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"Like a graveyard...
... people dig me"
White male seeking understanding 
9th-Nov-2006 05:16 pm
So I was reading an Ask Metafilter question about being asked to smile. The thread is interesting but devolves into a giant "Men Are Pigs" fest. The operative theory being that men think women should be pretty no matter what, therefore they should smile all the time. In addition, the smiling somehow reinforces their submission to the males. Personally, I don't think I've ever asked anyone to smile, of either gender, but I often try to cheer people up through silliness and absurdity—occasionally to bad result. Given the initial question at AskMeFi, however, how does the answering public become so certain that the poster is female and is being told by males to smile? (Ignore, for the moment, that the poster marked a response as "Best Answer" pretty much declaring what the previous posters suspected.)

On a slightly related note: (most, if not all of) you know that I'm a tall, white male. That said, I feel very vulnerable telling women I find them attractive, as the song notes suggest I do. Perhaps its from the culture at RIT, where women could bring men up on "looking" charges and then those men could get expelled (although extremely unlikely—forced letters of apology and probation were much more common). Perhaps it's just plain old fear of rejection. Who knows. But I ask you, my reading public (which has many women in it), how do I avoid the first kind of repercussions (the latter, I have only myself to blame, I know)?

And on a related note to that last related note: most of the shame I feel from my eyes catching on attractive women for as long as is "safe" is mostly due to the fact that I feel I am consuming a resource (looking at an attractive person) and not contributing resources back to the "ogling pool", if one exists.

Thanks to s00j's K for giving me that second idea to think upon and ruminiate on since Lunacon '06. And thaanks to Sooj herself for the song which gave me the impetus to actually write out the thoughts I was having.
9th-Nov-2006 10:30 pm (UTC)
Re the first: if the answering public is predominantly female, probably because that is their experience. I'd probably say 4 out of every 5 people who tell me to smile are dudes. Also, the ones who are ladies are pretty much all older ladies, but the dudes are of varying ages, so it always strikes me as a gender thing.

re the second: I've found that saying "you look really pretty today" instead of "gosh, you're pretty" tends to sound less creepy? Like more like a genuine compliment than you being creepy? it also helps if it comes up in an actual conversation instead of that being the only thing you say to someone.
10th-Nov-2006 06:19 pm (UTC)
that's pretty much what I was thinking (though with an opposite gender ratio of smile-sayers, and that hasn't really happened since highschool). it's definitely very weird to damand that people smile, but (almost) everybody likes a compliment :)

but yeah, if you want me to smile, give me a reason to. I'm not some kind of sideshow, smiling for your amusement.
9th-Nov-2006 11:13 pm (UTC)
I really appreciate that you call me pretty, wonderful, awesome and all sorts of adjectives. What I don't like is how often you say them.

Yes, gods, it sounds stupid whenever I say it out loud. I should be happy for the praise. Yet, I think that a good portion of your friends would agree there is something infantile about the way you compliment us--the repetitiveness, the way you say it often without regard to situation, mood or time constraint and the generality of the compliments.

I know you love, care for and think the world of me. It feels like nothing about me in particular stands out though. I am the bestest girlfriend in the world and can do anything, but that doesn't say a lot.

The compliments I treasure the most from you are when you bring up something tangible and specific about me. It may be about the food I cooked, the dress I'm wearing, a joke I just made, but then it feels like you're paying attention to me instead repeating your general image of me without regard to the present.

Also, I think these work best on strangers. "Look, I'm not JUST creepy, I can point out something that I am attracted to you by aside from you're a breathing female! I love your hair color."

I don't mean stop calling me pretty every now and again with provocation, but not every hour we're together, to start every IM conversation or to sign off every e-mail.
10th-Nov-2006 12:34 am (UTC)
I appreciate it when the guy takes the time to come up with unique compliments. Then it's not so much a repetition of the same thing and a gut reaction, but something new that shows thought and time spent.
9th-Nov-2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
At some point, I want to walk around the RIT campus in an AC/DC t-shirt and torn jeans, and cat-call every fucking woman I see.

If you can't deal with the society in which you live, and feel the need to create the sort of trumped up nonsense that the "feminists" at RIT have done, you don't deserve respect. Women - and by extension, men - earn respect for actions, not for running to whatever legislative body exists and bawling when the world doesn't coddle them.

I really wish someone would beat them with the Susan Faludi stick.
10th-Nov-2006 12:39 am (UTC)
Women - and by extension, men - earn respect for actions,

I've recently decided to agree with you. I do some gaming, and as a woman doing so I'm definitely in the minority. I've started to notice in some circles (not usually my own) with a majority of guys gaming and few if any girls, the guys occasionally make disparaging remarks. I used to just let it go, or bitch to friends, but I've decided it's time I started doing something about it. I've started speaking up to the culprits and others around them, pointing out why that sort of speech is wrong and that they shouldn't sit idly by when others do it, and so on. I hope such direct action will slowly make change, and improve the environment more than "running to whatever legislative body exists" would do.
10th-Nov-2006 04:34 am (UTC)
Because that's totally going to solve anything.
10th-Nov-2006 11:32 am (UTC)
Not sure if you caught the reference, but Susan Faludi is a feminist author whose take on feminism I generally agree with. Angus Young fantasies aside, I feel that exposure to a view of feminism that isn't mired in 1970s social theory -would- solve quite a few things up there.
10th-Nov-2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
Angus Young fantasies aside, I totally agree with you. At least, as much as I can say that without reading Susan Faludi.

Well, depending on what sort of free-from-1970s feminism we're talking about -- but any kkind would probably be better than the one we see most often now. ;)
9th-Nov-2006 11:52 pm (UTC)
Given the initial question at AskMeFi, however, how does the answering public become so certain that the poster is female and is being told by males to smile?

To reverse the question briefly, under what circumstances would Joe Average, common man walkin' down the street, be told to smile, why such a frown, c'mon cheer up?  From what I've seen, heard, and read, there is the slightest possible chance in hell that a male would receive that sort of question, and I only indicate there's any chance at all because I can't be 100% certain it's never happened.

In sharp contrast, I receive that question about... one in five, one in ten times I'm walking down the street, controlling for duration (at least 3 minutes) and time of day (midday, which ensures an average street-enpeopledness).  And it pisses me the fuck off, because if it was just a "Come, let us brighten the overall human tapestry!" thing, why don't men get the question as much fucking ever*?  Why do women get told to smile, as though it's not permitted for us to not want to smile?

I've asked "Why?" sometimes, and the usual answers involve "You probably have a pretty smile" or "You should be smiling!  It's a lovely day!" or whateverthefuck.  Tell the businessman behind me the same thing, and I'll be slightly more inclined to listen, damn you.

I wish my pissed-offedness were due to me being more feministy as time goes by, but no, this has always pissed me off.  Grr.  (And to clarify, my pissed-off is in general, and not you-directed.)

(* My desire to not be extremist drops alarmingly when I'm pissed.)

[indicating attractiveness without being creepy]

The "looking" charges strikes me as a trifle excessive.  Well-written stalking laws would suffice, but I don't know the situation well enough.

Wrt the diff between creepy and not, it's hard to explain in text, since a lot of it is body language.  I'm comfortable when the compliment-payer (a) pays attention to my body language (if I'm giving off signals of "Thanks, end message", then take a damn hint, frex) and (b) doesn't carry the weird-ass assumption that by paying me a compliment, we've created A Bond.

It's also very helpful if the compliment is in some sort of context.  It's not necessary - I've been randomly told that I'm pretty, and it's been fine - but it's helpful.
10th-Nov-2006 11:38 am (UTC)
Free speech. It's the hallmark of a free society, and it includes the right to flip someone off if you feel that they deserve it.

That said, this situation that is causing everyone to become so pissed starts with someone (A) being relatively polite, (B) showing interest in another person's happiness.

But you know - it's men. There really should be a "men cannot talk to, look at, smile at, or exist near women, lest they be OMGOPPRESSED.

10th-Nov-2006 02:04 pm (UTC)
What was your intent behind this comment?
10th-Nov-2006 12:32 am (UTC)
how does the answering public become so certain that the poster is female and is being told by males to smile?

Because the speaker signs with the name "sephira" and refers to her coworkers as "guys." That'd do it for me. Wouldn't make me 100% certain, but certain enough to assume it and then go from there.

But yeah, it's a stereotypical comment from men to women in an office environment that belittles the woman.

I am consuming a resource (looking at an attractive person)

Good looks are a renewable resource. You do not use them up and make the person less good-looking by the act of looking at them. If you feel guilty, you could try smiling back at the person when they catch you staring, hopefully increasing their happiness quotient in return.

Or if you wanted to say something, how's about "you look like a nice person." Women who aren't fixated on their looks prefer to be told they're good people over being told that they're good-looking. It also seems less like sexual harassment if you really think that's highly likely.

I would rather be noticed for my brains than for my looks. If someone always told me they thought I looked pretty, I'd be upset that they were so shallow and not caring WHO was wearing that pretty clothing, or that they were shallowly caring about aspects of my physical appearance that I have no control over. As a woman I feel a little more free to compliment women on their looks, but whenever I consciously think about it I phrase it as complimenting their choice of clothing, and therefore complimenting their judgement, rather than simply their physical appearance.
10th-Nov-2006 02:02 am (UTC)
Datapoint: I'd find "You look like a nice person" from a stranger to be totally creepy. My looks are public. Who I am is not, and making that kind of assumption about me feels like someone trying to get into my head where they don't belong.

Definitely in the "What a lovely scarf" or "Are you liking that book? I've heard good things about it" or "Hey, a Warhammer bag, is there a gaming store near here?" camp, here.
10th-Nov-2006 04:17 am (UTC)
Good point, I wasn't thinking in terms of "creep factor," just in terms of sexism. Now that you've pointed it out, I agree with your "comment on the item, not the person" suggestion
10th-Nov-2006 04:19 am (UTC)
Or if you wanted to say something, how's about "you look like a nice person." Women who aren't fixated on their looks prefer to be told they're good people over being told that they're good-looking. It also seems less like sexual harassment if you really think that's highly likely.

Conversely, doesn't that mean that I'm making a character assumption based upon an appearance characteristic? Or what Rose said earlier in this thread...
10th-Nov-2006 04:29 am (UTC)
True true. As mentioned above in the thread, I was making my point from a point of view of trying to avoid sexism.
10th-Nov-2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
I think the moral of this story is that there are some people that you should just not bother trying to talk to becuase they are bitchy. Also, its generally a terrifically bad idea to tell an introvert to do anything that could possibly be construed as social by anyone ever.
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