I 100% stand behind the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual assault and abuse in the past few months. I feel for those women, I think about them every day, and I feel lucky to be able to stop and gather my thoughts without being thrown into a state of fear or trauma.
In the spirit of #metoo …I am no stranger to that kind of behavior. My female friends and I navigated minefields in youth, and it was woven into our daily lives, and therefore everything was normal. It was normal to be catcalled. It was normal to be groped if you were in a crowd. It was normal to have to learn to always be on guard, look untouchable, and be aggressive. It was normal that you’d never let your girlfriends out of your general sight line at night. It was normal to be sized up, and not be taken seriously. And it was normal for primary conflict to be with other women, not men. Now, it seems like caged behavior.
I’ve found myself in situations I felt powerless to process, let alone control, but I won’t go into my own personal experiences. There is just one small thing I would like to address right now, very miniscule, very tiny, and I’d like to address it because it’s something that some people still think is perfectly ordinary, and because it happens to all of us. So here goes.
The whistle. The call. Let’s call it the unsolicited verbal compliment.
There are many polite ways to give a compliment, and there are many rude ways. Neither is ok. Many, many men don’t understand why, so I’ll try to explain.
I’ll use a thread on Twitter written by a woman who is answering a good male friend of hers’ genuine question: if a guy comes up to you and says, hey, I just wanted to tell you I think you’re really beautiful/look really nice.…what exactly is wrong with that?
The Twitter thread woman (I wish I could find the thread again) thinks about the answer, and thinks about it some more, because it’s not an easy question to answer. Compliments are good, right? A compliment, given politely…how can that be bad?
Yet she knows what her reaction would be. In her head, she recoils. Why?
Finally, she says to him:
You’re a friend of mine. You’ve known me a long time. You know me for what I say, think and do as well as how I look. You know my personality, beliefs and morality. If you come up to me and pay me a physical compliment, I feel good, because, since you know me, I know you’re considering me as a whole person when you pay that compliment. That if I were serial murderer or a racist, you wouldn’t pay it. When you know someone, and that someone is your friend, you are indirectly flattering the whole person. But, if a stranger comes up and pays that same compliment…well, they don’t know me. They can’t know me. All they know is what they see. And that’s the problem. They are commenting purely on what they see. They are commenting on me as a body, not a human. And that is how I feel when it happens. Dehumanized.
For those to whom this is incredibly obvious, I apologize. It’s just that too many men say things to women and go away thinking they are well received. They don’t know that all they’ve done is suddenly put a woman on display. Surely men can imagine the feeling of surprise, unease, confusion and embarrassment that such an occurrence entails.
So men, be careful with your compliments. Give them to women you know very well. Speak with your female friends and family about this, and ask them how they feel.
A small thing in this wider culture of male abuse, but something experienced nevertheless. Hopefully it places other behaviors farther away from center.
The culture needs to change, and the change will be a giant, messy upheaval. I feel empathy towards men I know and love, but I refuse to re-center the concerns of men in this crucial moment. Women, I’m listening.
Posted on Fri, December 8, 2017
by Hilary Thavis