In a moment of weekend boredom, I created an OkCupid account. There are a lot of factors that went into this, but I'll only mention three: looking through someone else's Tinder account last week, being in a new city, and thus, a new pool of potential relationships, and the fact that eye-contact avoidance is like a pro sport here. I find myself in familiar territory, because in spite of the fact that I have like eight messages after one day, I don't feel compelled to respond to any. In related news, I found myself protesting being called cute (not even in a remotely sexual way) over the weekend. I just did a project for school that specifically employed empowering compliments as a tool for increasing people’s happiness. In the end, however, my reaction to being called beautiful or cute is often overwhelmingly negative. Why?
As I tend to tell people that I know at some point or another, I have an angry feminist inside of me, and sometime she makes an appearance. But I think my aversion to statements like “I’m glad I got to bask in your energy,” “I love your pics,” or “You’re amazingly beautiful,” from strangers is slightly more complex than the fact that I don’t want to be subjugated to a second-class existence because of my gender. I recognize that I’m setting myself up for this shit by belonging to an online dating site, but let’s forget that for a second. What do I think when I hear or see statements like this? I think I had absolutely nothing to do with my blue eyes and blonde hair. I think there’s a lot more to me than my objective prettiness. I think that I expect people to be as weirdly observant as I am, and thus able to come up with more original lines.
Don’t kid yourself, this is primarily a women’s issue. I’ll tell you why: women are societally conditioned to a) accept these compliments as high praise b) accept uniform standards of beauty and aspire to them and c) respond to such statements as positive compliments, even if their delivery is unbelievably creepy or inappropriate. I’m not saying that this isn’t an issue for men, but I am not a man, and therefore I don’t feel that my perspective is relevant to that debate (take note, GOP legislators). I’m sure that my oppositional personality is partly to blame for my negative response. If I’m expected to act a certain way for no good reason, I will actively attempt to act the exact opposite way. I’ve done this since childhood and truly believe it to be an inherent trait, though I’ve become more conscious of managing it as I’ve grown older.
Somehow, though, I think the problem lies more in the tendency to reduce very complicated issues to simple statements. Saying I’m beautiful (without context) may make me feel good for about a minute. Then I remember my adolescence, fraught with negative self-image and doubt that the society around me perpetuated, and that I still struggle with at times. I think of the fact that it is unfair that I am complimented because I have objectively pretty characteristics, and that others are denied those same compliments because of how they look through no fault of their own. I wonder if this statement comes from a place of sincerity, or if it is simply a means to an end; something that people think I want to hear.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while such a superficial compliment may come from an entirely authentic place, it shows me that the speaker sees me, and not necessarily who I am. A facebook like on a picture or a one-sentence message on OkCupid telling me I’m pretty is a nice gesture, but it fades into the background really quickly. What stands out much more is a sincere facebook chat helping me think through a difficult situation, or a question, any question, that shows you’ll put forth a little effort in getting to know my personality, and not only my pretty face or my body. I am not against social media in any way, but I think that it allows us too easily not to think or have intention about our interactions with others.
I’m all about equal treatment for women, but I think that this issue has to be addressed in a larger framework of the treatment we are asking to be equalized. Furthermore, we need to examine how we define the word equality. If the meaning of feminism can be reduced to “equal treatment,” then I might as well start cat-calling attractive men on the street tomorrow. We can do better. Let’s raise the standard of treatment for all by admitting that, try as we might, no human fits into some neat category. There is no logic model that applies the same way to every person. There are too many variables to consider. In the end, authentic human interaction means letting go of assumptions, no matter where they come from. So, as Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, here’s to letting go. And chocolate. Can’t forget chocolate.