Today on my lunch break I went down to the café to get a sandwich. While I was waiting in line, the man in front of me turned around and said, “Hello, Beautiful” To my dumbfounded expression he replied, “I am just saying I think you are beautiful.” He was an older gentleman who I don’t think was trying to hit on me or meant anything rude by it. I’m sure he thinks he was giving me a compliment, but in fact it was sexist and rude. In case you do not understand why, here are some guidelines to know if something you are saying or doing is in fact sexist:
Would you say that to a man? Before you say something to some woman you don’t know, stop and ask yourself, “Is this something I would say to a man who I don’t know?” If not, chances are it’s sexist. Most people don’t often feel the need to tell a strange man that they think he is handsome, and most men would be thrown off by that kind of comment out of the blue. I’m talking of course about every day things like eating at a restaurant or shopping not being out a club or some place where people are trying to pick each other up. That’s a totally different scenario riddled with sexism all around.
Would you do that to a man? There is a man I work with who is honestly very nice. When I first started working here he would greet me in the mornings with a hug. At first I didn’t mind it, but as I realized this was going to be an every day occurrence I redirected his hugs to fist bumps. He was pretty confused to begin with but now we greet each other with fist bumps and that’s our thing. The fact of the matter is his hugs were sexist because he was not hugging any of the men he worked with.
Does your opinion of a woman go beyond the way she looks? When you know nothing or take the time to find out nothing about a woman other than the way she looks, then commenting on her appearance either positively or negatively implies that it defines who she is. That is sexist. I would welcome a compliment when it is about something that I’ve done or chosen for myself like, “I really love your haircut.” Or “That’s a great sweater,” but if it’s just what I look like, that’s really not a compliment.
Do you give different attention to different women because of their looks? Strange man in café, are you complimenting every one you see or only women you find attractive? Your compliment is sexist. There’s a great interview with Dustin Hoffman about “Tootsie.” After the first makeup test and realizing that he could not be made to look like a more attractive woman, his heart was broken and he thought of all the women who he had over looked or never spoken to because they were not what he considered to be “beautiful.”
As I get older I am more aware of the society imposed “expiration date” that is given to women and I don’t want to be identified by how I look. Men are rarely described by how they look, so why is it so different for women? I remember from growing up constantly being told about a woman by what she looked like. My mother told me once about a woman I hadn’t met yet saying, “oh you’ll like her, she’s really beautiful.” Sorry, Mom, if you’re reading this, I know you didn’t mean anything bad by it, but it just shows how we are raised and taught to think about women and as women. I’ve spent much of my life worried about how I look and thinking that if I am not attractive then I have nothing to offer the world. That’s totally warped right? But I’m changing that for myself and I hope to change that for women in the future. As filmmakers we have an incredible influence on people and I hope to show, in my work, a diverse range of women who are something other than “beautiful.”