Do I have a sign on my back that says FEMINIST: PROVOKE ME? The last few days at work have made me think that I do. I generally try to be quiet and keep my head down when it comes to any sort of political or hot button issue at work, mainly because I know that my opinions are different than many of my coworkers and unless someone wants to engage in an intellectual conversation where both parties have a chance to speak, it really isn’t worth my time. However, the following is an actual conversation that took place today:
Someone came into my office and told me that, although he had learned from his past that it is inappropriate to comment on a women’s appearance, he could however comment on her clothes. I’m not quite sure how that was rationalized but he ended his thought by telling me my nail polish looked nice. In the past, I’d have shrugged a comment like this off my shoulders but I feel like I’ve finally gained enough confidence in myself to respond (and this isn’t the first time he’s said this exact same thing with some other random “compliment” about my attire).
I looked up at him (from the work document I was typing) and told him that I was pretty sure that not commenting on a women’s appearance meant just that. Don’t comment on the way a woman looks. He rolled his eyes and immediately began ranting about how women can’t have it both ways. We can’t be able to file sexual harassment suits at the drop of a hat because someone looks at us weird but then want men to compliment them. He then stated he was going to start filing suits for people he thinks are ugly because “from his perspective” they’re offending him.
I, again, interrupted from my work, looked up to tell him that he clearly did not understand the female experience in the workplace (or just in life in general). Before I had a chance to go in depth into why exactly he was wrong, (i.e. I’ve never asked him for a compliment nor even hinted that I wanted to engage with him on a more personal level) he turned to another male coworker and started ranting about much of a double standard there is in society.
No sir, there is not a double standard here. I want, like most women I know, to be able to go to work and do my job without someone commenting on my appearance. Be it my face (whether I am smiling or not is none of your damn business), my skirt, or the color of my nail polish- it is NONE OF YOUR CONCERN. This may come as a surprise, but I don’t care if you think I look hot or happy or grumpy or tired. I am here to do my job.
The thing that really bothers me about this experience is that it isn’t just one person. So rolling my eyes and ignoring him doesn’t solve anything for me (all of the above examples are real life encounters that have occurred to me). There is no double standard here. The thing that men using this “double standard” argument fail to understand is that there is a time and a place to tell a woman how you feel about her looks (hint, its not at work). Furthermore, if a woman isn’t flattered by your comments that’s not her problem. There’s no need to berate her with all of your insecurities because she turned down your advances (whether or not they’re “just a compliment”). That’s not a double standard or “having it both ways” that’s asking for you to be a mature human who respects other humans and their boundaries.
I really just want to live in a world where men don’t believe they’re being attacked because a woman isn’t interested. It’s almost comical how these same men who talk about a double standard in society are so thrown aback when a woman stands up and actually articulates her opinion to them. In my case, my coworker didn’t even bother to respond and he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day (not that I was especially upset about it). What’s even more shocking to me is that I did not start this conversation. This was someone who came into my office, interrupted my work space and started a conversation that, I’m assuming, was meant to make him feel good about himself. When he realized that I wasn’t going to agree with him, nor was I going to sit silently and let him say something that made me feel uncomfortable, he just walked off mid-sentence. The one positive thing I can say from this experience is that at least I finally spoke up.