It’s very hard when we expose ourselves and then someone chooses to challenge or mock us.
The odds are that they aren’t acting from any corporate policy, but rather from their own sense of moral superiority or their own fear, or both.
In other words, their response tells more about them than it does about us.
The problem is that the worst way to explain to someone that you are a woman is to tell them.
The best way is always to show them.
What this means is that you have to have a tool kit of defenses ready. Everyone has that, learned in adolescence and honed over the years, but shifting gender means shifting those defenses to woman, just like it means shifting desire to woman. And the line between desire and abuse has always been close, from the kid who punches the girl he likes to the homophobe who needs to extend the defenses he uses to hold his internal desires in check to those who walk in the world letting their own desire show.
As a woman, I’ll guarantee you that the gal in the store has faced her share of jerks in the past. Roll your eyes at her, and she’ll smile, the two of you bonding over what kind of dicks men can be.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t complain. It’s good for stores to have diversity policies. I certainly have complained in the past, and it has sensitized the venue.
But the challenge isn’t getting people to follow policy. It’s getting people to open their hearts. And that’s why it’s usually better to start with peers, to find support, to puncture the punctilious.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” said Eleanor Roosevelt. Every bully in school knows that too; it’s no fun to pick on someone who doesn’t get upset by the jabs.
It’s hard to walk in the world as a phobogenic object, one many people think they have not only the right to fear, but also the right to humiliate and the right to destroy, according to the doctrine of their own church. I think of Tyra Hunter who bled to death while a Washington DC ambulance attendant stopped treating when he found that she had male genitalia.
But their choices are about them, not about you. And when others see you attacked, they often have compassion. It’s hard to smile and take power in your own self-knowledge when someone is hitting you in a sensitive place, but when you handle the hits with grace & wit, keeping your center, well, you stand the chance of finding allies and changing minds.
By all means, stand up for rights by complaining.
But also learn to stand up everyday, by finding ways you can not let the idiots get you down, by finding ways that you can connect with allies.
As women, our power is in our connection with others, including other women. And when you can connect with that in confidence , you can stand in the moment.
“Does he always enjoy mocking customers like this?” you can ask.
The answer will probably be yes. It’s about him, not you. Admittedly, this may be cold comfort when you are the one who ends up with the bruises and scars, but it is true.
Show him you take it like a woman you age handles any other idiot boy.
And of course, being a woman who hasn’t been out as much as your age might suggest, well, that will probably take some consideration & practice.