I’m Not A Female Scientist, And I Feel Guilty

While we lament about the lack of women in STEM, I always wonder where I went wrong.


This is what you get when you Google “woman scientist.” Stock photography is…the worst?

Dear Emily,

It’s okay that you aren’t in the field of math or science.

We spend a lot of time encouraging more girls and women to stick with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields—and that is fantastic. Women are underrepresented in those fields.

But that’s not your fault.

So you’re a writer. Guess what? Women writers are underrepresented, too. But without even worrying about that—I just want you to know that it’s okay. I know, you want to beat the odds. You want to be the woman fighting, not the woman joining the throng. And when people talk about how girls are discouraged away from math and science and go into softer fields, you feel guilty, and start looking around suspiciously at the adults in your life, wondering which one of them did this to you—which one of them turned you into a pathetic, girly writer?

Was it Dad? The nights he stayed up reading aloud with all the voices? Or maybe Mom? Who read everything you wrote and announced that you were the most creative person ever? Was it Mrs. Dvorak? Who gave you creative writing prompts that made you so excited and yet so mad because your fourth grade writing comprehension level didn’t have enough words to describe the story you had smoldering in your brain? Yes…yes. That must have been it. They’ve ruined you. They’ve done this. It’s their fault you always loved writing.

You’re actually not bad at math, it just seems like you’re bad at math now because you’re bad at tipping, which is the only math anyone has to do as an adult: mental math. Then again, you’re also bad at the equivalent in writing—that is, writing something in your head on the fly while people are waiting. Whether it’s numbers or words, you’ve always needed to see the thing laid out. Your brain is a terrible place for organization—it’s a confused, disorganized mess that doesn’t remember anything. Why would you want to do math up there?

So you’re not a computer engineer or a microbiologist or some other male-dominated occupation. There’s nothing you can do about that now. (I mean technically you could go back to school but ugh.) Maybe it was all the encouragement from the adults in your life that made you a writer. Or maybe there was subtle, internalized discouragement that steered you away from STEM. But I seem to recall hundreds of conversations where people told you “women aren’t as funny as men” that you didn’t believe and you didn’t listen to. So maybe you listened to the things you wanted to hear, and followed your heart. Maybe for you, science was never in the cards.

That doesn’t mean you can’t encourage more girls and women to do those things. You can still support them and give them as much respect as the men in their field. And if you have a daughter one day, you can read her books in all the voices and tell her how creative she is, and buy her beakers for her at-home chemistry set. And then let her decide what makes her happy.

Dear Guys: It’s Okay If You Don’t Like ‘Girls’

It’s also okay if you don’t like girls, but that’s a different blog post altogether.


I’ve heard it a few times recently: straight guys lamenting that they don’t like Girls and they just don’t get it. Ladies lamenting that their boyfriends find the show boring.

So here’s what I want to remind those guys: It’s okay that you don’t like Girls. Girls isn’t about you, and it isn’t for you. But that doesn’t make it boring. That just makes it boring to you.

I know these girls. I was these girls. My friends have been these friends. We’ve said these things and we’ve made these mistakes and we’ve felt these feelings. And it’s okay if you’re not that into it, but don’t call it boring–recognize that you aren’t the target and move on.

Most shows and movies and books are centered around straight white guys, and that’s why they’re interesting to you. I have had to watch those same movies and TV shows—not by force, but by lack of options. Do you think Wolverine is that interesting to me? Or Big Bang Theory? Or Die Hard? Or Major League Baseball? I’m not the actor in those stories. I’m not the hero. I can’t put myself in those plot lines and pretend they might happen to me. I don’t see myself reflected in those people. But for what may be the first time ever in my life, I do see myself when I watch Girls.

When Lena Dunham takes off her shirt, it’s not for you. She’s taking it off for me—okay, hear me out. It’s not for me to ogle, but it’s because women in real life take off their shirts every day in a non-sexual way, simply because they need to change. And their hair doesn’t cascade down their back as they do it, and it doesn’t happen in slow motion, and their body jiggles back into place when they put their arms back down. She does it for me, because I’m a human being, too.

Girls is not about you, and that’s okay. You don’t need to like it; all you need to do is recognize that I watch shows all the time that aren’t about me–it’s the way of life for me. And recognize that a show written for someone other than you sometimes frustrates you, and think about that feeling, and think about how other people—gay people, women, people of color, feel while they watch shows with a straight white male hero.

When I told Joe about this post, he responded that it wasn’t that he doesn’t like Girls. It’s that he almost likes Girls and it’s frustrating because there’s just something about it that it lacks. I suggested that it was lacking a straight white male main character. We mulled over Adam and Ray for a few minutes and decided they didn’t really count because they were still mostly there for the female characters. Then Joe hit on something: it’s not that it lacks a proper straight white male character, it’s that it lacks a truly likable female character–no love interest. There was no Zooey Deschanel or Mila Kunis or Jenna Fischer. Every lady on the show has major flaws. It’s a very good point. Of course, I can say that real women have flaws and then point to Knocked Up or Billy Madison and say that women constantly watch movies and TV without a viable love interest for themselves, but I think you guys are already ahead of me there, right?

Some guys like Girls. That’s great. Some ladies don’t like Girls. That’s okay, too. Everyone doesn’t have to like everything, because different shows speak to different people. And that’s the point.

What I Learned About The Ad Industry By Leaving It


Dear Younger Emily,

You know what professions should be tough to do? Medicine. The Federal Bureau of Investigations. SEAL Team Six (you don’t know what that is yet, but trust me—they’re good).

Advertising should not be so hard.

You’ll leave Advertising on accident pretty soon—the job you find in San Francisco will broaden your horizons past copywriting and you won’t look back. You’ll have opportunities to go back, and each time it comes up, you’ll feel like Princess Jasmine in that final second before the sand engulfs her. You’ll remember all the jealous put-downs of other people’s work, the disrespect from recruiters, the windowless cubicles, and you’ll wonder why you felt like such a strong person for putting up with it.

Advertising is not the Marine Corps. You shouldn’t have to be tough-as-nails to do it—sure, you should get used to good ideas going nowhere because that’s just what happens as a creative person, but you shouldn’t have to be a certain caliber of toughness, you should just have to be a creative person with good ideas, and the place you work should do the rest to make sure those ideas happen.

You shouldn’t be desperate for attention. You shouldn’t have your emails ignored. You shouldn’t believe your next job will happen as soon as this one gets around to firing you. If your ideas aren’t getting produced but your ideas are good, someone should be wondering what they aren’t giving you, not waiting for the perfect opportunity to get rid of you.

You also shouldn’t be concerned about middle age while you’re in your twenties. If ad agencies want to show respect to their more experienced employees who have put decades of hard work into the company, they could send those people to conferences and classes and help them learn the changing space of Advertising, not work them to the bone to the very end and then fire them.

And for Christ’s sake, if all their employees are asking for a fridge, they should buy a goddamn fridge.

If you feel whiny or entitled for saying any of this, just remember that if the ad industry wants happy, creative people, they should foster happiness and creativity, not fear and self-doubt. Once you’re in tech, you’ll have to retrain yourself to notice bad experiences. When something is buggy or broken, you can’t just refresh or ignore it anymore, you’ll be expected to report the bug and help make the experience better for others. You’ll have meetings where your manager asks you what they can do to make your experience at the company better, and how they can help foster your creativity. Phrases like “just keep your head down and keep working” will no longer serve as acceptable words of encouragement.

Certainly ad agencies don’t need to spend tech-level money to keep their employees happy. I’m not talking indoor slides and swimming pools. I’m just saying: you deserve to be happy at your job, and you should demand more from your employer.

But right now, you’re still putting up with it. And why? To make cat food coupons? No. It’s because, tiny baby Emily, you’re still clinging onto the glimmer of hope that one day you’ll make a good ad—you’ll make “1984” or you’ll teach the world to sing or you’ll meet Jon Hamm. The thing is, spending years being miserable isn’t worth it. It might mean you won’t get laid off this year, but I make no guarantees. Advertising doesn’t value its employees, because there are a dozen other people waiting to take your place—more people, like you, who want mild fame without having to move to LA. So your employers don’t really care how they can help you get better, they’d rather just wait for you to mess up.

Maybe it’s only like this at the “dinosaur agencies” employing you. Maybe the newer, hipper ones have more respect for the people who keep their company running. But the main problem seems to be widespread: negativity is everywhere in that business, because everyone is worried that they’ll never make a good ad again and be laid off, and they’d rather put down other people’s work than admit their own jealousy and fear.

You don’t have to stay. You don’t have to come home crying because some misogynistic ad agency (the one who encouraged men to take back the power from women by wearing khakis) is making you write a sexist ad about cleaning supplies—they’re not making you do anything, because you are in control of your life.

You thought you would like advertising a lot more, and you just don’t. That doesn’t mean your measly years have been wasted—you’ve still learned a lot. You’ve learned about work ethic, about concise writing, about presenting your ideas. So now take that and go where you’re appreciated. Go where you can do something that matters. Go where you aren’t in constant fear for your job, despite all the work you do. Go and make things you can be proud of.

I want to thank this Slate article about women programmers for inspiring my post today. The man who wrote it said this: “One trite retort is ‘Well, your friend should’ve been tougher and not given up so easily. If she wanted it badly enough, she should’ve tried again, even knowing that she might face resistance.’ These sorts of remarks aggravate me. Writing code for a living isn’t like being a Navy SEAL sharpshooter. Programming is seriously not that demanding, so you shouldn’t need to be a tough-as-nails superhero to enter this profession.” Which is a different point than the one I’m making, but still an awesome one.

Why I Demand A Woman Cave

The idea of a Man Cave is problematic. But all that goes away if we can also create Woman Caves (or something more clever-sounding).


The library from Beauty and the Beast…aka, my dream Woman Cave.

I assumed everyone already understood why “Man Caves” are lame and sexist. But it turns out I’m wrong.

I just discovered a Pinterest board (created by Pinterest themselves) called Man Cave Essentials. Here’s the description: “Every man needs a place to unwind and hang out with friends. From chilled pint glasses to fancy remote controls, we’ve got all the tricks to help customize your own man cave.”

I get it, Pinterest. You’re trying to prove that there’s a space for men on your site, which I agree with and which we can talk about later. But I want a board called “Woman Cave” (or, you know, something more clever-sounding).

Why the Man Cave is sexist
Here’s the big reason that the Man Cave is problematic, from Unapologetically Female:

“The concept of a man cave in a home is a sexist concept in itself…its perceived necessity derives from the traditional notion that the home (and all the work within it) is entirely the woman’s domain.”

Agreed. But then someone commented on that post and said this:

“I think women are missing the point that in most relationships the woman takes over and delegates design and decoration choices for the entire house. Supposed Frat-boy items and decorations end up in storage while frilly girly crap fills their former spaces. Also, given the choice a woman would be satisfied with 19 inch Tube TV.”

First of all, heck no I would not be satisfied with some crappy TV. I want to watch my Scandal in high def, son. Or whatever. Pixels? Look, I may not know that much about TV specs, but that doesn’t mean I’d be happy with an old TV. It just means I would need to do research before I buy my next one.

But I actually agree with you, Anonymous commenter, that sometimes women take over the decoration of their house and choose a bunch of “frilly, girly crap” their partner doesn’t like. I personally admit that our home has a few things that are too girly for Joe (my wrought iron phase was very real and it was very intense, let’s leave it at that). But we try. In my opinion, if you don’t feel like your home is yours, that’s a problem. That being said, it’s both people’s responsibility to make sure a place feels right for them as a couple, so if you’re leaving all the decoration work to your partner, it’s not their fault when their style works its way in.

Saying a man needs his own space because the rest of the house “belongs to the woman” is horrible. You mean I get stuck with boring practical things like curtains and silverware, and Joe gets a giant TV and a keg? I don’t thinks so. As you already know, I refuse to let the practical decision be my desire while the fun things are his.

Women need to recharge, too.
If one person has their own space but the other doesn’t, that’s bad for both people. It means she has to share everything, without a space to call her own. And despite conventional wisdom, women need to be alone and recharge, too. Sure, lots of us work through our problems by talking to other people and that can make us seem more needy. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve quiet time. Even Shosh needs quiet time. And a woman who never has any time or space to recharge is not a fun woman to be around—trust me, I’ve been that woman. Wide-eyed and on edge, oh yes. I’m a ball of gas at that point. But having a space for retreat could be a great way to feel refreshed and come back ready to be a better, more supportive partner.

So what’s the solution?
Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with a man wanting his own personal space. I just ask for equal opportunity alone time. I need to unwind, too. I have friends, too. That’s why I demand a Man Cave and Woman Cave.

In case you’re still confused and can’t imagine what a woman’s solitary space might look like (“Isn’t that called a kitchen? Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.”) (Ugh), here is what I’d put in my Woman Cave:

1. Wall-to-wall books, Beauty and the Beast style.

2. A giant TV, with surround sound please and thank you. I want to hear Betty Draper sigh from every corner of the room.

3. Soundproof wall panels, so I can listen to whatever song I want on full blast—including the times I listen to one song on repeat all day. It happens.

4. One of those window nooks like all the imaginary princesses have for reading and drinking tea and looking longingly out the window when it rains.

5. Since I don’t care about sports, I’ll have shrines to the things I do root for: a framed jersey for Team Meryl, a video loop of Jennifer Lawrence meeting Jack Nicholson, and a pennant that just says, “Christina Yang.

6. A whiskey bar. As Ron Swanson says, “Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets” and he is not wrong and I am not on a diet. Speaking of which:

7. Cheese. Lots of cheese. Just…constantly there is cheese somehow.

The downside to a Woman Cave
The problem with my demand for equal alone space is obvious: who has the money for two extra rooms in their home? Not many. Not me, currently. So what do you do if you don’t have two extra rooms? Do you give up? (“NO!!!” yells the enraged mob I’ve assembled in the town square) Do you use only one extra room as a place you could take turns in? (“MAYBE!!” yells the mob.) If you have no extra rooms, do you just—gasp!—both try and be aware of the other when you decorate your co-spaces? (“THAT SOUNDS REASONABLE ALTHOUGH NOT NEARLY AS FUN AS THE TWO ROOM CONCEPT!”)

Okay but now I’m seriously asking. What can you do? How can you make sure you both have your little spaces? What kinds of spaces do you have already? Or, ladies, if you have a Woman Cave (real or imaginary), what’s in it? Oh no, I just realized how dirty the phrase “Woman Cave” is. Ugh, it’s a stupid phrase anyway. Anyone have a better suggestion? Lady Space? Woman Domain?

Christmas Movies and The Bechdel Test

At some point this year, I learned about The Bechdel Test. And now that I know about it, Christmas is ruined. Well, the movies anyway.

The Bechdel Test gauges gender bias in movies. For a movie to pass the test, it must meet three simple requirements:

  1. The movie must have at least two female characters in it
  2. These women have to talk to each other
  3. The conversation has to be about something besides a man

It’s a laughable list, which makes it all the more sad when you realize how many movies—including current movies—fail the test. As my friend Emily said, “The point is that the female characters are not decoration, are not foils or objects. They have agency, autonomy, and lives that clearly exist independently from the male characters on screen.”

So with this in test mind, I’ve started watching my annual Christmas movies, and I’ve been amazed at how many movies don’t make the cut. From the classics to films from this century, almost every Christmas film either fails the test or barely skates by.

Christmas movies that fail the Bechdel Test

1. It’s a Wonderful Life

It's A Wonderful Life5

Unsurprising for how old this movie is, and the fact that the entire movie revolves around one man. But considering how many women are in this film, it’s a little silly that none of them speak to each other. Mary, George’s mom, that blonde hussy, George’s daughters…none of them. And Mary becoming a librarian spinster? I mean REALLY.

2. A Christmas Story

shoot your eye out

Unless you count the mom and teacher cackling “You’ll shoot your eye out!” while dressed as a witch and jester. Which I don’t.

3. Elf


While this movie is amazing, as far as this test goes, it’s a miserable failure. Along with Love Actually, it’s the newest film on either list, at (prepare yourself) 2003 (I warned you). Until the mom starts singing with Zooey Deschanel at the end of the movie, no two women even look at each other, let alone have a conversation.

4. Love Actually


Granted, it’s theoretically hard to have two women talk to each other when the movie is about heterosexual love, so I ALMOST give this one a pass. But then you remember all the conversations that men have with each other in this movie–Billy Mack’s radio interview, Mr. Bean creating so much more than a bag, Billy Bob as President Clintbush—and it’s a lot less okay that no women speak to one another.

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas

charlie brown christmas

Lucy passes out roles for the play, and the girls respond to their roles. But these are not conversations, they are interactions at best.

6. Any version of A Christmas Carol, including A Muppet Christmas Carol

piggy christmas carol

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the Muppets, and this movie is my absolute favorite Christmas movie, possibly my favorite movie of all time. But the only conversation between two women in Muppet Christmas Carol is between Miss Piggy and her daughters, Belinda and Betina. They discuss when Tiny Tim and their father (Kermit) is coming home. It pains me to put this movie in a disparaging list of any kind, but I can’t in good conscience say that it passes the test. I would blame Dickens, but this is a movie with two Marleys. They could have made it work.

7. Home Alone

Home Alone 1990 - Catherine O'Hara screams

The only conversation between two women happens when Catherine O’Hara tries to get back home. These conversations revolve around her son, a male character.

8. The Santa Clause

Tim Allen and Paige Tamada in The Santa Clause.

The first one is a flop (Bechdel Test-wise, of course). The second and third installments might do better, but I really don’t feel like watching them to find out. Anyone want to enlighten me on those?

9. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudoph Mrs Donner Clarice women

I assume Mrs. Donner and Clarice have lots of conversations during their hunt for Rudolph. Sadly, we don’t get to hear any of them.

10. Frosty The Snowman


Poor Karen. No other girls to talk to, and her only friend is murdered in front of her eyes by a magician. Seriously, this movie has bigger issues than the Bechdel Test.

11. White Christmas

white christmas

There are three brief conversations between women in this film:
1. A conversation between the sisters about the men, which evolves into calling Rosemary Clooney a mother hen who worries too much.
2. Mary Wickes tells the women that the hotel won’t need them to perform.
3. Judy tells Rosemary Clooney that she should eat something before bed, a trick to get her to see Bing Crosby in the kitchen.
It’s a debatable one, but I just couldn’t count any of these three as a real conversation between two women about non-men. Also, Bing Crosby mentions dragging the women off the train by their hair. It has nothing to do with the Test, but it doesn’t help their case.

Christmas movies that pass the Bechdel Test

1. Little Women

little women PM

This movie is the only one on this list that really, truly passes the Bechdel Test (the rest are at D-levels), and some may argue it’s not even a Christmas film. Marmee essentially summarizes the entire point of the test: “Do you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that some day you might find yourself believing it’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty. But what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind. Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you.”

2. Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas:

ma otter

This Muppet movie does make the cut: Ma Otter has a couple conversations with other female Muppets.

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

christmas vacation

This one passes the test thanks to the one conversation between two women: the mother and daughter have a conversation about how the extra house guests are ruining the daughter’s life. Although this conversation mentions four different men, so, you can decide if it should pass.

4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (with Jim Carrey)


This one is also debatable, and I’d love to hear you weigh in. Now, the cartoon Grinch isn’t on either list–since there is one tiny exchange in the entire movie, I’m leaving it neutral (although I guess technically it fails according to the Test). But the feature film has a few added female characters and more opportunity for conversation. There is one brief exchange between Martha May and Molly Shannon about their Christmas lights. Is it enough to count? That’s for you to decide.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (both versions)


Another near fail for both versions. The mother and daughter speak almost exclusively about Santa Claus. And the lawyers, the judge, and the businesspeople (beside the mom) are all men. There are a lot of conversations between men. But in both movies, the mom and daughter do speak about faith, a concept arguably bigger than Santa as a man. What do you think? Does talking about believing in Santa count?

So What?

For those keeping score at home, that’s 11 fails and 5 passes, with only one strong pass, Little Women. Maybe unsurprisingly, Little Women is also the only film in either list with a female as the main character (except for Love Actually, which has no main character). Something to ponder.

And so what? Are Christmas movies really ruined? Does it mean we can’t watch the movies that don’t pass? Absolutely not. You can take away Muppet Christmas Carol when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. And even then, I would really prefer to be buried with it. But what the Bechdel Test means to me is awareness. Awareness of how women are viewed in a given movie, and the roles they’re allowed to play. Who is giving them a voice, and what does that voice sound like? How much worth is being placed on women and the things they have to say? And what can we do to make sure every movie, not just the Christmas ones, passes that simple test from here on? That’s what this test is all about, Charlie Brown.

For those  interested in further discussions about gender inequality in film, check out this infographic or this article by Geena Davis.

Wedding Drama: Location, Location, Location


We’re barely into planning our wedding, and already Joe and I have come upon our first bout with wedding drama. I say first, because I have ears and eyes and am a living human being and so I understand that wedding planning comes rife with drama. And lo and behold, here is some of it:

No one will be able to come to this wedding.

Sure, we haven’t even set a date or found a venue or sent out invitations, but we’re fairly convinced that no one will show up. Joe and I will plan for a big amazing wedding and everyone will decline the invite, or they’ll show up and hate us for making them do it and everything will be terrible and let’selopeohmygodIcan’tbreathe.

So, yeah. Drama. Mostly exaggerated drama, but drama nonetheless.

The reason for the worry is this: we live in San Francisco, but nearly everyone we know lives in the Midwest, where we grew up and lived until we moved to California two years ago for work and adventure. So a San Francisco wedding is essentially a destination wedding for our family and friends, and spending hundreds of dollars for a weekend trip is not easy. Besides the cost, many of our friends have small children. And the ones with a little more money and time to spare? They already spend all that money and time on flights for their friends’ weddings (Hi, my name is Emily, nice to meet you) and our wedding may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

So the million-dollar question has been: do we have the wedding in San Francisco? Or do we have it in Chicago? Or to put the question another way: do we make this wedding easier on us, or on everyone else?

A wedding in Chicago means our family and friends can drive from their homes in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan without taking a day off work. They can bring their kids or leave them with a babysitter. Those who can’t afford a pricey plane ticket can still come. We’d see more family, more friends, and we could have a This Is Your Life wedding surrounded by nearly everyone who’d ever mattered to us in our lives.

A wedding in San Francisco means control over our wedding decisions. It means a beautiful setting. It means more predictable weather. It means sane planning with vendors we can meet in person. It means no extra flights to Chicago to plan the wedding. It means a more manageable guest list, but that guest list will likely have some very notable people missing from it.

The reason this issue is causing us drama is because Joe and I are both people-pleasers. Our living nightmare is finding out that someone is disappointed or upset with us. It’s the reason I don’t play sports, and the reason he overanalyzes every party he hosts. We always want everyone to be pleased with us. But at what point do we stop trying to please everyone and do what feels right for us?

While working through our options, we dug deeper into our desire to have the wedding in San Francisco, and here’s what we realized: besides the beautiful setting and easier planning, San Francisco is our home. It’s our life, and we want to share it with the people we care about.

We want to give people a reason to come out here and find out what California is really like (hint: the whole state is not a sunny beach filled with celebrities like I used to think), and to experience what our lives are really like. We want to show them why we’re happy, and what that means for us. We want them to smell the eucalyptus trees in Golden Gate park, and see how the Golden Gate bridge looks while you’re crossing it. We want to show them how hilly it can be (and let them notice how it’s actually not that hilly sometimes). We want them to experience a sing-along at the Castro theater and the candied bacon at Mission Beach Café. We want them to commiserate with us when we talk about driving down 101 and marvel at how easy it is to get to Napa. We want to give them tours of the amazing companies that have embraced us. If it takes a village to raise a child, we want to show that village that their hard work has paid off, and to thank them for bringing us to this point in our lives. We want the people who mean the most to us to be able to picture our lives when they think of us, and know they leave us in good hands.

So we made a decision: we’re getting married in San Francisco. We hope our village can join us, but for the ones who can’t? We’ll find a way to visit them and celebrate another time. We owe them at least as much.

What Guys Need To Understand About Street Harassers


From the Stop Telling Women To Smile project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

My fiancé and I were in a cab on the way home from the bar, in the right lane of a one-way street. Our cab was stopped in traffic, and we were going nowhere.

To our right was a group of women waiting to cross the street, dressed up for a night out.

A black SUV pulled up to our left, and a man with a big beard leaned out the back window to catcall the women, sandwiching our cab between him and them.

Joe, who enjoys friendly mocking drunk idiots, decided to take the opportunity. “Are you talking to me?” he said to the bearded man. I tried to shrink in my seat.

Not understanding the joke, the man said to Joe, “I was talking to those attractive women.” (Insert a million eye rolls here.) Determined to get the man to notice the joke, Joe said, “You don’t think we’re attractive?”

I adjusted the collar of my coat around my jawline and looked away. Joe didn’t know. He hadn’t dealt with these guys his whole life. I would have told him not to bother, but now it was too late—now he’d brought me into this man’s life.

The man turned his attention from the women and peered into our cab. “You’re fine; I don’t go for men.” He looked at me (I assume, although I was trying my hardest to become invisible and therefore wasn’t looking at him). “Maybe her. Is that your wife or girlfriend?” He didn’t give Joe a chance to answer before he said, “She may be too old.”

Joe laughed and repeated what the bearded man said, as though maybe there was a sound barrier that had kept me from hearing it. This man, who is leaning out of his car window to harass women on the street, has now been invited to harass me. Did I ask for his opinion? No. I don’t want to know, nor do I care, if this asshole thinks I’m attractive or “too old” (which, for the record, I’m 28 so let’s just straighten that one out right there. And even if I was older—screw you, dude.)

Our cab driver rolled down his window and said something to the man in Arabic. The man in the SUV said something back in Arabic, and his car drove away.

Our cab began moving again, and the cab driver explained to us that he had basically said “shame on you” to the bearded man. The driver told us that the man was growing his beard to try and look like a good guy, but then acting shamefully. I can’t speak to that culture, to the symbolism of beards in that culture and what does and does not produce shame and to whom. But that is how the story ended and I think it’s worth noting, not because speaking Arabic made the bearded man any more of a threat, but because my cab driver stood up for me and for those women and Joe didn’t.

Although he did take the harasser’s attention away from those other women, Joe ended up accidentally diverting it to me. I was mad at him after this happened. Boiling mad. When you ask a street harasser if he thinks your fiancé is attractive, I imagine we got off easy with “she may be too old.” No body parts mentioned. No sexual acts described. What would Joe have done then?

But after thinking about it from his perspective, I’ve stopped being mad. As a man, Joe sometimes experiences the world very differently than me. So rather than expecting him to magically know what it’s like to grow up as a woman, I’m cutting him some slack and trying to help him understand my point of view, so he can be better armed for next time.

If the bearded man had seemed threatening to him, I feel confident that Joe wouldn’t have said anything to him. But they were on equal footing for height, weight, and the fact that he was also in the back of a car. But for me? A stranger in a dark SUV who is bigger than me and calling out desperately to women he doesn’t know? That person is threatening to me. Joe hadn’t thought about that, because he’s never had to. It’s not second nature to Joe to ignore a street harasser simply for the fact that you don’t know what they’re capable of, but it’s second nature to me.

I haven’t known Joe his whole life, but I imagine he’s been taught a few ways to protect himself as a guy: fight back. Use humor. Walk away instead of letting yourself get angry. Tell an adult.

I have been taught different ways to protect myself: walk home with a friend. Keep your eyes on your drink. Keep your keys between your fingers in case they attack you. Buy mace in case they attack you. Don’t let them follow you home. Don’t get too drunk. Don’t wear a ponytail because they can grab it and pull you into an alley. Don’t stay out too late. Wear clothes that cover yourself (but not too much, prude.) Here is another article about a girl who was attacked. Here is how likely it is that you’ll be raped. Here is a list of things you can say to someone to stop them from raping you. Here is your rape whistle.

When these are the lessons people teach you, you learn very quickly that when someone calls out to you on the street, you don’t call back. I wish I had never been taught to protect myself because we had already taught everyone not to harass and attack people. But that’s not how the world is.

By himself, Joe has never had to worry about the strangers he chooses to interact with. But when I’m around, he does. I’m not saying he has to protect me in a superhero-movie-poster way. But he needs to consider both of us before he talks to aggressive strangers, and he needs to understand what “aggressive” means to me.

Since Joe’s experience with street harassers is so much different from mine, I needed a way to help him walk in my shoes. How do you explain exactly why a street harasser makes you feel unsafe, when technically they haven’t touched you and are “complimenting” you (not Joe’s words, just a general excuse harassers use)? Finally, I ended up with this:

Someone who you don’t know, who is stronger than you and who might have a gun, calls out to you in public to say they’d like to have sex with you. Do you feel safe?

Joe would never call out to a girl on the street, or even consider it. But his experiences haven’t taught him how to react to street harassers in the way that my experiences have. I’m so used to trying to ignore and avoid harassers, I don’t give it a second thought. Joe doesn’t give a second thought to the harassers in the first place. Hopefully now he does.

If you’d like to help stop street harassment, check out Hollaback! They aren’t paying me to say that, I just think it’s awesome.