October 29, 2010

There’s being nice, and there’s sexism.

Earlier this week, Kate Beaton (of Hark, A Vagrant) tweeted that she wanted to address readers who tried to compliment her with some sort of sexual comment attached. The tamest example of this being “I want to have your babies.” Immediately Twitter exploded with people telling her she was wrong, some women agreed with her and she even clarified that she had posted a tame example. Some men agreed with her as well.

Someone posted a blog rebuttal, which she linked because she was trying to stimulate a discussion. Which was mostly people saying she was overreacting. Let me rephrase that sentence- it was mostly men saying that. This comic might be the best way to summarize what happened.

The years that I’ve gone to Comic-Con, I always visit the Small Press aisles to buy something from my favorite artists. And while I gush and say creepy things like “I wish I could steal your talent,” then apologize and say something more general like “I just really love your work and honestly, wish I had the discipline you have,” I get to hear what other people say as I peruse the merch. Honestly, to the female creators, men make comments about how pretty they are in person, and how they weren’t expecting it. They talk about how they wish they could marry them, or make even creepier comments theorizing how they are in bed (note: this increases even more if the comic in question deals with sexual content). To the men, other men all seem to say things like they must get a lot of ass- even if the artist is married or in a long term relationship with that individual right next to them.

These aren’t compliments. They’re sexist comments that creep out people even more than my “I wish I could steal your brain/talent.” Artists, regardless of their gender, should be judged by their work. While it’s totally appropriate to think that they’re much more attractive in person than you’d imagined, not the sort of thing you should actually say.

I wish I could say that this was limited to the art community, but when I worked… well, anywhere, I got comments on my looks more than anything else. At Disneyland, I was often told that “I was much too pretty to be working at” whatever attraction or event I was working. And there were alway the creepy dads who would ask what I was doing when I got off of work. (Hint: Not. Them.) When I was a receptionist, I was told by male sales reps that I was gorgeous, and too pretty to be behind a desk- as though that would get me to set up a meeting for them with my boss. In meetings, I was told by clients and vendors that they knew I’d be pretty because I had such a nice voice. There is no way that last sentence doesn’t sound creepy.

Naturally, if I complained to someone- they’d say that I was attracted and should be used to it. Riiiiiiight.

So here’s the long and short of it. If you’re meeting someone, tell them that it’s a pleasure and you’re glad to meet them after talking to them on the phone so long. If you want to compliment them, compliment them on their work. I’m not saying don’t be nice- but honestly, flirting with people to try to get ahead of gross. Women are often accused (and unfairly) of using their bodies to get ahead- but men get a free pass.

Next time you want to compliment someone, think about a complete stranger saying it to you. Does it make you feel a little creepy? Don’t say it. And if it sounds like something you’d want someone to say if they were flirting with you in a bar… don’t say it either.

More: The comic I linked to was written and drawn by a man. Reddit seems to be annoyed that the genders were simplified, but in the end, it often becomes perceived as women ganging up on a man who means well in his commentary. People ignore the fact that there are people of both genders on either side of the issue and simplify it as such. So I’m fine with it.

The sad thing is that men who speak up against feminists are often accused of either being gay or having an agenda to get in someone’s pants. But really, there are some wonderful guys out there who really wish that people would stop treating women as sexual objects when they’re somewhere in a professional capacity.

I’m not saying that there aren’t women who don’t find this to be a problem- but ultimately it comes down to women being judged as being a [insert job title here] with breasts, and not as someone who happens to be a woman.

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