We need to change the way we talk about each other and ourselves.
The liberties afforded to American women have certainly come a long way since the beginnings of the women’s rights movement. However, we still have a long way to go. With many equal rights now under our belts, society has begun to shift toward taking a look at the ways that our everyday discourse and actions impact the way that women are perceived and the way that we perceive ourselves.
An old but still (unfortunately) very relevant video by HuffPost provided a pretty eye-opening look at some of the frequent comments women hear that men don’t. You may not even realize at first how damaging some of these are, but the more that we let this kind of rhetoric continue, the farther away we are from freeing women from the clutches of discrimination, rape culture, and society’s patriarchal roots.
While the video provided a wide variety of remarks, some are definitely more disturbing and hard to stomach than others. If you notice, these common remarks also progress through life stages — from youth to old age, society feeds us a perception of ourselves that is rooted in subjugation.
- “He Picks on You Because He Likes You.”
This is probably one that we heard a lot as young girls, and it’s often laughed off. A comment like this, though, just encourages girls to accept that it’s OK when a boy is mean to them, teases them, or shoves them. Young girls shouldn’t be digesting the idea that “abuse means love” is a normal thing. We need to be teaching both our boys and girls, even from a very young age, what healthy friendships and relationships look like, and that they do not include abuse of any kind.
When this behavior becomes normalized, the person doing the teasing also begins to think it’s OK, and will likely keep doing it. We all know by now that this causes a dangerous progression into the victim-blaming rape culture that exists, in which men are let off the hook for their abusive actions for various, unrelated reasons.
This can also create behaviors in the girl being picked on that are going to be harmful later on. If she’s humiliated, and a teacher or parent laughs it off, she’s not going to want to speak up about what happens to her. Again, this is especially applicable to cases of sexual assault in which women don’t speak up against their attackers for fear of not being taken seriously.
- “Your Dad Will Have to Chase the Boys Away When You’re Older.”
This is just… icky. Because most of the time it comes from people like parents’ friends or older relatives. And when you think about it, isn’t it just a little weird that they’re imagining what she’s going to look like when she’s older anyway?
A better way to compliment a young girl on her looks might be a simple, “you’re beautiful.” Even so, shouldn’t we be focusing on telling our young girls that they’re smart? That they’re charismatic, funny, or talented? And that they are strong and have the power to pursue even their wildest dreams?
- “Well, What Were You Wearing That Night?”
No matter how many times people say this, it’s never going to be necessary to say. A woman’s outfit is never to blame for a sexual assault. It’s disgusting how many people seem to believe it’s a perfectly reasonable excuse. Seriously, where is the logic in this and why on earth is it still said ever?
This, again, places the blame on a woman for a man’s actions. A man would never be told something like this. Wearing a tight dress doesn’t mean we’re asking for anything. It means that’s what we felt confident in that night. End of discussion. Next!
- “It Must Be That Time of the Month”
Both women and men have emotions. And they should both be able to fully and openly express them. But any time a woman expresses strong feelings or cries over something others deem as trivial, men automatically assume they’re on their periods. It makes women feel like their emotions are a joke, and that it isn’t OK to express them.
Yes, hormonal changes definitely happen during a menstrual cycle, and women can be more emotional as a result. But shouldn’t our feelings be valid, regardless of what point we’re at in our monthly cycle? Getting a period once a month doesn’t make me some kind of hysterical child. It’s a natural part of life and we’ve learned how to deal with it. We don’t need your patronization.
- “You Don’t Want Kids? Aren’t You Worried You Won’t Be Fulfilled?”
Not every woman wants to be a mother, and that shouldn’t be shocking. Parenting just isn’t for everyone. However, people seem to expect all women have this overwhelming desire to have babies. Women don’t have to explain why they chose to have children. Why should they have to explain when they choose not to? A fulfilling life can come from so many different outlets.
- “You Should Feel Grateful You Were Catcalled.”
Just because a woman is older doesn’t mean she’s dying to hear someone say she’s attractive. A woman shouldn’t be grateful a man yelled something lewd to her as she walked past. Catcalling never really feels like a compliment, though that’s a persistent myth. Mainly, it just makes women feel uncomfortable.
That doesn’t change as a woman gets older. Telling a woman she should be grateful for catcalls assumes she’s not comfortable enough in her own skin. Some random person on the street isn’t going to make her day by telling her she has a nice butt. It’s probably going to make her more insecure, actually.
- “You Must Have Been Beautiful When You Were Younger.”
This is just plain insulting. Who says older women can’t be beautiful? Hollywood seems to subscribe to the idea that you have to be young to be beautiful, but there are also so many actresses who are older and absolutely gorgeous. Beauty doesn’t have an age limit. Additionally, many people say men get more attractive and refined as they age. Why doesn’t that statement apply to women?
And, once again, what’s with the intense focus on looks? An older woman has lived a life full of interesting and impactful experiences, from which she has likely gained stories, wisdom, personal happiness, and confidence. Reducing her worth to whether or not she’s conventionally “attractive,” or ever was, is to disgrace all of the other things that she offers as a whole, dynamic person.
We need to change the way we talk about each other and ourselves. Society is getting closer to where it needs to be, but we simply aren’t there yet. And our everyday passing conversations and “locker room” banter are actually more largely to blame for our continued problems than one might realize.
Kate Harveston enjoys writing about social justice and policy change. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking the mountains of Pennsylvania to find inspiration. If you like her work, feel free to visit her at onlyslightlybiased.com.