Slut-Shaming and the Attractiveness Factor

For the majority of my grown up life, I’ve been deeply skeptical of feminism. Mind you, I don’t want women to be barefoot and pregnant, despite my blog title. I believe that women and men are equal in value, even if they are fundamentally different in nature. In fact, one of my earliest college memories was a moment in Lit Trad IV, when I nearly jumped over the tables in a fit of rage after a boy insisted that “Sonia is a filthy whore.”

When he said that, my cheeks went red like I had just been slapped, and I kind of felt like I had. “She’s selling her body to provide food for her siblings,” I said in a low, dangerous tone. My professor looked at me in alarm. I probably looked a little frightening, with my hands planted on either side of my open book, palms pressed into the table, fingers splayed, my whole body tilting slightly forward. All I remember is watching the kid watch me, seeing his lip curl in disgust, and mentally thinking, don’t say what I know you’re going to say. Just don’t do it. Don’t be that person.

But he did say it. “She’s still a dirty whore. Doesn’t matter why she’s a slut. A slut’s a slut.” I fired back, “so if you were her brother, would you refuse to eat the food she buys with that money, then? Would you help her find other work? Would you work yourself so she didn’t have to sell her body?” He smiled then, and said slowly, “No. I’d eat the food, then I’d slap her across the face and tell her that her sin is disgusting in the eyes of God and man.”

It was at that point that my professor bodily removed me from the class, since I was halfway over the table with my hands balled into fists. Outside the class, she hugged me and told me that she completely understood and was also upset, but there were some people who only want to provoke and condemn, and words were wasted on them.

He was the exception, though, not the rule. I was sure of it. I was sure of then and I’ve been sure of it ever since. And seeing my husband do battle with the feminists in the years between that moment and this have left me without one iota of sympathy for anything that reeked of feminism. He’s been accused of misogyny more times than I can count because he’s a straight white Catholic male. I’ve been sure, just sure, that feminists see sexism wherever they want to, that it’s not really there, not really, not anymore. And women who talk about sexism in language, well, they should hang out with this girl:

(start it at :50 to avoid the “B” word)

YouTube Preview Image

Lately I’ve had that assurance rattled. Mostly because my online BFF, Kass-tacular, has been having some feminist angst. I sort of brushed it off at first, like, oh, she’s just moved to NYC and is swinging the pendulum in reaction to her ORU days, just like I’m swinging left now in reaction to my uber-right days. It happens to us all, it’ll correct itself, it’s an Aristotelian phase.

So when the Patrick Madrid Twitter-swear-gate happened, and the focus was immediately on the perceived sexism behind his tweets, I brushed it off too. I really didn’t think there was anything sexist behind him calling out women for swearing. After all, as I told Kassie, he was born in a different era, when men didn’t curse in front of women because chivalry, that’s why. And that’s dead and gone and makes me sad because I hate trying to wrestle doors open on my own with a baby on my hip and two toddlers in a double stroller.

Then two things happened. Clare Coffey pointed out, on Twitter, that “the idea that it’s somehow okay to specifically call out women for swearing is close to the definition of sexism.” Cari Donaldson, in a separate forum, pointed out that the language he used was specifically based on appearance. Jess has a good run-down of the conversation on CathoFeminism if you want to see all the tweets about the topic of women swearing. Some of the descriptions used about swearing female Catholic bloggers were “disgusting,” “major turn-off,” and “(they) have really let themselves go.”

This has been making me uneasy. Ever since this happened, I’ve started noticing the same trend…everywhere. Men judging women for what they do based on “attractiveness.” Women judging women for what they do based on “attractiveness.” Me judging myself for what I do or write based on “attractiveness.”

Last night it all kind of blew up for me when the tweets and status updates about Beyonce’s halftime performance started pouring in. Here’s what I wrote on facebook:

I did not watch the halftime show or the game, thank God. But I’m appalled by these status updates and tweets. Everyone commenting on how “disgusting” or “not sexy” or “unappealing” Beyonce was is part of the problem. The problem of judging a woman based on her appearance. What happened to objective morality? What happened to virtue? Why is no one appealing to right or wrong, but only their own sense of what’s “hot?” Shaming someone into behaving a certain way by telling her she isn’t attractive is what got us here in the first place, where women feel they have to cavort half-naked on a stage in order to be deemed worthy of praise.

Some of my friends seemed to think that I was defending Beyonce’s apparently obscene show. I wasn’t. What I was trying to point out is that turning off the TV or using this as a moment to teach your children about virtue, modesty, our culture’s objectification of women (which women are in some ways responsible for, y’all) is one thing. I’d argue that it’s a good thing. This:

is something quite different, and something very bad.

And it’s pretty much the same thing that happened on Twitter.

It is wrong to call out a woman for doing something because it’s unattractive. This type of behavior has nothing to do with the objective ideal of beauty. It’s all about trying to get a woman to change her behavior because you (or someone else) doesn’t find it attractive.

It’s wrong because that is the same attitude that got us here. Men and women have been changing the expectations for women’s behavior for years, maybe even decades, maybe even centuries based on what’s attractive. Men are not held to the same standard. No one says to a boy, “don’t cuss, it’s not attractive.” They say, “don’t cuss, it’s wrong.” (Personally, I say, “don’t cuss, because you don’t understand what you’re saying or how and when to use those words.” But then, I’m raising heathens.) But it’s so common to hear someone say to a little girl, “don’t cuss, it’s ugly” that I didn’t even blink twice at it on Twitter.

This is a problem for a lot of reasons. It’s a problem because we’re holding our boys and girls to two different standards of morality based on a subjective standard instead of an objective truth. If you’re thinking, “oh Calah, stop overreacting. It’s just a figure of speech, it doesn’t effect real life,” think again. A Catholic school in New Jersey just implemented a no swearing rule for girls only.

It’s a problem because by carelessly using this kind of language, we are still teaching our girls that their worth is measured by how they appear. The criticism of women swearing was not concerned with an objective sense of right or wrong. It was a criticism that relied entirely on the premise that swearing negatively affects a man’s attraction to women. Patrick Madrid literally said, “when women swear, I find them less attractive.” And that was echoed by men and women all over Twitter. “Yes, yes, it’s so disgusting for a woman to have a potty mouth! Yuck!”

This is disturbing. Now that I’m really seeing it, I’m really disturbed by it. Why is this okay? Why is it permissible for anyone to judge a woman’s actions based on how it affects her level of appeal? It’s just like the “pants are for sinners” post, where it’s ostensibly about the relative morality of women’s fashions, but if you scratch the surface you see that what’s really being said is, “I like to see a woman in a skirt, and since I’m a good, God-fearing man, you women owe me that visual pleasure. So put a skirt on and I’ll find you more attractive!”

For many years, I tortured myself over my appearance. I still do. Whether we want to admit it or not, our culture shapes women to believe that their value is measured by how they look. And it’s not just the secular culture. Religious cultures do it too. Pat Robertson thinks that women whose husbands drink are at fault because they’ve let themselves go. There it is again, “let themselves go.” Like I’ve let myself go with my cursing? Somehow, I’m unable to torture myself over that one. It’s jarringly liberating, in a way. After 28 years, I’m finally at a place where the fact that a man I’ve never met finds me unattractive because I swear fails to shame me into a bout of mental self-laceration. Two years ago, it would have been a different story.

 I do not want my daughter to grow up in a world where the boys and men around her constantly judge her morality in terms of physical attraction. I don’t want her to hear things like, “waiting till marriage is sexy” or “it’s a turn-off when girls smoke”. I want her to hear things like, “your virtue is worth too much to throw away on someone who is not going to commit his life to you.” I want her to hear someone say, “smoking damages your body, and you’re too precious to damage for recreation.” I want her to grow up in a world where men and women talk about issues of virtue and modesty in terms of objective truth, not in terms of sex appeal. I don’t want my daughter to be shamed into acting virtuously because if she doesn’t, some anonymous internet guy is going to tweet about what a turn-off she is. I don’t want my daughter to spend the better part of three decades torturing herself over her appeal to men before she can finally get enough distance to see things objectively. She deserves better than that. And if I ignore these things because I’m tired of feminism, or I think it’d be swell if there were more chivalry around, I’m failing her.

  • Brigitte

    Excellent post,Calah. You gave me a lot to think about. Also, you raised my awareness of how honorable my husband is and what a great non sexist job he did helping me raise four daughters. He never encouraged any little girl wiles, simpering, cutesyness and all that stuff. You will do great with your children I expect. I think homeschooling really helps with cultivating true thinking and virtue in this regard.

  • John Knox

    Your argument has some merit, but you act as if men aren’t held to any arbitrary standards–they are.
    Men are not expected to “cry”–they are supposed to be “manly” and that is attractive
    Men are supposed to be into sports and expected to show only limited affection or emotion, otherwise they are considered “gay”
    Men are expected to “pursue” women, pay for dates, hold doors open and so forth

    I could go on, and you could also argue that only ignorant, right-wing people would have those expectations for men, but the same is true about those arbitrary expectations for women–they are only held by a subset of the population. There is inequality for both sexes, and I admit there may be more arbitrary expectations for women, but in this age I don’t think the gap in expectations / standards is very large. Have a more balanced argument, please.

    • Emily

      Very good response! Thank you for bringing some reason here

      • calahalexander

        Listen, it’s less convincing to switch names and applaud your own comment when you use two nearly identical gmail accounts and the same IP address. Just FYI.

        • http://www.runts.wordpress.com Megan

          Calah, you’re awesome! I love this post. As to the idea that women have stereotypes or expectations for men, I don’t think it works the same way, because 1. women naturally tend to be more invested in their attractiveness than men so when people (especially religious authorities) equate attractiveness with morality, it places unfair burdens on women, and 2. telling a boy to be manly and tough doesn’t make him powerless, rather the opposite, while telling a girl that her objective value relies on how much men want to hook up with her is very damaging and makes her weaker.

    • amina

      @ John,
      You are right about the inequalties existing for both sexes….HOWEVER!
      Unfortunately, given the differences in physiology and the balance of power in the world, the manifestations and effects of these expectations help fuel the abuse of women and and sufferings of children. The aggregate effects ARE NOT EQUAL! Therefore, on a world level or even on a subgroup level there are large gap differences. Whether politics, class privilege (i.e. maid vs rich hotel guest) or misapplication and distortion of religious principles is the origin of the evil, it’s still a tremendous gender difference with a heavy power valence.

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  • Thew

    I have to say that the tweet is correct about Beyonce not looking sexy. I teach partner dance, and pretty much everything she did ran counter to what I (and every teacher I know) teach is beautiful styling, from her scowl to the squats to the way she gyrated. There are certain ways you have to carry yourself and move if you want to be beautiful (and thus sexy in an authentic way.)

    Also, I agree that for a man to expect a woman to be attractive 24/7 is not reasonable at all. However, Beyonce was performing at the Superbowl. I expect any performer, whether a man or a woman, to be attractive when performing at such an event. It’s part of the performance, part of the job description.

    • calahalexander

      I finally watched the performance. I’m with you 100%. She was not sexy. However, saying that as an aesthetic judgement is one thing. Saying that as a moral judgement is another. The tweet conflated the two with the “disgusting, lust-filled times” descriptor. That’s the issue I’m bringing up.

      That aside, wow was that scowl bizarre. I could not figure out why she looked so angry. It was weird, kind of like they were trying to incorporate S&M culture into the Superbowl performance. I dunno. It was a very jarring and troubling performance, even though I’d never say it’s anything close to soft porn. Your point about beauty is interesting. Beauty, I think, can be part of a moral judgement, insofar as truth, goodness, and beauty are inextricably intertwined. But in our culture, the idea of beauty is very distinct from sexiness or attractiveness. That’s worth a whole post in itself.

      • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

        I watched it, too, and I don’t think it was supposed to be sexy. Yes, she was scantily dressed, but the whole thing struck me as trying to be more “fierce” than anything else. I don’t think it was meant to appeal to men. If anything, it was probably meant to frighten them.

        So the fact that everyone is looking at it as some kind of failed seduction attempt is both funny and a bit frightening. It’s as though we’re all conditioned to see anything that a woman does on a stage or in front of people as selling sex.

        And then I turned it off, because sitting there analyzing whether or not some dance during a game I didn’t even watch was sexy or not was creepy in itself.

  • Michael

    While I understand your rejection of feminine decorum being expressed in terms of ‘attractiveness’ and a late-20th-century desire for an androgynous measure, I urge you to think a little more deeply on this matter. Yes, there are ways in which women are judged by looks and that can lead to all kinds of terrible pathologies. But in the organic complementariness of the sexes, there is a degree to which the ideal of womanhood is enshrined in a fundamental attractiveness – not sexual, but feminine. Femininity is idealized and idolized for its purity and wholesomeness and nurturing. These are almost always summed up generically as a gut-felt attractiveness. Why is it particularly troubling to encounter a woman who cusses like a sailor – yes, even more so than a man! – because it is not womanly…and unwomanly is gut-level unattractive to us. That’s not sexist…any more than we seem to be apathetic to what men do. A man cusses and our general reaction is: whatever, he’s a man and we don’t care. But if he cusses at a woman…suddenly it’s terrible. Again, because woman is the guiding value. Many feminists claim that this is sexist (it is) in a bad way (it isn’t); but they don’t claim that it’s sexist to not care that men cuss (it is). In a bad way? We don’t even care enough to ask. Which is even more sexist. Your compromise position is to claim that we should all be held to the same standard. But that’s now how humans work. We want to idolize and have a common ideal. That is why Mary is such a powerful icon for us. If someone desecrates the statue of Mary, we are outraged. If they do it to the statue of Joseph…it’s bad, but not nearly the same. Is that sexist? Yes. In a bad way? No. It’s instinctive for us to idolize and protect our mother…and our wife…and our daughters…and, yes, hold them to higher ideals than we hold ourselves. Because it is through the preservation of the feminine that the masculine usually finds its redemption. The maid’s job is to be pure; the knight’s job is to save and protect her. Complementary. Is it sexist? Yes. In a bad way? No. Because if any differentiation based on gender is sexist, then gender itself is sexist…then God is sexist. And if God is sexist…well, then that’s what I want to be too. In a good way.

  • http://www.ruffedgedesign.com/ Cheryl

    Good post, Calah. I love the fact that you got so angry about your classmate’s judgment of Sonia. What kind of crap do you think he’s sending off into the Twitterverse? I read Crime and Punishment a few months ago, and my heart just ached for Sonia, and Katerina Ivanovna, and the pawn broker’s sister, but not for any of the men. Even when poverty left the men with nothing materially, they still had so much more than the women when it came to dignity.

    As far as the swearing goes, I do it better than most sailors (ask my husband and kids), BUT I don’t take the Lord’s name in vain (not even an OMG). I just throw four-letter words around a lot when I’m upset, but I’ve been working at controlling my temper and have made a great deal of progress. As my 92-year-old aunt told me about 20 years ago when she shook her fist and let loose a string of expletives after a Boston driver nearly ran us over, “It lowers my blood pressure.” It does. There’s nothing like the f-word to release some tension. Since I realize this, I don’t get bent out of shape about my kids using such vocabulary, here at home. I do, however, expect them to be civilized when the occasion calls for it (which is means when anyone else is around — I expect the same from myself), and I often remind them to be very careful about what they post online. It makes an impression, a lasting one, especially among potential employers, in-laws or college admissions folks. These standards hold for the boys and girls.

    Beyoncé’s performance at the Super Bowl was repulsive, but not because she was somehow not “attractive” enough. She’s a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice, but she completely reduced herself to an obejct. Leah Darrow wrote a very good blog post on the subject today. Here’s a link: http://www.leahdarrow.com/blessed-are-the-booty-shakers-for-they-will-be-super-bowl-halftime-performers-2/ I know exactly what you mean about the sneer. I found it disturbing and condescending.

    As far as equality between the sexes: it should be the case. In theory, God created men and women to be equal. Unfortunately, as in most of life, theory and reality seldom play well together. Human nature always screws things up.

  • http://www.ruffedgedesign.com/ Cheryl

    Oh, I have one more thought (I guess it’s a question), and it may have been brought up by other commenters (I read only the last ten entries or so), but how much of this really just boils down to judging and being judged? Remember what Jesus says about the logs in our own eyes? But we continue to judge (even the most devout among us) and we continue to get upset when we’re judged harshly by others. People shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, because it’s a sin. People shouldn’t use vulgarities if they don’t want to be negatively judged by others for doing so. If they don’t care what other people think of them and are prepared to face the consequences of others judging them negatively, then they should feel free to let those expletives just roll of the tongue. But the net/net/bottom line is this: we are each responsible for our own words, thoughts and actions. We can’t control these in other people and we shouldn’t expect to.

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  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108796079782158436161/ Kevin

    I rather expect that men use the appeal to attractiveness because they sense that that will help their point get through. I don’t think many young women (or young men) would be very much moved by an abstract appeal to their self-worth.

    • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

      That’s manipulative. And why are you trying to control these women anyway?

      • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108796079782158436161/ Kevin

        Yeah, isn’t it terrible that someone would try to promote goodness and virtue by finding a way to connect it with the things his audience already values. Sheesh.

        • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

          It is terrible that so many young Catholic men think it’s their job to manipulate women into conforming to their idea of virtue. If you’re not a priest, you have no right to offer advice or commentary on someone else’s moral actions. It’s not promoting goodness. It’s being a controlling busybody, and I suspect that you wouldn’t like it much either if you were on the receiving end of it.

          The fact that you shame women by making them feel less attractive in order to try to make them “better” in some way is just all-out creeptastic. Oh, and your “audience” probably doesn’t value physical attractiveness in women nearly as much as you do.

          • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108796079782158436161/ Kevin

            I think it’s terrible how you’re trying to manipulate me into conforming to your idea of virtue. If you’re not a priest, why are you offering advice and commentary on my moral actions? You’re not promoting goodness. You’re being a controlling busy-body, and I don’t think you’d like it if you were on the receiving end of it.

            Seriously, though, it’s ironic to me that you don’t realize “creep” is shaming language designed to control men into conforming to the desires of women. It’s the _exact_ reverse of “slut”. In fact, at the core of “creep” is the idea of unattractiveness!

            Oh, and do some reading on the role of the laity.

          • Corita

            Io, just wanted to say I thank you for fighting the good fight. Will it work in the end? Heaven only knows. But you are super for trying!

          • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

            Kevin, I think you’re confused about what’s going on here.

            Let me explain it this way. We have two people: A and B. B is just living its life and minding its own business. A decides that B needs to be “made better” and starts insulting and denigrating B to make B feel bad so B will change.

            B tells A to knock it off. A does not listen. B tells A that A is a creep.

            Has B done the same thing as ? Has B manipulated and shamed A and imposed unreasonable expectations on A? No. B is just defending itself.

            Furthermore, if I had used the same shaming tactics you’re defending here on you, I would have said, “I think men who feel the need to correct and shame women and then say it’s for their own good betray some pretty deep in securities about their manhood. It’s really big a turn-off.”

            Corita, thanks. :) I don’t know if it will do any good either, but there are some things I can’t just let pass by.

          • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

            Oh, and “creep” is not the male version of “slut.” “Manslut” is the male version of “slut.”

          • Corita

            It is my opinion there is absolutely no general corollary to “slut” for a man. You can’t pack the same human history into any word directed specifically at a male. Only situationally between two people might you come close, if the amount of condemnation is severe enough and taken personally enough by the man. But… still.

          • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108796079782158436161/ Kevin

            I don’t see how your comments leave any space for promoting goodness or virtue. (“If you’re not a priest, you have no right to offer advice or commentary on someone else’s moral actions.” REALLY?) In reality, these same men that are, you think, insulting women, are setting pretty high standards for men as well. Some people get excited about holiness and like to promote ways to act better, even when it is challenging. Some people even do this more or less professionally. They also perceive, correctly I think, that young women in particular are eager to please the tribe and very concerned about their image. So naturally framing good behavior in that light seems effective.

            Calling this rhetoric “controlling” is just an effort to squish and malform reality until it fits neatly into the conventional feminist worldview. I can think of many times in the past when women have said things like “It is so attractive when a Catholic guy is on fire for Christ,” or called various forms of misbehavior “unattractive”. Obviously that’s not controlling language. It’s just a statement of a preference. Nobody is controlling anybody by talking about what they find attractive. Nor are they arguing that women should base their whole life around what is attractive, although you could argue that they are allowing for the fact that some women do. (There’s a big distinction there!)

            I’m sorry this all upsets you. After looking at your website, I can see you have a pretty big chip on your shoulder and this conversation probably isn’t going anywhere.

          • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

            Yes, really, lay people shouldn’t go around giving other people moral advice and certainly not making them feel bad so they’ll conform to some standard that a layperson has decided.

            Priests and religious have a lot of training, special graces, and spiritual backup so that they advice they give comes from God and not from their own pride. Lay men, like yourself, have no such thing, which is why we have a distinction between the religious life and normal lay people. That seems really hard for you to accept, but try. The idea that some regular Joe Blow would have the same rights and duties to give moral advice to anyone and everyone in the same way a priest would is not only absurd but smacks pretty loudly of Protestantism.

          • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

            The way for ordinary people is to promote virtue and goodness is by good example and there’s certainly a lot of leeway for telling people about the Faith who ask. Claiming that you can’t promote goodness unless you’re going around insulting women and emotionally abusing them into changing is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? What better way to promote virtue and goodness than by practicing your Faith humbly and with charity? (Which, by the way, leaves no room for what you’re defending here pretty strenuously.)

          • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108796079782158436161/ Kevin

            That’s a novel view of the laity to be sure. Soooo….. you’re some kind of nun then, right? Because this looks awfully like moral advice:

            http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/2013/01/what-respectable-middle-class-catholics.html

            You must have special training to be dishing out that kind of advice, right?

            “Claiming that you can’t promote goodness unless you’re going around insulting women and emotionally abusing them into changing is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?”

            Saying, “Smoking and cussing isn’t attractive” is emotional abuse now? Are women that fragile? There’s something else going on here.

            It seems like all your comments are sort of based on the idea that the guy in question is a stalker who is fixated on a single woman and is following her around, berrating her for various things. If that is the context that you are bringing to this discussion, I sincerely apologize for the the behavior of whoever is or was bothering you. I wish there was something I could do about it.

            Let me be clear: stalking and obsessive behavior is wrong and abusive, and I can certainly understand how the same language we’re discussing can become very upsetting in that context. I get that. I remain unconvinced that that language is always wrong, but in some situations, you would be absolutely right about it being controlling and/or abusive to speak that way.

          • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

            I’ve never been stalked, so I have no idea what you’re talking about.

            The post that I wrote was in response to conversations I’ve had with people who asked the question, “I know that women are victims of those crimes, but what the heck can I do about it?” I’m pointing out behaviors that many people may not realize creates an environment that puts women in danger. Morality? I suppose. But it’s more about safety. In any case, offering advice about how not to make women feel bad or vulnerable once again comes under the heading of “self-defense.” Besides, there’s a big difference between talking about social problems and hurtful words (my point) and dispensing spiritual advice to people you don’t even know in order to “help” them (yours).

            “Are women that fragile?”

            Some women are. Women as a group are certainly more sensitive to criticism than you seem to understand. Women aren’t men; I’m sure we agree on that. That’s why men in Christian societies have always been expected to go a bit out of their way to treat women with deference and consideration. What doesn’t bother a man (you) may bother a woman quite a bit. What doesn’t bother one particular woman may bother another. That’s not a “novel” idea at all. What is novel is the idea that men have some kind of free pass to “get their point through” by telling a woman that she’s doing something unattractive and that’s more important than basic kindness and charity. That’s all ego talking; your need to say something does not trump other peoples’ right to basic respect.

            Furthermore, you gave an example that women will say things like “I find it attractive when men are on fire for the Faith” or something like that. I’m sure most people can see the difference between praising something and tearing something down. You are perfectly free to praise women in whatever way you like. You are not free to tear them down in whatever way you like. (I say “women” because you never mentioned using the same tactic on men. You specifically said that this tactic works on women because they are more sensitive to criticism about their attractiveness which is why this works on them. Then you turned right around and said, “So what’s the big deal? Are women THAT fragile?” Did you forget you pointed out this vulnerability yourself?) A woman praising a man is not the same as a man insulting a woman. Surely that’s not difficult to see.

            I personally find it irritating when men think they’re complimenting me by telling me that something that I’m doing for God is attractive to them. It seems like they’re appropriating something for themselves and perhaps even sexualizing it which was not meant for them in the first place. That strikes me as being very much a product of a society that commodifies women’s bodies and worships at the altar of male desire. However, I admit I’m more sensitive to that kind of thing than most and think about it a lot more. Some women may find it confidence-boosting to be told they look beautiful when they do something that honors God.

            That’s why it seems both prudent and polite for a man not to make a comment like that to a woman unless he knows her well enough to know how she would take it. This is called treating women like individuals instead of treating us like we’re all the same and will all react in the same way to everything. This is also why it’s simply a part of normal courtesy and good manners, not to mention common sense, not to always be commenting on the way other people look. If you find yourself fixating on the appearance or outward demeanor of other people all the time, to the point where you feel like you have to comment, it might be a good idea to talk to a priest about that compulsion and see what he thinks about it.

            I rarely make comments to people about how they look or the things they do. If it’s a close friend or family member, I’ll compliment or praise them if I think it will help them in some way, but I try to be careful about not commenting on anything that they might be sensitive about. If they ask for feedback on something, and what I have to say is negative, I try to say it in a way that will help them and not make it worse. You have to know someone really well to be able to do this. That’s why strangers barging in and making accusations right and left is so shocking and hurtful.

            And from what I’ve seen, it never helps. In many cases it actually drives people away from the Faith. So you might want to consider that even if you don’t consider anything else I’ve said, because I know a LOT of people with your attitude and I have seen firsthand the effect it has.

            Here’s an article on men and empathy that you might find interesting. The guy doesn’t seem like he has a chip on his shoulder, so you might be able to find some wisdom in it: http://artofmanliness.com/2010/07/25/our-disembodied-selves-and-the-decline-of-empathy/

          • calahalexander

            Something else that you might consider, Kevin, is that women throughout history, in every culture bar none, have been judged on their beauty. Not so for men. This is made trickier by the fact that we (or I, being a good half-assed philosopher of neo-Platonism/Aristotelianism/I don’t really know what I mean but THE FORMS) consider beauty, truth and goodness to be inextricably linked. That presents a real difficulty for women, too many of whom (and here I speak from personal experience, so be a little gentle in your criticsm) place the entire value of their self-worth on how they appear. So for most women, criticism of her appearance becomes a criticism of her worth, even if it’s not meant as such. (Although I would argue that too many times it is meant as such.) I’m not saying that because of this, all men ever should bend over backward to never ever offend a woman’s sense of her appearance. My husband’s insistence on not catering to my crippling insecurity was primarily instrumental in allowing me to overcome that weird I-am-only-as-good-as-I-look mindset. But he’s my husband, not someone on the internet. I’m just saying, it would perhaps be helpful to the conversation if you’d admit that men and women have utterly different relationships to their appearances and the idea of whether or not they are “attractive.” Anyway, I hope that makes sense in spite of the excessive parentheses. It’s late. I only think that’s an important allowance that must be made if anyone is going to have a fruitful discussion about this.

          • unapologetic catholic

            “Saying, “Smoking and cussing isn’t attractive” is emotional abuse now?”

            Probably not, but you should appreciate that it’s outrageously sexist.
            This is why (it’s worth highlighting):

            “I personally find it irritating when men think they’re complimenting me by telling me that something that I’m doing for God is attractive to them.”

            Your unilateral determination that your opinion of attractiveness is *important* to an entire gender is sexist.

          • Corita

            I think I will be forever grateful to Kevin “the Mansplainer” for linking to your post on Catholic families and rape culture, Io. THANKS. I wish all nice Catholic families would read it and think about your opinions.

          • http://charmingdisarray.blogspot.com/ Io

            Thank you, Corita. I think there’s a strong tendency for Catholics to think that they’re in a bubble and can neither be affected by horrible things like rape culture, nor can they have any affect on it themselves, but that’s far from being the case.

            “But he’s my husband, not someone on the internet.”

            Exactly. When you have a close relationship with someone, they have more of a privilege to give feedback or help or even constructive criticism. Relationships mean something. The idea that some stranger has the same rights when you haven’t allowed him into your life and he hasn’t taken vows before God to cherish you through the good and bad is outrageous. The same goes for other kinds of relationships. My mom can tell me she likes or doesn’t like my haircut, and even if it bothers me, I’m going to give her a lot of leeway because she’s my mom and I love her and she gave me life. Some dude after Mass who thinks he’s benefiting Western Civilization and fighting feminism by telling me my hair looks better when it’s long is being a creep. And yes, I will use that term, because a creep is someone who acts like they have a close relationship with you when they don’t, and it’s alarming, intrusive, and revolting.

            Good point, too, about how men haven’t gotten the same pressure about their looks throughout history. Even if a woman said, “I find it really unattractive when men tie their sweaters around their shoulders,” it’s simply not going to carry the same kind of cultural weight, no matter how you slice it.

    • Meredith

      Re: “shaming language” –

      Aaaaaand, here’s our first Manospherian!

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