#FeministFriday: Advice for #NotAllMen on How to Occasionally be Less of an Asshole

shut_up__listen_and_learn_by_cdckey-d4afs9aA couple of weeks ago I was at the doctor’s office.  They have a receptionist who is, oh, I dunno, in her mid-twenties and generally fairly lovely.

Since the last time I was in there (I’ve been spending my share of time at the doctor’s office lately) she’d dyed her hair grey.  I’ve come to understand that that’s becoming a thing.  If so, I approve.

As I was waiting, an elderly woman emerged from her appointment and engaged this young lady in conversation about her hair.  She was quite complimentary about it.

Damn right, I thought.  The grey hair looked great on her.

And I didn’t say a word about it to anyone.

Why?

Here is a rule for men who want to be either better people or better feminists, and frequently I have found that those two goals overlap:  practice the fine art of keeping your opinion to yourself a bit more often.  You will be surprised at how much it helps!  And, here’s the awesome part: never once will keeping your trap shut about your opinion on a stranger’s appearance be harmful.  Not once!  Not ever!

Is it entirely possible that me telling this young woman (a good fifteen years younger than me, if undeniably an adult, so I think I can get away with that title) would have made her feel good for a few moments?  Sure!  Sometimes people like getting compliments from strangers.  This is true!

It is also possible that at work is not a place where she’s particularly interested in getting opinions from strange men on her decisions about her hair.  Is this gender-specific?  Not necessarily.  While she was gracious to the old lady, she could have been gritting her teeth on the inside.  It’s possible that the old lady was the 44th person that day to tell her she liked her hair and it was getting aggravating.  (True story!  I once snapped at someone for saying Happy Birthday to me, because I’d heard it so many times that day it was starting to sound like an insult.)

Simple fact, dude: She doesn’t need your opinion on her hair.  She didn’t need my opinion on her hair.  She’s at work.  She’s not very much in the be complimented by fat bald married men on her hair zone.  There are literally no circumstances under which I would tell, say, the male nurse, or the dude sitting across from me in the waiting room, that I liked his hair.  So there should also be literally no circumstances under which I tell the female receptionist my opinion on her body.

But I don’t mean to be creepy!  I just want to give her a compliment!

Doesn’t matter, shut up.  A thing I tell my students on a fairly regular basis: your opinion is not necessary here.  Similarly, it is virtually never the case that my opinion is necessary on someone’s appearance, even if that opinion is a positive one.  If there’s even a tiny chance that me talking to her about her appearance is going to make her uncomfortable– and there is way more than a tiny chance of that— then I need to keep my opinion to myself.

But how do I get to know people if I don’t approach them in public, you ask?

Maybe go to places where people meet each other.  I hear good things about parties and clubs and bars.  There are probably other places, too!  But here’s the thing: even in those places, maybe you don’t start with the body talk?  Find something else about the person other than their body to start the conversation with, if you can.  You never know!  It might work out!

She’s at work.  Leave her the hell alone.


16b138fIt is, in fact, rather astonishing how often the “Shut Up” rule works well for men when dealing with feminist issues.  I know, guys: as men, and particularly as white men for those of us who are both, we’re used to society valuing our opinion– to the point where we’ve allowed ourselves to believe a conversation isn’t complete until we’ve weighed in on it.

Here is a thing that every woman alive knows more about than every white man alive: being a woman.  Therefore: if a woman is discussing her experiences and her opinions about her own womanhood with or (especially) near you, it is probably best if you shut the hell up and listen.  This is particularly true if you disagree with her.  If she tells you someone catcalls her every time she leaves the house, and you were with her one time and nobody catcalled, maybe you keep your mouth shut about that.  Because you know what?  Other dudes saw her with a dude.  Which means she was already owned by somebody.  And they kept their mouths shut, because that one was taken.

She. Knows. Better. Than. You. About. Being. A. Woman.

What, you’ve never catcalled a woman?  Have a cookie; hopefully you can bake them on your own.  Shut up anyway.

Are there women who like having things shouted at them by random men?  Sure.  There are also people who think voting for Ben Carson is a good idea.  There’s lots of crazy ideas out there.  But we’re talking about your behavior here, and unless the woman is wearing a sign saying “PLEASE TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT MY CLOTHES AND BODY” you probably ought to assume that she’s not interested in what you have to say.  Note that wearing revealing clothing is not the same thing as wearing a sign inviting comment.

Dude, all these goddamn rules.  How the hell do I even talk to women anymore?  Feminists are so fucking touchy!

Pretend she’s a dude.  If you wouldn’t say anything to a dude under that circumstance, chances are you probably shouldn’t say it to her.  You ever walked past a guy on the street and told him he should smile once in a while?  No?

Don’t say it to women.

There’s nothing new in this post at all, by the way.  If you happen to be reading it and nodding your head and thinking shit, this makes some sense, you probably should have been listening to women, because they’ve said this to you before– they’ve said it to all of us— and you didn’t listen.  You’ve never seen my cock, I promise, so I have no idea why it makes the stuff I say more worthy of attention than it would be if someone without one had said it, but unfortunately that’s how it works in American society right now.

So, yeah.  Shut up.

24 thoughts on “#FeministFriday: Advice for #NotAllMen on How to Occasionally be Less of an Asshole

  1. Naturally I disagree. I think it is terribly sad that we have become so fearful that a man cannot even tell a girl that her hair looks good, without the entire culture assigning sleezy intentions to it. What is natural, what is healthy to us is some attention from men.

    “Pretend she’s a dude. ”

    I’m sorry to be so impolite, but please don’t do that. Some women are confused and angry, but trust me, we don’t want to be surrounded by men who just “pretend she’s a dude.”

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    1. I also reject the suggestion that any of this has anything to do with fear. Men need to recognize that what we pass off as “compliments” are frequently obnoxious and unwelcome and make us sound like assholes. Men should attempt to be assholes less frequently. “Fear” has nothing to do with it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Men should attempt to be assholes less frequently. “Fear” has nothing to do with it.”

        All in good humor here, but those are words being spoken by a man! Trust me, “asshole men” and “fear” go hand in hand. We don’t fear compliments from strangers, we fear being labeled USDA choice and then having to walk through a pack of hungry wolves.

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          1. Well now, male fear is a part of it too. I mean we now live in a culture where perfectly nice guys fear being perceived as assholes for simply trying to say something pleasant to someone.

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            1. “Fear of being perceived as an asshole” is much less of a problem than “fear of being harassed and potentially raped/injured/killed.” Men should, perhaps, be MORE afraid that they might be perceived as assholes, because then they might not be assholes so much.

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    2. I think it is a pity that society has reached the point that a woman cannot receive a compliment from a man without having to wonder, “Oh, Lord, what is he going to say next and is he going to want special treatment for having done the hard work of telling me I look nice?”

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      1. I think it’s important to understand that sometimes there’s a fear factor. My good friends who I know and trust? Yes, compliments are welcome. If we’re on a date and you say “You have a nice smile, etc” That’s fine too. It’s nice. But if we just randomly meet somewhere or are in a situation that is in no way romantic, it’s weird. For us, that is. Do I like feeling pretty or attractive? Of course. But if a guy who is not my husband or someone I know very well compliments me? I feel VERY uncomfortable. It boils down to women’s bodies being objectified since the teen years. It’s just a fact of our society. It makes you feel like a spotlight is shining on you. And if the guy complimenting you is someone you don’t know? That is creepy. We have to wonder, “Is he just being nice or is this going to be followed with something that is aggressive/mean/unsafe?” Trust me. Every woman I know has been treated aggressively by complete strangers when she didn’t respond to a compliment in a way that the stranger thought was grateful/appreciative enough. It’s a scary situation.

        and I also recognize that many men give compliments with no intentions of anything other than being nice. I don’t demonize them or hold it against them. I do try to take it as a nice gesture. But, I have to analyze and wait out the situation before I can come to the conclusion that it is harmless.

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  2. Good advice! I’m even reminded of a Facebook thing that was going around a while back about women complimenting each other, or people complimenting young girls. We, as women or as people speaking to children, tend to go straight to “I like your shoes” or “your hair looks good today,” or “your daughter is so cuuuuute!” I realized that I totally do that too, so now I make a concerted effort to lead with something else, and I mostly give appearance-compliments to friends, and not just because I don’t have anything else to say. Hasn’t hurt a thing, and has actually led to much richer conversations. Slightly different situation, similar solution. Just stop doing the thing. The world will not end.

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  3. Oh, man.

    THANK YOU.

    So many things would be so much better if people with the privilege would stop talking and listen to those without it instead of talking over them. Often I find that what these #notallmen and similar groups are doing is finding a way to take the conversation away from a group and continue controlling it.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Yes. Had to say stfu to my step son last night after I was having a feminist rant about the double number of male celebrities on an Australian comedy panel to women. He thought it wasn’t important and started going on in a dismissive fashion about who cares, and i said stfu I care and don’t dismiss my position on this you entitled young white male who has literally never worked for anything in your life. Including school. Because lazy. So there. But seriously, this is a thing. Most men in my acquaintance are very good at not complimenting appearance apropos of nothing, and most women in my acquaintance are very good at complimenting the dress/hair/shoes etc. as one gets older it’s easier to do this. I think it takes ongoing training in the mouth shutting art. Or perhaps it’s just because I am now old.

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  5. Great post. It reminded me of a quote I saw yesterday. Can’t attribute it to anyone because no one was noted, but it went ‘women who carry a little extra weight live longer than the men who mention it.’

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  6. I stopped and I told a woman on the train last week that I liked her handbag. She looked surprised but then happy and engaged me in a very quick moment of conversation as I moved down the aisle. I felt good. I’d paid a stranger a compliment. I’d stopped and smiled at someone and they’re smiled back. I don’t like the world where we all have to keep ourselves to ourselves.

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    1. Two differences: One, external, not-her object, and two, you’re a woman. That’s another thing that guys need to learn; women REALLY CAN say/do things that we can’t sometimes and guess what, we get to just deal.

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      1. Yes! I tell my female friends all the time that they’re beautiful. We all build each other up and support each other and can even be a little flirty with each other. Because it feels safe. And even a woman who’s a stranger complimenting me? Feels completely different than a male stranger. Side note: women often dress (when dressing up) for themselves and other women who appreciate fashion.

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  7. Luther, I can’t say how much I love this. You cut through the b.s. so wonderfully. I’ve been trying to figure out my FF post for next week and one of my topics I’ve been playing around with is “The Art Of De-Escalation.” This leads nicely into that so I think I know what I’m doing now!

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  8. Great post; I asked my husband to read it and he enjoyed it, too. He then shared a slightly similar story where he saw a flight attendant wearing a pair of boots he knew I would like, but he refrained from asking her where she got them because he couldn’t think of a way to do it that wouldn’t come off wrong. He was frustrated by that, but knew silence was simply the best course.

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    1. So, I’m rereading this thread months later, and it occurs to me that “My wife would love your boots; do you mind telling me where you got them?” ought to be okay, so long as she’s not actively busy doing, like, her JOB at the time.

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      1. Yes, I like the phrasing on that, and personally I probably wouldn’t be creeped out if a guy said that to me, depending on his tone and, as you said, whether I was actively trying to do my job.
        Also I love that you went back to this like three months later haha.

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