OPINION

What's a butch girl invisibility cloak?

Robyn at Coachella

"When I first moved to Chicago, I was surprised by how many straight guys seemed to construe 'has a side-shave haircut' as 'exclusively dates the ladies.' The phenomenon seems to inversely correlate to the locals' fondness for, say, Robyn..." -Kate Conway (Charley Gallay / Getty Images / April 14, 2011)

I like drinking at my neighborhood dive bar. The beers are cheap, it's approximately five steps away from my front porch, and I never have to fight to get the Blackhawks turned on.

And because I present as a fairly butch woman, the guys who take advantage of the place's ample Old Style supply don't interpret my presence as an invitation to hit on me.

When I first moved to Chicago, I was surprised by how many straight guys seemed to construe "has a side-shave haircut" as "exclusively dates the ladies." (I do often date ladies, but that's not the point.) This can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood -- the phenomenon seems to inversely correlate to the locals' fondness for, say, Robyn -- but overall, I've started thinking of my standard snapback-and-hoodie bar uniform as a kind of invisibility cloak to straight dudes.

The other day, for example, I mentioned the dive in question to my roommate. "Hey, I watched the St. Louis game in there," I said. "It was fun; we should go back sometime."

She stopped and squinted at me. "Um, I don't go in there," she said. "It's creepy. Maybe it's fine for you."

The next time I went back, I realized she was right. While the guys hanging out there flocked to many of the women who walked in, they mostly left me alone.

And you know what? I like being able to choose to be unnoticeable. Most women can attest to the skin-crawling feeling of being cornered when dudes won't take no for an answer, even in a public space like a bar. Unfortunately, dodging unwanted advances just becomes a fact of life for a lot of us. So when I want to just quietly growl at the ice sports on the television in peace, it's comforting to be able to throw on a button-up and drink a beer without being bothered.

That said, I find the implications of this invisibility to be really troubling. It reminds me that for the average straight dude, a woman is often only worth noticing if she's a potential bang. She might be a Nobel laureate or a talented lion-tamer -- but she has no value as a person unless she's apparently fuckable. In a bar, this maybe isn't a huge deal. (Like I said, I find myself frequently using it to my advantage.) But in the real world, it's just another excuse to disregard women's contributions.

There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes a woman's clothing has very little to do with the way men interact with her; some dudes are into butch women; and some dudes, heaven forbid, are genuinely down to have a casual conversation with a woman they don't want to screw.

But for the most part, the difference between "human being" and "might as well be a houseplant perched on a barstool" comes down to putting on a baseball cap.

Kate Conway is a RedEye special contributor. When she's not drinking stout and emoting over Corey Crawford's save percentage, she writes for xoJane.com.
 
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