behavior, put it in perspective, and come up with some ways to respond if I am ever unfortunate enough to experience something like this again. The balanced, zen part of me says that jerks like this must be living pretty sad lives*, and are probably more miserable than they try to make other people, but right now, that zen part needs a little support.

The incident: this morning, as I was walking across the lobby to breakfast alone in the international hotel where I am staying for a conference, I suddenly heard two male voices behind me. I caught the words "they're all just so busy and important" and thought they were commenting on attendees at the conference, since we were a large and visible group. I walked up to the hostess counter, and waited while they took down the room number of the person in front of me. All of a sudden, one of the men who had been talking suddenly cut in front of me and handed his card to the hostess. I decided to just ignore this, since such behavior seems to be part of the culture of the country I'm in at the moment. I did not move aside for his friend, though, instead handing over my own card and, when Front Man waited for his friend to be processed, walking around him to find a table. As I moved ahead, I heard Back Man say, in a very nasty tone, "oh, you have to be quick here." (There were plenty of tables available.)

As I was about to move towards the first available table, a window seat, one man said "let's take that window seat, it's nice." When they saw I was heading there, the other said "oh, it's not nice any more." They then sat at the table behind me and proceeded to make comments like "well, maybe it's not the biggest ass I've ever seen" and "she's just horrible" for the next ten minutes. (For the record, I'm a very unremarkable US size 10, not that this kind of thing would be justified regardless of the size of the victim.) I just ignored them, and it's possible that they didn't even realize I understood what they were saying. I got up to get my food, and while I was doing so other members of my group arrived and took the table beside mine and the seat across from me. The presence of other men seemed to take the fun away, or at least I could no longer hear the nastiness. The men left soon after. I did not tell my friends what had happened.

Can anyone offer any insight into the mindset behind that kind of behavior? Does confronting it work, or are these kind of idiots looking for a fight? Should I have complained to the manager? Or something? Even though these were men in their forties or maybe even fifties, not young thugs, my instincts told me that ignoring it rather than giving them the satisfaction of a reaction was the best approach. I also didn't want to tell my friends and colleagues since I didn't want to prolong the experience by discussing it. Twelve hours later, though, the fact that it is still bothering me makes me wonder if that was the right approach.

*and/or have teeny-tiny equipment.
posted by rpfields to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They're just assholes. You had nothing to gain from confronting them and a definite (if small) chance of it blowing up to your detriment. Ignoring it was the best way to go.
posted by Etrigan at 2:43 PM on June 9, 2015 [11 favorites]

They sound like assholes. One of the things I say to myself when I'm stewing on something I shouldn't be is remind myself that by continuing to dwell on their words/actions I am allowing them to ruin parts of my life without even needing to be present for it. Vent to someone then every time you start to think about it after that, redirect yourself. Rinse repeat.
posted by edbles at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: They were angry that you didn't show them the deference they believed they were due, and they retaliated in the petty, small way they had available to them. They are horrible people who are angry that their horribleness is not universally lauded. Be glad that you demonstrated to them how powerless they actually are.
posted by KathrynT at 2:53 PM on June 9, 2015 [67 favorites]

Best answer: WIth all due respect it's a question not really worth asking. The answer is they're just cowardly a-holes.

If I were you I would've taken out my phone, started recording them through that whole thing and posted it on youtube for their wives, kids, bosses and coworkers to see... as well as for the hotel staff to see. If the hotel even so much as suspects that this might be a PR nightmare for them they will threaten to throw these guys out and comp you a free night. Why question why, when you can just click a button on your phone and scare the daylights out of everyone and put a stop to it?
posted by manderin at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

They will never feel joy, savour that for while and then get on with your day.
Assholes gotta asshole.
posted by fullerine at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

You did the right thing. I concur that they are just common or garden variety assholes. Lots of guys are assholes when they're in a gang of other assholish guys, it seems to have a multiplicative effect, unfortunately. I think venting about and discussing situations like this can actually be helpful rather than prolonging the annoyance, and for me, bottling up is what prolongs it. I find it pretty cathartic to have a good rant about what obvious asshats people are being when they are obviously being asshats.

I will, as a slight aside, meant in no way to diminish the obvious unpleasantness of your experience, note that many men possessed even of radically smaller-than-average junk are good people and are not necessarily driven to assholery by it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:01 PM on June 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You did the right thing, and I also completely understand why you would be upset and still processing it, and I hope that getting affirmation that they're just dicks and there's no justification for acting like entitled selfish assholes helps you let go of this.

If it helps at all, take comfort in knowing that confrontation would be likely to upset you far longer than ignoring them. I'm sorry this happened to you.
posted by janey47 at 3:02 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

If I'm understanding you correctly, they were not speaking English?

This strikes me as more of a foreigner vs native (or culture vs culture) thing than a men vs women thing- or at least a good bit of both combined.

When I was in France (an American tourist) such comments were common. And I was a slim, not-unattractive teenager at the time. But people often commented on my clothes while walking behind me, or quipped a "cute" little aside about Americans to their friends in my presence, thinking that I did not understand French.

I attribute it almost entirely to resentment of foreigners and tourists with some sexism thrown in.
posted by quincunx at 3:09 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Guys like this like to make themselves out to be top shit in front of their friends, probably because they're trying to make up for feeling inadequate. It says everything about them that they would say those kind of things, and absolutely nothing about you. I think that ignoring them was the right decision for you at the time and was a perfectly fine way to react. It really sucks that they did this and you were forced to listen to it, but please try not to take it personally.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:10 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: They're hateful horrible people, and with any luck bad things happen to them all the time because of it. You are free to fantasize about what those things might be, but only for 24 hours and then you have to evict them from your head and leave them to their horrible unsatisfying lives.

I mean, you probably could have stopped by their table and sweetly asked where they worked and implied you were going to complain to their employer, and they probably wouldn't have gotten violent there in public, but it's never as satisfying as you imagine it will be. Just dwell on their presumed inadequacies for a day and then let 'em go.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:14 PM on June 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think there were a few things going on here, none of which are OK. First, I think these men were envious that you and your compatriots actually are busy and important people, whereas they sound idle and insignificant. Second, this was straight sexist harassment, aimed at you because you are 1) female and 2) a foreigner. They were demonstrating to each other that they weren't going to put up with your uppityness. Picture some redneck racist in the pre-Civil Rights era days, feeling free to verbally harass an educated African American person in a suit, and you'll see the analogy. Third, I think these two are plain old bullies, doing what bullies do, which is making themselves feel better by hassling someone who is on their own.

What utter jerks. I personally would have told them their behavior was unacceptable and complained to whoever was overseeing the dining room, because I am just like that, but I think your course of ignoring them was fine too. I am so sorry you were subjected to it and would suggest that flushing their icky memory out of your brain is the best revenge.
posted by bearwife at 3:30 PM on June 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: They were gigantic assholes. I'd have had a hard time not saying something to them, but really, it wouldn't have been worth wasting your breath. Just remember, you only had to deal with them for a short time. They have to live with themselves.
posted by sarcasticah at 4:05 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

When rude comments were said about me in another country and language, I would say something like, have a nice day. In that language. Just to let them know that I spoke the language and understood what they had said. Nothing negative just acknowledgment. It never failed to stop the comments and was most often met with embarrassment.
posted by jennstra at 6:16 PM on June 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

I get where you are coming from, and when I have these interactions what I really need is reassurance that whoever was the bad actor is actually a jerk and I did nothing wrong. So I'll give you that here now: you were right, you did nothing wrong and these dudes were freaky weird, if not just plain rude. Who does what they did? Weirdos.
posted by Toddles at 7:55 PM on June 9, 2015

Best answer: Insecurity + entitlement + straight-up nastiness. They dehumanized you, reducing you to your body parts and whatever obstacle they thought your actions at the counter presented to them. They probably enjoyed it, and were maybe trying to impress each other with their "wit". They wanted you to hear them, to put you in your place, knowing you'd be unlikely to do anything about it.

You can and should ignore people who do that, for the most part, it's usually not worth the aggravation. Recognize it for what it is, so it affects you less. (I.e. all the things people have said - stuff that doesn't reflect you as a person, at all.)

But you could also call them on it, as an experiment, just for your own gratification. They're counting on you saying nothing. Break their expectations - look at them right in the eyes, and say, calmly, "Excuse me? I heard you, and I'd like you to repeat what you said".

There's a chance it could escalate (do not attempt with drunk frat boys, groups of men larger than 2-3, or another situation you think could be dangerous). But it might also let them know you're onto them, and embarrass them, and remind them you're a human being. More importantly, it'll feel empowering and good if those things happen.

(I successfully shamed one cred-seeking idiot that way in high school. It was great.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:04 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just as you were leaving, I would whip out my phone and then, in their language, say, "Smile assholes, you're about to be famous!" Take the shot and walk off. You wouldn't need to actually do anything with the photo but just the idea that you might would really teach them a lesson.
posted by Jubey at 9:23 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. Your comments have really put this in perspective, as did last night's conversation with Lovely Boyfriend. He pointed out that a certain kind of jerk knows that most women, regardless of the facts of our appearance, would be hurt by such comments, and that is why supermodels, Olympic athletes, etc. are subject to such abuse right along with the rest of us. His interpretation is that they were angry that I was not intimidated, and probably envious about not being part of the action at the big conference. He also pointed out that such behaviour will get their asses kicked some day, and has probably already had negative consequences for their lives and careers, even if they don't know that themselves.

It has now been 24 hours since the incident, and in the spirit of Lynne Never's comment, I an now going to put it out of my mind. If it ever happens again, though, I might well pull out my iPhone and make those idiots YouTube stars.
posted by rpfields at 11:46 PM on June 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

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