It was never made clear how the divide began. But for those still arguing that there is equality or “sameness” among the genders, one need only to walk into any given clothing store to find that it’s simply not the case. That little if anything has changed since the twentieth century. Even in those cities deemed “cosmopolitan.” In fact, it is there most of all where you are likely to encounter the corner where straight men go to atrophy. You’ve all seen it, that little patch spontaneously formed by a cluster of men waiting for “their women” to try shit on. It is their innate instinct to wait, to stand off to the side while the women folk engage in their frilly and frivolous behavior.
No one has ever been able to accurately pinpoint why or how men manage to get sucked into this endeavor every time. When clearly they ought to know that going out in public with their girlfriend or wife to any place that isn’t a restaurant is going to ultimately lead to this behavior. This timeless pattern leading them to the straight male gas chamber of diminution. There was but one man in documented history who decided to take a stand against the misandrist nature of this semi-ancient (for yes, the twentieth century feels impossibly far now) female practice. His name was Donovan, of all things. And no one was ever really sure if it was his first or last name. He was, ironically, one of the regulars in the atrophy corner at an H&M over on Avenue de France. He had married his wife, Claudette, because, somewhere deep down (or so he tried to believe), he loved her. That she could secure him EU citizenship before the Brexit reckoning was just a well-timed coincidence. Love can’t be manipulated, but it can coincide with major global changes spurred by a government arbitrarily deciding to alter the parameters of a nation.
Donovan had been living in Paris for roughly three years for his job as a financial advisor at BNP Paribas before he met Claudette. It was an unwanted occasion for him to fall in love, for he relished his bachelor lifestyle almost as much as Paris itself. A walking emporium of available and attractive women who could smell the money on him. He rarely had to work that hard to get a date, and certainly never relied on apps to do so. It was Claudette who threw him for a loop when she remained utterly non-responsive to his quippy advances one day when she caught his eye near the Seine. She was sitting on one of the benches in front of the river, reading stoically. He remembered it being something by Zola, but Claudette later insisted she would never be so cliche. Yet he could distinctly remember staring at the name as he pretended not to gaze directly at her. She finally noticed he was staring and decided to move. He followed her, speaking in his terrible French accent, to assure, “S’il vous plaît, pardonnez-moi pour regarder. Tu es tellement belle.”
“You’re mixing your pronouns. Just speak English,” she returned in a perfect accent. He knew she was going to be the death of him. But he didn’t know that death would take place in an H&M. After wearing her down with about thirty minutes of flattery and obsequiously kind words, she agreed to be taken out to dinner. He wanted to show her how much money he could drop so that she wouldn’t think twice about becoming his girlfriend. He figured she would want somewhere slightly off the beaten path. In his mind, this equated to Le Dôme. Upon informing her that this was where they would be going, however, she none too subtly rolled her eyes. As in actually sent him an eye roll emoji. It was jarring to be this abhorred by a woman he was interested in. Naturally, it made him want her all the more. Nonetheless, he stuck with his plan to take her to the famed seafood restaurant, where she pecked at the oysters, didn’t touch the lobster and in the end cost him four hundred euros.
To his surprise, she refused his invitation to come back to his apartment and instead offered him a “nightcap” at hers. He was appalled to find that she seemed to live more lavishly than he did. Noting the expression on his face, she remarked, “You can close your jaw. This isn’t my apartment. It belongs to the woman I personal shop for.”
Donovan had often heard of these personal shopper jobs, and had even seen the Kristen Stewart movie where she plays one, but he never imagined them to be real. Like the fabled lore of a teamster or a screenwriter. He was immediately intrigued, and also relieved to know that she didn’t make more money than he did, ergo he still served a purpose in her life. She poured him a Stoli on ice with a splash of orange juice without bothering to ask if that’s what he wanted. She was domineering in every way, meticulous to a fault. He had to have her or it would drive him crazy.
As she proceeded to speak more freely than she had the entire night, she told him that shopping was her life’s passion, while literature was merely a hobby to pass the time in between “procuring.” He found it to be a somewhat ironic dichotomy, this pairing of the vacuous with the intelligent. She told him to leave when he finished his drink, and he obeyed. It was a precedent that would set the tone for his eventual exile into the corner where straight men go to atrophy. At first, like the others, he scarcely even seemed to be aware of anyone’s presence in the corner but his own. It was like a vortex, snapping you up into its black hole of unconsciousness, warping your sense of time and reality as the minutes turned to hours and she still hadn’t picked out a fucking outfit. Honestly, how long can it really take for a woman to know whether or not she looks like shit in something? The answer, of course, is written in the backlog of the dressing rooms, where women stand and stare at themselves in a mesmerized stupor much akin to the men in the corner with nothing to stare at but their phones. Their languor in these rooms leads to longer lines outside, galvanizing the trend of being unable to walk into a clothing store on the weekend without committing to a large portion of the day spent there.
Donovan did not know this. Had no concept of this other world that he had never been forced into by past women he had “dated.” Mainly because he slept with them once and never talked to them again. He was starting to realize why he did that for so long. It didn’t obligate him into any such excursions as the ones that started to become regular with their recent engagement. At first, she was apologetic about it, even self-deprecating with regard to being subject to the “low-budget” nature of H&M or Zara as a result of her income. But when Donovan offered to take her somewhere more upscale, like Christian Dior, she refused. It was almost as though she wanted him to suffer the banality of this stark beige milieu. As punishment for something he couldn’t yet place.
But the more time Donovan spent in that corner with those other mute men, the more an epiphany began to dawn. One that was germinal at first, but then burst into the flower of recognition that was this: women were purposefully relegating men to a corner as a symbolic gesture inferring that they know their place. That is to say, on the sidelines of everything women do. It was enough to make Donovan cringe. For already the umpteenth feminist “revolution” was tearing America asunder. Now it seemed to be omnipresent in Europe as well. Unless the men in this very corner banded together to stop it. Stop the madness and, most important of all, stop waiting in corners for women to complete a task they could just as easily perform alone. And that was another thing, the wearing of these clothes was a performance itself. Performing the very exercise they claimed to now despise: femininity by male standards. Why were they still shopping and spending so much time on appearance if they hated men so much, wanted them to stay at bay? Clearly, what that actually meant was the “at bayness” of that damned corner where men simply accepted their new fate as the useless sex.
Donovan had been through too many of these “sessions” since Claudette began to pick out “pieces” (that’s what women called clothes, as though to make it sound more like a high art concept than a mindless engagement with capitalism) for their honeymoon trip. No longer able to take it anymore–to just sit there and wait for an end that would never come–he rose to his feet and screamed, “H&M will be the end of men!” And he stood on the mannequin platform turned soapbox to lay into the fellow wait-ers about their complacency, about how, together, they had to put a stop to the waiting.
At first confused and slightly bewildered, by the end of Donovan’s speech, many were roused even in the face of his uncertain French. So it was that they started to get up and actually leave the corner. That was when an associate watching from a distance whispered into their headset (because yes, sales associates at retail stores are apparently pop stars now) and, within seconds, Donovan was being escorted off the premises as he shouted to the others, “Take back your freedom, take back your freedom!”
Who the fuck did these bitches think they were anyway? That they could waste a man’s time so carelessly. Claudette descended the stairs just as her fiancé was being “handled” out of the store. She started to say something, to express some indication that she knew him, could vouch for his sanity, but then she closed her mouth, watching the other men sit back down in their corner. She sighed. It wouldn’t be difficult to find another replacement to bring to the vortex again. She turned around and smiled at one of the other female shoppers watching the corner with some trepidation until all the men, sans Donovan, were seated once again.