This week’s post is brought to you by a conversation I had last week. (Actually, the conversation was long enough that I’m splitting it into two posts. Come back for a bonus post tomorrow!) It was a splendid conversation, full of passion and attitude and really good questions. (Also some links to great articles, which I’ll also be posting here.)
I’ll be paraphrasing the questions, however, as that part of the conversation isn’t mine to share with the internet.
The conversation started with my pointing out the EverydaySexism.org website. (There’s also a twitter feed @EverydaySexism.) I said that is was addicting. I couldn’t stop reading it. The things were awful and yet I could relate to a few too many of them.
And the question came back, so? Why has everyone woman I’ve seen post about, make it such a big deal? It’s bad, yes. But…what does it do?
I replied, it helps women learn to speak out. Not everyone has someone they can tell about harassment or obvious sexism they encounter, and women are often disbelieved or disregarded about harassment and sexist situations.* Or they’re told it’s their fault. But once you learn you’re not alone, you start thinking, how can this be my fault? Why’s it not the fault of the people disrespecting me?
*Men are disbelieved and disregarded about sexism as well. And I don’t mean the “you’re being sexist against men” arguments that MRA’s spout. I mean, about sexism against women or sexism that supports the patriarchy like, men can’t cook. The type of sexism that feminism fights against.
This website and twitter feed is a place to be empowered. Because if suddenly people agree with you where before no one or almost no one did then you can make the strength to do something about it next time instead of being silent.
And also, not every man realizes that this is happening. I’ve read posts where guys were genuinely shocked at the obvious harassment. This is for them too.
No one has documented everyday sexism and harassment to this extent before. This ever-increasing feed is a visceral example of how women are not alone in the sexism we encounter on an everyday basis. We’re still not living in an egalitarian society. Even if people want to believe we are.
And not all sexism is harassment. Sexism is watching a commercial for Viagra (or something similar) where a couple is at a party and the woman texts the man “save me” because she obviously can’t extract herself from a conversation across the room – a conversation that she wasn’t even participating in once she picked up her phone. Where the next scene shows a woman cooking dinner for her husband. And the next scene shows…another woman cooking breakfast for her husband. Take Viagra! Your wife will be subservient to you! Because with an erect penis you will once again be the Man of the house.
But if I hadn’t started reading the Everyday Sexism feed I might not have noticed the blatant sexism in that commercial. Then again, I might have. It was pretty blatant.
But anyway, moving back.
Most of the posts on Everyday Sexism do deal with harassment, and especially cat calling. So the next question in the conversation was, is it possible for a man to legitimately give a woman a compliment? What if a compliment is taken the wrong way – who’s at fault?
I said, you just have to be aware that your compliment might not be taken as a compliment. And that’s no one’s fault. And it’s possible that you’re both right. (It’s also possible that the person giving the compliment is wrong.)
A compliment, I believe, is when you’re complimenting someone’s taste in something. Like, hey, nice rain boots. That is unlikely, I believe, to be taken the wrong way. However, if a guy is going to tell a random girl he likes her dress, he’d want to watch his tone extra carefully. Because it could be taken to mean just, nice dress. Or it could be taken to mean, sexy body underneath the dress, don’t you want to sleep with me? And while some guys wouldn’t mean it that way, other guys would. And if girls have gotten comments like that before, they’re more likely to take such a compliment as harassment. Intent is important. Intent is normally conveyed by tone. But context is important too. So if you want a compliment to a random girl to be taken as a compliment, make it on something very specific.
(And for the record, sexy body underneath the dress, don’t you want to sleep with me? is not a compliment. It’s a rude suggestion. That would be when the complimenter is wrong. But I don’t think I have to explain that one.)
(Also for the record, it’s chancy to compliment a girl on her dress because, at least in my opinion, when you compliment a girl on her dress it’s often taken to mean “you look cute in that dress” which means “I think you look cute” which can make a girl feel uncomfortable in some situations. Or good in others. But that’s where context comes in. For example, if a guy is going on a date with a girl, I don’t think that girl would mind being complimented on her dress. But in other situations that girl is likely to study the tone of the compliment very carefully and factor in things like the age of the person giving the compliment.)
Also, below are some links that I think are relevant.
And the excerpt is:
“Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are genuinely good guys who just don’t understand why their comments might be unwelcome. Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are creepy predators. Most are somewhere in between, and guess what? I don’t know you, I don’t know your life, and I have no idea if you’re going to leave it at “Hey, you look good in that dress!” or follow it up with “But you’d look better without it! Har har! C’mon, where’re you going? I know you heard me! Fucking cunt, nobody wants your fat ass anyway, bitch.”
When you compliment a random woman who doesn’t know you, no matter how nice you are about it, there’s a good chance she’s going to freak out internally because for all she knows, you could be that latter type. And I get that it’s really unfair that women would just assume that about you. I get that it sucks that sometimes, expressing totally reasonable opinions like “hey you’re hot” will make women terrified of you or furious at you. That’s not fair.
But if you’re going to lay the blame for that somewhere, for fuck’s sake, don’t blame the woman. Blame all the guys who have called her a bitch and a cunt for ignoring their advances. Blame all the guys who may have harassed, abused, or assaulted her in the past. Blame all the people who may never do such a thing themselves, but who were quick to blame her and tell her to just get over it. Blame the fact that if she stops and talks to you and then something bad happens, people will blame her for stopping and talking to you.
In a perfect world, none of this would happen. In a perfect world, you could tell a woman she’s hot and she would smile and say thank you because there would be no millenia-long history of women’s bodies being used and abused by men, no notion of women’s beauty as being “for” men, no ridiculous beauty standards. Complimenting a woman on her appearance would be just like complimenting a person on their bike or their shoes or the color of their hair; it would not carry all the baggage that it carries in this world.
But that’s not our world, and it may never be. Yeah, it sucks that women often take it “the wrong way” when you give them unsolicited compliments. You know what sucks more? Yup, patriarchy.”
And the excerpt for this one is:
“One of the things that guys don’t get is why women don’t like to be hit on. As a guy, when you get hit on, even if it’s a clumsy attempt, it’s generally a very rare and remarkable event – it puts a spring in your step, even if you’re not particularly attracted to the woman, because as an average-looking guy, scarcity of compliments is the norm. So if a girl catcalls you and goes, “Nice butt!” and appears to be serious, there’s often this sort of strange pride. Hey, that doesn’t happen often, she must really be into me.
So a lot of guys have this unspoken attitude of, “I wish I’d be harassed.” And they don’t get why women are so angry when hey, I was just trying to be nice, why you gotta be so mean?
Thing is, when it’s not scarce, then even the nicest act starts to get annoying. Because you don’t get to control when people are quote-unquote “nice” to you, and it happens all the time, and you know there’s always a hidden cost behind it. You start to question people’s niceness, because they’re not doing it to be kind, they’re doing it because they want something from you. And maybe, yes, that’s something you like to give to certain people, but definitely not to everyone, and almost certainly not to the kind of guy who’s certain you’re going to give it to him if he just bugs you enough.
Harassment isn’t once. Harassment comes from a lifetime of dealing with people constantly doing things to you, whether you wanted them or not, at random intervals. You learn not to trust people. And what might have been pleasant, once, as an isolated incident, starts to feel pretty oppressive when it’s something you deal with on a weekly basis. It changes you, and then guys call you bitchy when you don’t feel like playing along and pretending this is just about the coffee.”
Bonus Post Tomorrow…rape culture and victim blaming.