A 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.
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.
It 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.