Kristen Lem

How I Got Woke at Starbucks

How I Got Woke at Starbucks

How I Got Woke At Starbucks Modern Chic Mag Kristen Lem Writer FULL.jpg

Harvey Weinstein.  Matt Lauer.  Louis C.K.  The list of lecherous man after lecherous man populated my newsfeed for the past two months.  I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t join the #METOO masses right away.  Not because I condoned unwanted masturbation or the mistreatment of women, but because I needed to know how this behavior fitted with “regular” guys, and specifically my “regular” life before I jumped on the bandwagon.  Having not been in the awful situations of Rose McGowen, Ashley Judd, and other victims, I found myself fortunate, yet unable to relate.  Somewhere between Mayim Bialik’s sentiment on not being “a perfect ten … (and so) largely overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power” and simply luckily unlucky.

Had no man ever hit on me aggressively?  No, of course not.  Had this happened at the workplace, and had I ever been treated less-than-professional in professional settings? Yes.

But, honestly, I never gave these men any thought.  Once I got the “vibe” I was gone.  On to the next opportunity.  If anyone, male or female, was going to pay me less, there were plenty of other places who would reward me fairly and respect my work.  Their antiquated stupidity was my push towards bigger and better.  It was their loss and the “opportunistic” mindset I held dearly.  It was the reason I was surrounded by talented, progressive equals of both genders. It was also partially the reason I had nearly 15 jobs in 15 years.

When the Hollywood scandals started surfacing, I found myself perturbed and conflicted by not feeling more akin to the victims.

I was a smart, successful woman. These were smart, successful women. Why was I not clamoring to be on their side?

I was in desperate need of a paradigm shift.  One of those small-big experiences that lasted only a moment, but whose ramifications would change my mind forever.  A woke moment. And I got what I ordered.  At Starbucks.


After several short trips to New York over the last year, I developed a love affair with the city as so many others do.  I decided to shorten the gap in our long distance relationship and spend the winter in the “greatest city in the world.”  My job as a web designer afforded me geographic flexibility and it wasn’t long before I had a roster of cafes with reliable Wi-Fi and outlets that I could call my offices.  Today I found myself at a Starbucks on Fulton St. in Brooklyn.  After receiving my drink, I settled into a 4-top across from a man in his 40s. Casually, but nicely dressed listening to what appeared to be a podcast on his iPhone.  Everything about him said “normal.” Nothing said “weirdo” and I did not give him a second thought as I started to unpack my laptop.  Headphones in.  Sound off.  (I can’t work with music, but I don’t like to be bothered.)

Shortly after, a very attractive woman walked in.  She looked like she just came from working out, wearing leggings and a sweater.  It was December in New York – how exposed could she be?  She ordered her drink and felt the same innocuousness about our table of strangers as I did.  She joined us, taking the seat next to the man.  Like myself, she too was here to work, taking out her laptop, relieved to find an outlet.

The man complimented her on how beautiful she was.  She acknowledged this with a polite “thank you” and we both thought it was a sweet thing to say.  Despite his flattery, it was clear she did not wish to engage any further.  Her computer was open.  She was into her work and wanted to be left alone.  The man started to leer and she shifted her hair to one side, partitioning herself away from him with the only thing she had.  Everything in her body language screamed “NOT INTERESTED.”

Still not getting it, he disturbed her yet again.

Man: You are such a pretty picture. Do you have pictures in your room?

Woman: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I guess?

Man: Do you ever look at pictures in your mind?

Woman: (Says nothing. Looks uneasy and confused.)

Man: I do. Dressing them. Undressing them. Everything that occurs in the imagination…

I had heard enough.  My earbuds could no longer contain the beginnings of his perverted soliloquy.  I yanked out my earphones and interrupted what I’m sure he imagined to be a romantic monologue, stamping my hand on the table like a gavel, looking him square in the eye as I said, “HEY!” in the low but authoritative tone you use to tell a child, “Enough. We don’t act like that in restaurants.”

He looked startled, but said nothing. I turned to the woman: “There’s another outlet over there,” motioning with my eyes to a table across the room.

She mouthed, “thank you” to me and I thought it was the saddest act of sisterhood ever.

Understandably, she was uncomfortable far beyond the other side of the Starbucks and decided instead to anxiously pack up her things and get the hell outta there.  Still Clueless Creep asked why she was leaving, to which she answered: “I have another appointment.”  There was no other appointment.  There was a man disrespecting a woman. There was a man who did not see a woman as an equal.  That is what there was.

Perhaps stupidly, I did not leave the table.  Recognizing this as a pivotal moment in my feminist education, I had been taking notes on the experience as it happened in front of me.  I continued to sit in front of the creep typing away, wondering if I should tell him how disgusting his behavior was.

And then something interesting happened.  He became not so disgusting.

A few moments later, a family came in with an elderly grandma.  He politely offered her the seat next to him while the rest of the party ordered drinks.  Throughout the next couple of hours, several people, both men and women, addressed him fondly, and I discovered he was somewhat of a beloved fixture at this location.

This was not a bad guy. This was a guy who chit chatted with old people and small children.  This was a guy people liked.  His win was quickly doused with the realization that no, he was not a monster. He was not Harvey Weinstein.  He was not the extreme.  He was the middle.  The norm.

A norm that sees women as less than. 

Filled with sadness and frustration at this thought, I started to ask “why?”  Why were men taught to believe this?  When?  Was it the media?  Their fathers?  Lack of fathers?  But most of all, why was I the one asking these questions?  These were things men needed to be asking.

Women have been dodging advances and accommodating less-than treatment for centuries.  I thought of the time I had wasted hiring and firing an employee because I got the sinking feeling he did not like taking direction from a female.  At the time, I could not describe chauvinism exactly to you, but boy did I know it when it happened.  I thought of a good job offer I turned down because the guy who interviewed me touched the small of my back just a little too long.  Where I once dismissed this behavior with no more than a “that’s gross,” I was now hit hard with the fact that it was horribly systemic. I was shook.

I don’t know if men who view women as less than themselves, and thus less than human, have lost their humanity, but you need to get it back.  And this is something you have to figure out for yourselves.  Because women are tired.  We are tired of explaining and coming up with solutions around disrespect.  We are tired of moving jobs because we feel uncomfortable.  We are tired of moving to another Starbucks to do our work.

We are tired and you are better than this.  It’s your move now. 🔷