Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Hey slut! Put on a sweater."

I spent most of my teenagerhood woefully underprepared for cold weather. Putting on twelve layers of clothes just to walk from the house to the car, then from the car to school, seemed like a whole lot of wasted effort to me, and heavy winter coats were a hassle to drag around all day.

This tradition continued well into my college years, when people began asking me, almost daily and unfailingly in an accusatory fashion, "AREN'T YOU COLD?!!?" At first, I thought these “helpful” folks were expressing genuine concern for my well-being. Further reflection reveals that they were, in fact, merely passing judgment on me and my choice of attire.

There are about five damn good reasons why questions of all types that begin with “aren’t” or “aren’t you” are wrong, wrong wrong:

  1. Firstly, the sentence structure is all wonky. If I remember my English lessons correctly, words like “aren’t” are to be used only as question tags, not openers. So if you want to ask the question properly, you should phrase it thusly: “You are cold, aren’t you?” which leads perfectly into the next point...
  2. “Aren’t you cold?” is a statement disguised as a question. What the person is trying to convey with the query is not gentle concern, but: “YOU ARE COLD! I DEEM IT SO!” They phrase it this way so that it’s seen as innocuous, when it’s really accusatory…
  3. …which immediately puts you, the recipient of such rudeness, on the defensive. When asked such a question, without really knowing why, you suddenly feel compelled to start explaining a behavior which needs no explanation and which the asker has no right to demand from you in the first place.
  4. They aren't asking, they're telling -- they're projecting the answer on you already and telling you there is something wrong with you for not being warmly dressed (code for "not wearing a burqa/sweater set/whatever is deemed appropriate female attire that is appealing but not too slutty), or whatever it is with which they’ve taken issue, and are in fact saying...
  5. "You aren't planning on being cold/covering up those filthy exposed shoulders/Jezebellian cleavage, and I would just like to point out that you've no decency, and clearly there is something wrong with you."

I developed a number of clever responses, ranging from the innocuous, "I'm fine, thanks," to the "What if I am? Are you going to give me your coat? NO YOU ARE NOT NOW LEAVE ME ALONE." My favorite lie-response involved making up a story about being from Alaska, and how in Alaska, we all wear t-shirts in sub-zero degree weather. I could then easily parlay the conversation into a diatribe about how much of a sissy the asker was, and how they ought to just tough up and be more like me.

Does this/has this happened to anyone else? What do you say when total strangers ask loaded questions like this one?

22 comments:

  1. I always go out in the winter without a hat or gloves or a shawl or whatever, and I always have concerned friends asking me why I'm not cold (in that tone of voice that implies I should be). But I'm pretty fat which means by the most of society's standards also unattractive, so it's never implied that I'm not covering myself up because I want to be attractive or whatever (apparently, fat women cannot ever be attractive), just that I'm being very stupid and not caring about my health and blah blah blah. I never know what to say to that. I'm fine, leave me alone, please? That doesn't work, they still treat me to a ten minute tirade about how I'll get sick and what not.

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  2. Actually, the exact opposite thing happens to me. I seem to get cold more easily than most people, for whatever reason, so I'm usually wearing a sweatshirt in the middle of the summer and listening to people ask, "Aren't you hot?!" In that case, I don't think there's any slut-shaming OR concern for my well-being. It's just a sort of a socially acceptable way to say, "Something about you is a little strange."

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  3. OH MY GODDDDD
    This always happens to me. It seems so illogical to carry around an extra 20 lbs of insulation when you're only going to shed it after a 30-second walk inside a warm building. People in Wyoming are particularly fascinated by my wear-the-Chacos-in snow behavior, and I get SO EFFING SICK of trying to defend it. Once I even responded all in Spanish, and since my Spanish capabilities are waning, I think I said something that would roughly translate as "no, this is my peanut butter, go find your own bathroom"
    Anyway, yeah. This blog needed to happen. It needs to be published somewhere. Like the NY TIMES. People need to know.

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  4. @LaurenO I think that's true of any "aren't you" questions. Like, "aren't you nervous?" "aren't you excited?" "aren't you ashamed?" I wonder if the people who ask you if you're hot pause to think about what comes out of their mouths first -- I mean, clearly if you were uncomfortable, you would simply remove the sweater.

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  5. @Prairie Feigning a language barrier, brilliant! What was the other person's response? And: What are Chacos?

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  6. @ASanePerson That's so funny -- I guess incongruent-with-the-weather dress just rubs people the wrong way. I think any way you slice it, the "aren't you cold?" questions are an attempt to enforce conformity, whether it's through slut-shaming or health-blaming. It's doubly amusing that your friends show "concern" for your health, considering conventional wisdom says that it's not cold weather that makes you catch cold, it's sitting around on your bum inside with a bunch of germy people who insist on putting on their entire wardrobes before they'll even consider putting one toesie beyond the safety zone of their thresholds.

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  7. I used to wear flip-flops in the winter, and I would always get people asking me "Aren't your feet cold?" exactly phrased that way.

    It wasn't because they thought I was being "slutty," of course, but it was still asked in that way that I had no appropriate response for. What did they want me to say? "Yes. Thanks for pointing that out. I wouldn't have known I was cold if you hadn't asked." Obviously the answer is "No," otherwise I would have worn sneakers. Or is it an offer to buy a decent pair of shoes?

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  8. Oh, you know; they just thought I was another crazy person on the streets of Ashland, haha. Chacos are the best sandals ever... I'm totally hooked: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2244/2505887340_ba2317c8c0.jpg

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  9. @A.Y. Siu: I would like to see an experiment, performed by those willing to have adventures in social awkwardness, wherein we all answer these questions by saying, "Yes, my feet/arms/whatever are horribly cold. I am so glad that you not only noticed, but expressed concern. I do hope your concern is not empty, as I am suffering greatly. Perhaps you'll consider extending your concern to action, and loaning me those warm fuzzy socks in which I see your hooves are clad?" One wonders if homeless people get these ridiculous questions -- as some of them clearly are cold. Their signs often even say so.

    And it very well could be that they thought your feet were being slutty -- or at least inappropriately clad. Women/fashion rags often effusively describe sandals as being "skin-baring" or as having "flirty peep toes/toe cleavage," which are terms reminiscent of those used to describe the more revealing types of femme-wear in general.

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  10. @Prairie Oooh those sandals do look cozy. So long as they don't have stinkifying rubber soles, I may look into those instead of this ridiculous pair I've been eyeballing. I'm trying to decide between spending my mad money on them, or a three-year subscription to Adbusters. If ever there were two more deeply conflicting interests...

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  11. Sarah, those sandals are freaking cuuuute! And, sadly, that's about how much you'd pay for a pair of chacos, but they'd be much nicer to your feet. Chacos don't have smelly rubber and they're anatomically designed so they're super comfy... oh hi, can you tell I write about shoes for a living?

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  12. Ok, so it totally snowed today. I have my Chacos on, and a friend of mine (who read this blog, because I linked her up, yo)says in jest "hey, aren't your feet cold?" and I just responded "DIEEEEEEEE!!!!". Our uninformed officemates probably think I need therapy, or at least Prozac, now, but little do they know... mwah ha ha

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  13. i wore open-toed sandals to a job interview and was told later i wasn't dressed professionally enough. not sure the shoes were part of the problem, but hm. damn. i hate job interviews.
    -tarah

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  14. @Prairie Reason the first not to live in Wyoming: Snow in almost-May! Then again, glorious beauty all year round.

    @Tarah What the WHAT? Those losers obviously don't know what they're missing out on -- a great employee whose talent and professionalism would overcome any and all toe cleavage. Crikey, you probably wouldn't want to work for a company that uptight anyway.

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  15. FYI, if a guy is telling you you look cold, he probably means he can see your nipples and wants you to get naked.

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  16. I can give you about 500 more reasons NOT to live in Wyoming just off the top of my head! Heh heh. Natural beauty? Not so much. Only in Jackson HOle. Everywhere else in wyoming is dusty, flat, brown and lifeless. I live in the freaking capitol city and they don't even have a recycling program! I have to go to Colorado to recycle. It's such a shitty shitty place. :)

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  17. @Ursus People usually don't tell me I look cold, they say, "Aren't you cold?"

    When they do tell me I look cold, it's usually because I'm shivering. 'Course, if they were leering nippleward while saying anything about being cold, the message would be pretty clear.

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  18. @Prairie I love that you have to leave the state to recycle, that's priceless. When I was angsting it in rural Oregon, we could only recycle tin cans twice a year, and we had to haul them to the dump. Most people just burned their trash. It amazes me how much modernizing hasn't happened yet in rural areas.

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  19. I really think they are surprised you aren't cold. I am constantly saying the same thing to my husband when he's in a t-shirt when it's cold.

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  20. The title of this piece is pretty damn close to being the opposite of what I spend most of my winter months yelling at even slightly attractive women, "Hey, slut! Take off the sweater."

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  21. Aimee is cold all the time, when it's any lower than 80 degrees...

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  22. @Jessica Maybe some of them. But judging by the number of anonymous complaints filed by customers when I worked in the service industry, I'm guessing at least a few of them were genuinely offended by my bare shoulders.

    @Danny Has it ever worked?

    @Mark I see moving to a tropical area in your future soon.

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