Trigger Warning: misogyny, rape, sexual assault
but sometimes I read dearblankpleaseblank. Today, there was a letter that 609 people liked.
Please take our checking-you-out as a harmless compliment, and not grounds for the how-dare-you look.
Sincerely, I wasn’t leering, you’re just pretty.”
Recently, while waiting for the light rail, a man said “You look nice.” I was about to feel a little flattered, and had just said “thank you,” when he followed it up with a head-to-toe look-over and “REAL nice.” I forget exactly what I said, but I made an expression of displeasure, and (as many men do in this situation) he got irritated with me. “What is up with women in Portland, they can’t take compliments! Back in Louisiana, women know how to take compliments, but up here, women get all offended.”
I sort of sputtered, casting about for words, and then the train came, and I never got to say what I really wanted to say to this dude. Here’s what I’ll say next time.
“It’s not actually a compliment. When you remark on my body and look at me like that, you remind me of all the street harassment, both verbal and physical, I have ever suffered. You remind me that the way I dress would be used as evidence against me should I ever take a rapist to court. You remind me that people are constantly judging my appearance, constantly judging my performance of femininity. You remind me that women are considered objects of the male gaze, that I am valued not for my personhood but for my quality as an ornament. You remind me that I am not considered a human being until someone knows me very well. You remind me that I have no way of knowing if I will be the one in four women who is raped or sexually assaulted in her life. You remind me that I have no way of knowing whether or not you are a safe person. You are reminding me that I am responsible for trusting no one, that I cannot consider any compliment “innocent” because it might be the first hint that someone will assault me, which I am responsible for preventing. You remind me that I cannot wear whatever makes me happy and feel safe. If you want to compliment me, keep it short, don’t expect a response, don’t leer at me, and preferably? Compliment me on my book choices, or my nerdy t-shirt, or my unusual sunglasses. Of course, I would prefer it if you didn’t discuss my looks at all, since they have nothing to do with you. If you want to actually talk to me, try “Hi! How are you? You look like an interesting person, my name is Blah, would you like to talk while we wait for the train?” and then respect my answer.”