The Sneer.

I was 8 years old and playing in the sandbox alone again. It was an activity I did a lot at that age.

The park was across the street, just behind a row of apartments which were a mirror image of our own. This was on an Air Force base, and all kitchen windows around the park gave a clear view of the playground, so none of the parents worried too much about us out there.

A kid of about 5 approached the sandbox. I didn’t know him and he was obviously younger than me, so I ignored him.

He had brought a toy sand shovel and a bucket and started playing nearby. Within about a minute he had managed to flip the sand shovel – full of sand – up into his own face. I saw it happen. I can’t remember if I laughed, but I probably did.

Face and eyes full of grit, he started to wail and, sobbing the entire time, managed to lift himself up out of the sandbox and head (for what I assumed was) home.

About three minutes after that, his mother came stomping back to the sandbox, kid in tow. She towered over me and asked me why I had thrown sand in her son’s face.

Without looking up from my latest sand project, I said, “I didn’t.”

“Well, he’s gotten sand all in his eyes and nose and it came from somewhere!”

I raised my head. With no defiance in my voice – I’d had many lessons on how adults don’t like defiant children by that time – I looked her directly in the eye and said, “He did it to himself.”

I must have scared her, because she stepped back for a moment. When she recovered, she asked, “Where do you live?”

I pointed.

“Let’s go talk to your mother!”

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t 100% sure my Mom would believe me, but I was sure this random lady was going to set her off.

I was right.

Mom met all three of us at the door. Before she could say a word, random was all over it.

“Do you know what your daughter did to my son on the playground?”

Mom stepped out onto the porch. “What did she do?”

“She threw sand in my boy’s eyes!”

Mom looked at me. “Did you throw sand in his face?”

I looked at my Mom and matter-of-factly stated, “No. He used his sand shovel wrong.”

Mom looked at random lady and said, “Looks like she didn’t do it,” and told me to go into the house.

I stood at the open front door and watched as random lady started to rant at my mother, gesticulating wildly about the indignity her son had to suffer at my 8 year old hands.

My mother held up one hand and smiled broadly, but what came out of her mouth didn’t match the look on her face. Her exact words are lost to time, but her response was something to the effect of don’t tell me you can’t tell when you’re kid is lying, because I can tell when mine is, and this time she is telling the truth, so go back to whatever rock you came out from under or this will get ugly.

Random lady left. We never encountered her again.

That was the moment I learned the value of a good, solid sneer.

*****

I briefly “dated” a boy in 7th grade. I put “dated” in quotes because it lasted maybe three weeks and didn’t involve anything other than hanging out during breaks and kissing a little.

It ended when one of my best friends came to me after school and said she’d seen him kissing some other girl behind the gym.

The next day, I approached the boy, ensuring we met in a secluded spot at school. There were teachers nearby, of course, but they were conveniently just out of sight and earshot. I smiled and asked him through clenched teeth – a sneer of my own, learned from the best – if he was seeing that other girl.

He wasn’t scared of me. He smirked, looked me in the eye defiantly, and said, “Yes.”

I punched him. Shocked, he didn’t have a chance to retaliate as I walked away calmly, that smile still on my face, toward a group of teachers.

*****

My best friend and I were walking between her house and mine when I was 16. It was dusk and as we approached a street to cross, a small car rolled to a halt at the stop sign.

The guy inside the car said, “I wonder if you ladies can help me, I seem to be lost …”

By that time I’d read up on several serial killers and had been warned of girls who disappeared in our own neighborhoods, but we were traveling as a pair, there was no one else in the guy’s tiny car, and we were feeling adventurous.

We walked to the driver’s side window only to see he was holding his erect dick in one hand. He didn’t get the response he wanted, though. We both sneered and started to laugh and taunt him.

“Ooooh, is that all you’ve got?”

“You think girls like the little ones?”

“Throw it back, it’s too small!”

He took off, tires squealing as we continued to call after him.

“So sorry about your weiner, hon!”

“Hey, don’t be mad! Come back when it’s bigger!”

*****

My senior year in high school, the girl who sat next to me in choir was hit by a car and killed. After a very emotional morning in that room, her empty chair beside me the entire time, I meandered my way to my next class in a bit of a daze.

I sat down in my chair and heard the teacher ask why several of us were so gloomy. Before any of us could answer, the class asshole (we’d call him a dude-bro today), who sat next to me all semester, took it upon himself to announce really loudly, “Some stupid bitch got hit by a car yesterday and died.”

I calmly laid my books on the table, waited for our teacher to turn away, and leaned in as close to his face as I could. The sneer was well-rehearsed by then, so it came naturally.

“That ‘stupid bitch’ was my friend, dickweed. If you say another word about it, I will punch you.”

The best part is he had to sit next to me for the duration of the class. He didn’t say a word to me for the rest of the term, either.

*****

I was freshly 21 and met a guy for a date at a local bar. It was early evening and there were just five of us there – me, my date, the bartender, and a couple of barflies. We’d chosen the spot because we knew we wouldn’t be bothered with a big crowd or loud music.

During our “getting to know you” chat, I learned he was a cop. He didn’t tell me initially, because he’d had bad luck asking women on dates after they knew. It didn’t worry me at all; he was hot, smart, and exceedingly polite. I think he’s a retired detective now, in fact.

After a couple of cocktails, my date excused himself to the restroom. The microsecond he was out of sight, one of the barflies approached me and asked, “What’s a purty girl like you doing with dirt like that?” and placed his hand directly on my ass cheek.

The bartender started to move in my direction, but I gave him a genuine smile and a nod indicating I’d handle it myself.

Smile still on my face and looking the barfly directly in the eye, I removed his hand from my ass and moved it, ever so slowly and sensually past my waist, making him think he was going to get a tit in his palm. Very close to boob and fully off-guard, though, he got the sneer as I shoved him to the floor without even standing up from my barstool.

The bartender guffawed. My date exited the restroom, saw the barfly on the floor, and asked if there was a problem.

I laughed a little, shook my head and said, “No problem here.” Then I downed my cocktail and we went to my place.

No second date, but it was just as well. He was terrible in the sack. And this was the opinion of a 21 year old girl, no less.

*****

I found myself without a car for about a year when I was 27, but I was in college and lived close to campus, so I only had to take city transportation to work and back.

One evening on the way home, on a standing-room only bus, I felt a hand creep up my thigh to my ass. I looked down to see a Hispanic man in a seat smiling, gap-toothed, up at me. I grinned, took his hand in mine (my modus operandi at this point it seems), and raised it high in the air while yelling at the top of my lungs:

“WHY IS THIS HAND ON MY ASS?! CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHY THIS HAND RIGHT HERE IS ON MY ASS?!”

Humiliated, the man got off the bus at the next stop. Never saw him again.

*****

Same bus route, about a year later, a different Hispanic man was leaning over and hassling a teen girl. Her body language screamed discomfort; she kept pulling her bag closer to her and the window in an attempt to get away from him.

She looked so small and lost, I couldn’t just stand by. I walked up to him and said, “Dude, leave her alone.”

He reeled on me. “I’m just telling her she’s pretty,” he spat back at me.

I raised my voice and out came the old smiling sneer. “She’s more than pretty – she’s beautiful. And she doesn’t need YOU to tell her.”

“Mind your own business, bitch!”

“I will not. Her business IS my business.”

At that moment, two other women left their seats to join me, because it only takes one shepherd for the herd to follow (fucking sheep, don’t get me started). The three of us had him surrounded and were moving him away from the girl’s seat. He protested, but his voice got smaller and less demanding.

As we maneuvered, one of the other women said something so brilliant, I’ve never forgotten her exact words:

“Gone are the days when we women live or die by what you men think of us. “

To this day, I don’t know why she wasn’t the shepherd on that bus. Maybe she became one after that.

The man got off at the next stop, mumbling the entire way about how he couldn’t “compliment” girls anymore. Never saw him again, either.

*****

Concert in 2002. My love and I met up with two new friends, a hetero couple, to enjoy the show.

Sometime during the event, the other woman developed a cling-on. That’s what we call a man, usually a drunk one, who just will not take “NO” for an answer. He followed her all over the place, trying to start a conversation, or just hanging around close enough to make it uncomfortable.

She eventually lost patience with the guy and, while the three of us couldn’t hear the conversation, we saw everything from our vantage point.

She looked around to ensure security and bartenders were busy.

Smile. Hand on shoulder. Sneer. Lean in to his ear to explain some version of lay off or things are going to get nasty.

She walked away toward us, still smiling.

It was the first time I’d seen another grown-ass woman other than my mother stand up for herself with that sneer. That particular incident escalated into involving venue security, but at least she tried.

*****

Just a few years ago, my love and I went out for Halloween. In the smoking area of the club, a homeless man came by asking for cigarettes and/or change.

I don’t smoke and was wearing a full Marie Antoinette costume with no pockets or purse. I told the man I didn’t have anything for him. He persisted. I said, “Where do you think I keep this stuff?”

He pointed to my chest and said, “You could keep it in there.”

I laughed out loud and told him to get lost. He grabbed my arm.

Smile. Pause. Sneer.

I knocked him up alongside the head, open-palm.

Security at the club was on him before you could say “Trick or Treat.”

*****

I am not a violent person. I just know how to deal with certain personality types who don’t respond to anything else. The stories I’ve shared here are also some of the harshest examples; there have been lesser situations, but they don’t make good stories.

The long and the short of it is I don’t put up with bad behavior, not in private and especially not in public. My rule is simple: If Emily Post or Miss Manners would admonish you for what you’re about to do, don’t do it. More than that, though, I can’t abide anyone whose intention is to make me or those around me fearful.

Unfortunately, I am an anomaly. Women who refuse to be trod underfoot, who will ignore fear and repercussion in the face of harassment, abuse, or near violence, women who stand up for themselves regardless of risk or consequence are rare. Problem is, we shouldn’t be.

I don’t mean putting your life on the line. That’s stupid and absurd. I’m talking about handling those moments in public when a hand is on your ass, or you’re being involuntarily “complimented,” or a cling-on won’t leave you alone, all by yourself. If you do it with dignity, aplomb, discretion, just the right smiling sneer, and the will to make the person who is acting uncivilly understand they are in the wrong, you win every time.

Consider for a moment what happens when you don’t immediately cut off the creeper on the bus or in the coffee shop: They get the idea their behavior is, if not welcome, at least not all that bad. Worse, some will continue to harass until they are called out on it.

Yes, a percentage of these idiots will escalate. Stalkers exist. Rapists exist. Murderers exist. That’s why I said to respond bravely in public. I’m not stupid. I wonder how many of them ever heard a solid “NO” before they became a stalker, rapist, or murderer though? Perhaps such escalation could be nipped in the bud …?

Online complaints about creepers, harassers, touchers, and other weirdos help spread the word, of course, but doing absolutely nothing about it – as the harassed OR as a bystander – doesn’t make it stop. It just tells the creeper the person they’ve chosen is weak enough to prey upon again.

You can stand up, step in, and speak out to help make a more civilized society, or you can hide behind a screen, posting about how awful it was and how scared you felt. Up to you. But wouldn’t it be awesome if the anomaly became the norm and the creepers had to either learn a better way to deal with women or return to the bridges they came out from under?

It could happen, if we give up the irrational fear that every man, everywhere, is out to harm. Some do fall into that category, but certainly not all. Most are just clueless about how to treat women. Some have even changed their behavior after being told they’re wrong. It’s true! I seen it!

Listen, life is full of risks; winners calculate the right ones to take and when. If you are indeed a strong, independent, 21st century woman, start acting like one: Risk being treated like a whole human being, with feelings, rights, and freedoms. True equality won’t exist until we demand it, so let’s start demanding.

Find your boundaries. Set ‘em. Take no gumption. Say “NO” and mean it. Give a good sneer.

Watch what happens.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

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