Lady Lessons: The Set Down

London Calling January 2014
A friend of mine recently had a creepy follower in a grocery store, and when this… er… person (I was going to say “gentleman”, except he obviously was NOT one) asked, “Am I harassing you”, my gentle friend said no.
Except… he was harassing her.
He was quite obviously harassing her.
A half-blind, mostly deaf chimp with no deductive powers at all could see, hear, and smell that he was harassing her.
Just a tip for the recipients of grocery store harassment among us: if someone feels the need to ask if they are harassing you, it’s a decent bet that they are. A past problem of mine asked if I thought he was stalking me… which is when I realized that he was stalking me. Such questions are the hallmark of a guilty conscience.

Of course, it wasn’t that my friend didn’t feel harassed… but nice people, when put on the spot, remain nice. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Nice people don’t suddenly morph into Angelina Jolie and dice up their assailant’s face. Nice people smile uncomfortably, and try to escape without further incident. What’s so distressing is that for many of us, having been trained to be nice, we don’t know how to tell someone to step off without being rude. We don’t want to be rude, so we deal with the skin crawling and the hair standing on end and the in-mouth vomiting.

Now, in a perfect world (the kind with unicorns and pet ocelots), Patrick Stewart or Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch or Toby Stephens or Idris Elba would have swooped in from his position among the spaghetti squash and efficiently dispatched the creature who was bothering my friend… but I’m told such things never happen in real life. Instead, we get cornered by whackadoo creeps who are perfectly aware that they are crossing all sorts of boundaries and are enjoying our discomfort.

SO, I think we need to bring back the “set down”, ladies… and the best person to teach that is Eleanor Parker (but she’s unfortunately deceased). Eleanor Parker was a woman who managed to convey a level of anger that could incinerate bare flesh, but also could sweep majestically out of a room without tripping. She stared down Charlton Heston (during a particularly intense discussion about pianos) and also quirked a magnificent brow and put an entire rioting throng back in their place (The Naked Jungle, 1954… consider it your homework).
If I could harness that power, I could reduce people who touch parts of my body that are not attached to my wrists to so much ash and smoke.

1) Keep your spine straight.
Other than the fact that it makes you look taller (and some of you may need to look taller… because you’re short… I’m just being honest), it also has the emotional effect of making you feel more in control. It’s hard to look severe when you’re slouching.

2) Keep your chin lifted.

Not to the sky… you aren’t yelling at God, you are preparing to strike an opponent! Keep your chin parallel to the floor. If you’re short (I am so sorry), you may have to tilt the chin a bit higher to…

3) Maintain steady, slightly bored eye contact.

Not just regular eye contact… it must be bored eye contact.
Give the impression that root canals and episodes of The Jersey Shore are glorious trips to Candy Land compared to your present interaction.
You’re over this.
You can hardly even suppress your cavernous yawns.
The point is that you’re not afraid of this person. Well, even if you are, pretend that you aren’t. As long as you’re in public and can scream loudly for security at any given moment, you can afford a bit of a bluff. If you’re particularly adept at artful rebukes, you can attempt the slightly drooped lashes… but if you do it wrong, you will look like you’ve been drinking NyQuil straight out of the bottle, so practice first, please.

4) Quirk a brow.

If you can quirk a brow, quirk a brow.
Heck, quirk ALL the brows (but not two at once).
Words aren’t even necessarily with a skillfully quirked brow, emphasis on skillfully. Too high, and you’ll struggle to keep your other eye open. Too low or too fast, and it’s not even noticeable. If your eyebrows can’t separate in this fashion, please don’t try… you will look like you’re having a fit, and it will destroy the beautiful effect you’ve created thus far.

5) If you choose to speak, maintain a quiet, reasonable, but brittle tone of voice.
Use the passive aggressive tone that you use with your friends when you’re mad but don’t want to tell them why. Be calm.
Be icy.
Throw out wry comments from Veronica Mars.
Let the sarcasm rain down and soak your clothes.
If you can speak French, please say things in French!
Don’t tarry too long… the point is to let your opponent know that not only are you unavailable for further conversation, you are clearly not a woman to be treated in such a fashion.

You could also go for the scarily insane variation on this theme, in which you smile and speak normally, but let all life and emotion drain slowly from your eyes.
This is terrifying, and my sister works this like a champ (which is not to say that my sister is scarily insane).

I think I can safely say that the odds of a ginormous Olympian showing up and grounding out some macho, “stay away from my girl” speech are slim, so we should probably have classes in high school on how to extricate ourselves from uncomfortable interactions with the fruit cups that walk our streets these days.

Of course, there is a point in which hand-to-hand techniques are necessary, but that’s a topic for another time.


2 thoughts on “Lady Lessons: The Set Down

  1. “Patrick Stewart or Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch or Toby Stephens or Idris Elba”
    How have you managed to hit up on five of the very best people you possibly could, all in one go?

    I think Eleanor Parker and I must have been friends at some point, because I grew up knowing instinctively how to do this. It was my go-to reaction for the annoying brothers of friends when I was about 9.


    1. All of the best people are British men.
      It makes the selection process SO simple.

      Eleanor Parker is one of my favorite classic actresses, despite the fact that I don’t really like most of her movies (not her fault… I’m just more of an action or “avoid being eaten by soldier ants” sort-of person). She just had a presence, I think.


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