One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

October 29, 2009

Feminist Punch

Yesterday, over lunch, a dude acquaintance said to me, “Megan, I gotta tell you. We were looking at pictures of last year’s Halloween, and your costume was pretty hot.” Or maybe he said ‘babely’, which is a more innocuous word on account of its goofiness. Whatever he said it came across as innocuous and a little bit endearing – primarily because that is the kind of guy he is. Innocuous and endearing. I gave him a long look and was like, “this dude is totally just being complimentary. I’m giving him a pass.”

Then he laughed and said, “So I have pretty high expectations of your costume for Friday.”

And I gave him another long look, and decided to give him another pass. But this time I said, “you might be one of the very few people at work who is actually allowed to say something like that to me.”

“I wondered,” laughed my other lunch-friend, “does he know who he’s talking to?”

We laughed about it and I finished with some summary, “I suppose you are allowed to sexually harass me just because I am so certain you don’t mean it.” And he looked flabbergasted. “That was sexual harassment?”

Oh mercy.

Well, he wasn’t doing it to exercise his power over me, right? He wasn’t saying “I have high expectations of your looks” because he seriously wanted me to know that I am expected to dress for his expectations. And if he had suspected he would make me uncomfortable, I’m certain he wouldn’t have said it. He has a fiancée whom he is obviously totes in love with and he was probably just trying to make some pleasant conversation. And that innocence of intent is why he got a pass.

But, yes, because when you make the conversation about someone else’s looks and body, it is an intrusion. It may not be hostile or bad-intentioned, but it takes the conversation into the territory of their personal space. And it should be up to them to decide whether that was a welcome intrusion, especially if it comes out-of-nowhere. And it displays such enormous privilege that guys can assume that a) drawing attention to a woman’s looks is fine & harmless, even positive, b) implying that looking good is an expectation of HER behaviour for YOUR benefit is fine & harmless and c) if she, for any reason, feels sensitive about her role as eye-candy or feels threatened by your statements you can assert that your remarks were harmless and she is overreacting, the majority of the culture around you will back you up.

Anyhow, I hate issues like this. I don’t have any solutions. And I truthfully don’t want to go around making well-meaning guys feel bad. But I do want to plant a seed there. You know, if next time you say something like that, the response you get isn ‘t a giggle and a thank-you and isn’t a gentle reproof, but a stiffening spine and silence, will you dismiss her response as an overreaction as so many men can and do? Or might you remember how you were once told that you actually need special dispensations for remarks like that?

I’m ready to be too old for personal comments on my appearance now. Except, I suppose, that when I’m that old, I will probably end up with doctors and salesmen half my age who think they’re being cute by flirting and calling me “young lady” and then I’ll punch them.

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  1. Well.
    I really expected this post to be about a delicious new cocktail you had invented: Feminist Punch (good lord knows what would go into that…)

    also, this entry reminded me a lot about interactions I have with people about vegetarianism.
    a lot of remarks/jokes are not intended to be offensive/rude, but they are, none the less.
    I got into quite a tense moment today over such a joke…

  2. I’m totally inventing a beverage called feminist punch. I will serve it to you in december.

  3. judith

     /  2009-10-30

    I want mine decorated with miniature trucknutz!


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