“What’s a girl like you doing in a place?”

Recently Molly Crabapple, who is an amazing artist and commentator, tweeted about being confronted in a bar by The World’s Best Dude. Dude wanted her to know that cute girls shouldn’t be working by themselves at a bar. She should be talking to guys. Oh, she has a boyfriend? Well that boyfriend will leave her if she keeps working so late.

Crabapple is an incredible badass, so it sounds like she nailed him to a wall to the point where he left her an apology written on a napkin and paid for her coffee, but not before he and his friend moved on to critiquing the female bartender’s hair.

The thing that stood out to me reading Crabapple’s tweets, wasn’t the familiarity of this scenario for me and ever woman I know, or the entitlement this guy felt to her attention, but the fact that Crabapple is a renowned artist. And she still can’t do some work and have a fucking coffee in a bar without being subject to pick up artist bullshit*. No matter how accomplished or well known you are, if you’re a woman in public (particularly in bars) by yourself, you’re apparently fair game.

You shouldn’t have to be accomplished or famous to escape this shit. It shouldn’t be a status privilege to not be treated like a target for men in bars. But the realisation that there is literally no bounds to the entitlement some men feel to a woman having a drink at a bar by herself was, perhaps stupidly, shocking for me.

If you’re a woman of colour, a young woman, a trans woman, a queer woman, genderqueer or non-feminine-presenting woman we know that this shit is so much worse. I mean, people want to know where you come from. You look so exotic. Why are you out so late alone, shouldn’t you be home on a school night? Oh so you have a girlfriend? Can I watch? You’d look so much prettier with long hair. What does that tattoo mean? Can I see the rest? It’s a shame you’ve done that to your body.

Not only is men’s entitlement to women age-old, but new and inventive groups have been founded on this very premise. They’re called Pick Up Artists, and you should pretty much hate them.

If you think this isn’t an issue in New Zealand, that potentially Crabapple was targeted because she lives in the US and that forwardness in bars, by Pick Up Artists and otherwise, is more prevalent in the US, then think again.

Not only are there slowly blossoming Pick Up Artist “communities” throughout New Zealand, but being accosted by pushy, nosey, sleazy (and then inevitably) aggressive men is something every single one of your female friends has experienced.

I remember being out one night, putting up posters for a feminist event with a friend who is Southeast Asian. As her ethnicity is not immediately identifiable, this meant that several people (all men) who walked past us and decided to talk to us wanted to know where she was from. One of them even asked her if she identified as “a New Zealander”. After the 5th dude stopped to ask in a sickly sweet, sleazy and overly familiar way, and she answered him with astounding politeness, I asked her how she coped with it without getting angry and she responded she gets it. Every. Single. Day.

I once kissed a girl I had been seeing in Cuba Street one evening and was stopped by a group of 6+ elderly (and I mean 70 and upwards) men who leered and joked and asked where their kisses were.

Just as I was writing this blog, someone I followed tweeted about being asked by a male real estate agent “what’s a lady like you doing looking at buying a house alone?”

These are just a few stories of the dozens I could tell. And just the ones that are easy to recall and write down. Not the ones that involve being backed into a corner of a bar until I had to call for help. Not the ones about being shoved against a fence and not one person stopping to ask if I was ok. Not the ones where people get assaulted or groped as they try and remove themselves from the situation, or get called sluts for declining a dance or a drink or to tell someone their name.

Is it ok to ask someone if you can buy them a drink at a bar? Yes. I don’t think there’s anything particularly entitled about that. But while I’m sure men who want to chat to a woman insist they’re not the sort of guys who would do any of the above, the sheer volume of women who experience unwanted and uncomfortable come-ons or comments about their existence on this planet says otherwise.

Not taking no for an answer, the Pick Up Artist ‘strategy’ of “negging” and getting affronted at the idea you should maybe just leave women alone, is all part of entitlement. When it’s acceptable to view women as a goal or a target or a charming code name, then dehumanising becomes acceptable. And once you’ve reduced someone to a game or someone you have the right to weigh in on, it’s suddenly ok to wax lyrical to about her body, her piercings or her aloneness. Of course you get nasty when she tells you to fuck off. What an uppity bitch. You were just making conversation. Who does she think she is?

I would love to say that the simple answer here is just to take no for an answer, to read hesitancy and disengagement as a “no” and save yourself from becoming That Guy. But the tricky part comes when we consider the power dynamic between a women and men. It’s not as simple as ‘if she’s talking to you, she’s into it’. She could be uncomfortable with confrontation. Unsure how to shut things down. Conditioned, like many women, to be polite above all because being “bitchy” is undesirable. She could have had 100 guys before you turn nasty when she politely declines their conversation and is terrified of having that happen again.

The answer is that there is no single answer. It’s about being self aware. NOT joining a community of neckbeards who view dating as an RPG. Considering whether you really should share the life-changing nugget of information she might not have otherwise heard, like that her hair is pink. Or that she has tattoos. Or that she should smile more. It’s about recognising real warmth and when someone is comfortable and enjoying themselves, and excusing yourself without issue when they are not.

But, first and foremost, it’s about considering whether your presence is absolutely necessary when someone otherwise seems perfectly content with their coffee and their notebook.

*I have no idea if these dudes were actual Pick Up Artists, but their goal was obviously comparable.

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