A good friend of mine just turned 27, so last night a bunch of us went out to celebrate with her. By 11:00 or so, many of the first folks out had retired, and there were only three of us left, all women. We went to our town's cowboy bar to have some last drinks, maybe catch a dance or two on the floor.
It was packed. We waited in line outside (rare, where we live), and once inside, I volunteered to take the plunge at the bar and grab our drinks. It was about ten minutes waiting — again, a very long wait for this town. Just before I finally got to order, the birthday girl leaned in. "The gentleman at the end of the bar wants to buy our round." I wasn't sure I heard, so I shook my head. She repeated, pointing. "He wants to buy our round!" The man in question smiled (kindly, I thought) and shrugged. I was hesitant, because I worry over the perceived transactional nature of drink-buying, but the guy seemed to be wishing my friend happy birthday so I decided it was kosher (otherwise, I had been planning to buy our round). When I ordered and nodded toward him, starting to say to the bartender, "The gentleman..." she cut me off with an "Oh, got it." Should have been my first clue.
Anyway, after we got our drinks we thanked him (and his friend, who was hanging out with him intermittently), then we cheers'd them, and then we moved on. All seemed to be well — we hung out to the side, listening to the band and chatting.
30-45 minutes later, though, the two men came over toward us and began talking to each other and glancing at us and pointing at each of us individually. "Hm, well, now I feel objectified," said the birthday girl with an eyeroll. That would have been awkward enough, but then, they faced us and came close, and made what I can only describe as grunting sounds, pointed to us, and jerked their thumbs toward the dance floor. It was so abrupt and commanding that we all made (in retrospect, probably hilarious) WTF faces, and then we each kind of went "ummm....naw" and broke eye contact, sipping our drinks and trying to start a new conversation among ourselves. They repeated the gestures and grunting, peppering in some "You! Dancing!" We continued trying to ignore them. Finally they made exasperated shrugs and groans, and turned away. But from then on, every ten minutes, they KEPT DOING IT. Like they'd come up to us, gesture toward us, make some sort of "let's go" sound or gesture, and then when we'd hem/haw they'd turn to each other and start pointing at each of us again. The word "bitches" would float out. They'd occasionally come way into our personal space and stare.
If they had ASKED us to dance — "miss, could I have this dance?" — like literally every other young buck in the fucking bar, then any of us probably would have said yes. And if they'd wanted to make some conversation, we would have chatted. Instead, no contact, until the pointing and animal sounds and "you"-ing.
To zoom out for a second: I realize there is specific cultural context that not all of us share — at this kind of cowboy bar, lots of times both men and women, single or standing around with partners or mixed groups, might be asked to dance, and when you agree to do so you're not committing to anything more than a dance. We do a lot of partner dancing in these parts, and if you wanna dance you need a partner. So these guys were being HUGE dicks according to the tacit rules of this kind of environment. This is NOT how you approach potential partners. I've danced one dance with plenty of men, and they've always approached politely and kindly, and you say "thanks" to each other when the dance is over and that's that. On a related note, both the birthday girl and myself are in long term, committed relationships, and both of our partners were out of town, hence our ladies night. Dancing with strangers who ask, again due to the fact that dancing is dominated by country swing, is also the social norm regardless of relationship status — it's just considered fun and polite. (God knows it's taken me most of my life to learn to follow, so for most of my relationship DudeJeans wouldn't have been able to dance without bruising his toes if he didn't get to dance with other women!)
Just buying us drinks doesn't make you entitled to our time or bodies. And then doing it over and over again, like you're trying to recoup on an investment? It eventually made us leave. We all texted each other after we split up on our walk home to make sure everyone had made it home safe, because in a situation like that, you start worried about being followed.
It's been a long time since I had an experience that so profoundly demonstrated the way that this kind of guy thinks about women, their bodies, and sexual attention. The thing that bothers me most, now that I've shook off the anxiety, is that we just became fodder for these guys' stories about how women are selfish whores who take advantage of men and their money. You've probably overheard that story being told, right? That there was this girl at the bar and she just acted like a huge bitch, this guy bought her a drink and she wouldn't even talk to him!
The other sad part is I keep being like, "I should have just bought the damn round. I should have known better. I should have known they'd want something." Which is fucked. It was my friend's birthday, and these dickholes turned what should have been a nice gesture into a night-ender for all of us.
I wish it wasn't this way. I wish I didn't have to be constantly aware of myself as a female body in every single setting. But just existing in public (especially without the company of a man) makes you read as available for "use" to a certain kind of guy. I kind of thought things were getting better, especially in this town. Now I'm reminded — I'm just a wishful thinker.