November 15, 2019

Be Pretty. But Not Too Pretty.

Essay
By Katy Bertodatto | Oct. 12, 2019

A year ago, I had an incident while attending a children’s book writers conference in Manhattan. The evening before the final day of the conference, I dropped by the hotel lounge to have a glass of wine before heading to bed. I met a man who was also at the conference. We chatted for a bit at the bar.

The following was relayed to me the next day because I do not remember finishing my second glass of wine.
 
I stood up from my bar stool to take my leave and immediately slumped. My legs didn’t work. In an effort to control myself, I managed to knock an earring from my ear and grasped the man next to me for support. He tried to remove me from the lounge. The bartenders, recognizing something was amiss, tried to stop him. We managed to cause such a commotion that the women at a nearby table stepped in to see what was going on. One woman took hold of me and looking directly into my face asked, “Are you with this man?”
I managed to reply a very assured, “No.”
She told me the following day that I looked terrified, fighting for control.
 
When she attempted to remove me from the grasp of the man, he became aggressive, insisting that he would take care of me. The bartenders, clearly good at their jobs, which requires far more than slinging drinks, stopped the man from taking me from her.
 
She took me to the elevator, which the man tried to enter with us. He was blocked by another employee. The man took the stairs and met us in the lobby, where he again attempted to disentangle me from the woman. She held firm. The doorman in the lobby saw the confrontation and forced the man to leave. Before he did, this man — another writer, a colleague, of sorts — snarled at the woman holding me up, “I’m not going to hurt your precious Katy.” Then he stormed off into the night.
 
I woke up the following day, with no recollection of the evening before and the worst hangover of my life, recognizing only that I was late to the final events of the conference. It was there I ran into the woman who had saved me — potentially saved my life.
I later learned another female conference attendee was drugged and raped, a few blocks away, only a couple hours after my incident.
 
I have spent more than a year trying to sort out that night. What I did. What I should have done. What I should be doing now.
 
What was I wearing?
 
What was my body language?
 
What did I say? What did I do?
 
How did I attract this attention?
 
I have since relayed this story to numerous friends here in northern Michigan and beyond. I found something interesting in doing so. Most men were shocked — absolutely astounded and appalled that something like this could happen. Outrage and disbelief were a common thread.
 
Good. They should be outraged. But the disbelief?
 
Not a single woman expressed disbelief. Not a single woman was completely shocked. Why? Because every single one of them had stories of their own. One hundred percent of the women I spoke to had at least one, if not multiple, incidences of sexual harassment, assault, and rape of their own.
 
Every. Single. One.
 
What do we do with this information? In the past, we have used stories like mine to teach our daughters to be wary, to be careful of what they wear, how they act, how much they drink, be mindful of the positions they put themselves in. That’s what I learned.
 
But I don’t remember finishing my second glass of wine at a professional conference where I was wearing slacks, a crisp button-up, and heels.
 
Maybe it was the heels. Maybe it was my blonde hair, my mascara, my lipstick — be pretty but not too pretty. Grasp attention, command a room, be confident, but if you do, be aware that it might be your fault if you get too much attention, the wrong kind of attention.
 
I have two sons. I hear over and over how lucky I am that I don’t have daughters, that I don’t have to raise girls in this world where they have to be wary. Bulls**t. There is a generation coming up behind me, a generation saying no. They are a generation of women who instead of accepting the education that “this will happen, and this is how you deal with it” are saying No, this is not acceptable. They do not accept our tools of tolerance for male impulsivity. Watch where you walk, watch what you do, watch what you wear, how you act, what you say, what you don’t say. No.
 
Boys, my boys, my brothers, my friends, my colleagues, please. Please watch what you say, how you act, what you do, what you allow others to do. Please.
 
A feminist is not anti-men. By definition, a feminist is a person who supports the belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. I couldn’t possibly make a more prolific plea than Ruth Bader Ginsberg when she said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

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