the things men say about women in front of other women

I began to feel dim, suppressed. The kind of feeling that sneaks up on you and you can’t trace it and it hangs around your neck for a while, staring up at you with glazed, bleary eyes until you have to excuse yourself to sit down and mope.

Everything has been good. And I am one of those frustrating people who isn’t particularly good at good, so this is more like awesome. I attribute it to my baby. I think she’s playing with my hormones, and the result is this creeping, stealthy peacefulness. I sometimes just stare into space and feel content. What the hell.

And then, abruptly, I was slipping, my arms windmilling in slow motion. I toppled into a dark pool of insecurity, and the first thing I hated was my stupid, stupid uncooperative hair. But that was only the beginning. Why haven’t my breasts gotten bigger? This is their ONE CHANCE, damnit. All of these pregnant women are being all delighted about their poofy, voluptuous new breasts, and mine are sulking against my ribs, just friggin’ determined to spite me. There is some ancient grudge here, I can sense it.


Anyway, I knew things were bad when I started thinking about my nose. It’s like a bright red, wildly waving flag now. This little thought comes up, all evil and subtle, like, “What’s one more surgery…” Yeah, like that. “You need it…The surgeon said you need it…” That’s bad. That means I’m already feeling bad. Something is going stale in my head. Something is fermenting.

I was sitting and moping and thinking about how I am unattractive in every way and also I have a shitty career that I should be embarrassed about and also I probably have a lame, unfixable personality. I am probably only rarely truly funny. It went like that. And then it kept going.

“What is going on?” said Bear, a little baffled, as I moped from one room to the next, turtling, tucking myself into my shell in the evenings and poking my head out only to watch some bad TV.

I started trying to explain. It might be this or this other thing or I’m just really tired right now or I need to take a long bath or something else. It’s the pregnancy. My back. Oy vey! My sciatica! And then I said something without thinking about it and I knew that’s what it was. It was this guy, and the way he talked about women.


No names. But there is this guy, and I had been around him a lot recently, and he is always talking about women. He is always talking about other things, too, but, like the sprinkles on top, he mentions women. Like the paprika on the deviled eggs. Come on, you don’t really need it. But it is always there. And when he does it, other guys do it, too, just to participate, I think. And sometimes I sort of do it, too, just to participate.

It is so classically uncool to get offended over the casual comments guys sometimes make, like sprinkles and paprika, about women.

“Oh, Tom’s girlfriend? Yeah, she’s hot! She’s, like, eighteen. He did good.” Every woman who gets mentioned gets mentioned based on her appearance.

“Wait, Lena Dunham’s the fat one, right?”

“Remember that cashier girl at the Shoprite? The one with the chest? How could anyone forget about her…”

The thing about this guy is that he’s really very nice. And I bet that’s usually the case. He’s really very nice and he’s kind of nerdy, and we’ve known each other for a very long time, and I think that he is always sort of trying to bond with other guys by talking about women, because he’s not sure how else to do it. And I don’t know if that’s really an excuse, but when I’m trying to let things go and be cool and be nice and I don’t want to be the one person objecting, I let myself believe that it’s excuse enough.

The thing is, I like this guy.

And I know he’s not trying to hurt anyone.

And he made me feel like crap.

And suddenly, I am telling Bear, really intensely, “You know our daughter will be judged by men like this, every day of her life. People will think the most relevant thing about her is the way she looks. And who knows what she’ll even look like! It’s totally arbitrary! And yet, it’ll determine whether she’s the butt of the joke or gets the chance to be someone’s fantasy. Like those are the options! Why are those the friggin’ options?”

Bear tells me that he hardly even notices when the guy is saying these things. People say a lot of stupid things in passing. Words/wind, that whole thing. I think about how we’re all supposed to always brush everything we don’t like off, and move immediately on, because that is how you stay focused and sane and acceptable. Getting mired in hurt feelings is poor tactical maneuvering.

And Bear is trying to talk about how there’s so much more to it– that even if there’s that split-second evaluation on a reptilian-brained, biological level, it is far from the whole story. It’s not even the part that matters. And look at his office, it doesn’t seem like the women are being evaluated constantly based on their looks at all. He can reel off a list of things that people are known for, after working together for a while, after getting to know each other.

(dragons are reptiles. sometimes those basic, fundamental interactions can have a dragon-sized impact. source)

“But it’s just so pervasive and huge and constant,” I am saying, possibly about to cry, feeling like one of those women people like to call crazy, “And it never matters enough to focus on it, and we’re all supposed to just get over it, but that stuff that doesn’t really matter? That’s the stuff that builds up until it’s what makes you feel worthless or worth something. And that’s what people do to girls. Everyone gets to comment on the way they look, even if it’s just for a second.”

I don’t know if I am making any sense, but I am furious. I am absolutely uncool about it.

“You’re right,” says Bear, gently, seeing how much I care. “This stuff matters a lot.”

“It’s not fair!” I say. “I don’t want her to have to deal with it.”

I don’t want me to have to deal with it.

I have been feeling good about myself, and when I feel good about myself, it’s the whole package. My writing seems to be going well. I like the projects I’m working on, I feel like I’m moving forward. I love my home, my husband, my family, my cat, my shaved ice machine that provides me with endless heaps of ice that I eat greedily without syrup because I am always craving ice these days. I like my unruly hair, which seems to express interesting things about my soul, and I like my unusual face, which is rebellious and recognizable. I want to show my daughter how striking I am. So why can this guy get to me? Why does he have that ability?

I think maybe it’s because his comments suggest something that scares me in a big, burrowing-to-the-bottom kind of way. His comments suggest that the first and only thing that needs to be said about a girl or a woman is something about the way she looks. I am terrified of that. I am afraid of the way I look being the only information that registers about me. It seems so helpless, so empty. It makes me feel flat as a piece of paper, like I can be torn up and then flutter away.


I remind myself that even the guy who is saying these things, constantly, about women, doesn’t really believe that it is the whole story. After all, there are women he loves and cherishes. His mom, his sisters, his fiancée. He has just learned that this is some kind of convenient social shortcut. He isn’t thinking about it. He isn’t thinking about the pregnant woman who hated the way she looked enough to get a nose job, sitting right there, just a couple feet away. He isn’t thinking about the little girl baby inside her, who will be born into a world full of people who talk about women like there aren’t women in the room. Like women aren’t regular people. Who make women feel like being cool is about being one of the guys, and that being one of the guys is the same as not ever caring. Who make women feel like anything else is the same as being crazy.

I know, I know, I tell Bear, that we all exist on this level, regardless of whatever else is going on—the level of registering other people constantly based on basic visual information about their appearances. Their sex appeal. Their attractiveness. But it is not the only level, and we don’t have to limit ourselves to it, and what we say about other people, regularly, in public, can involve a little sensitivity. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. This is where the fine line between observation and prejudice resides. And I don’t want to have to play it cool. Maybe it’s better to admit that it hurts me, that is has an impact. Maybe it’s better to let myself be fully, inconveniently human. Maybe we’d all learn more if we all did that in front of each other.

“I’ll say this much about Hillary Clinton,” the guy says, “that woman needs to have some work done on her face.”

Someone laughs half-heartedly, the conversation begins to move on.

But I say, “Hold on. Is that really the point? Is that the relevant thing about Hillary Clinton?”

I say this awkwardly, in mixed company, being obviously affected, in honor of myself and my unborn daughter. I don’t want her to grow up in a world where people are always reminding her that the thing that matters most immediately and constantly about her is the way she looks. But if I can’t control that, I want at least for her to grow up in a world where her mother can speak up, and point out how stupid the whole thing is.

She’s going to grow up with a very uncool mother. It’s probably better that way.

He doesn’t respond. He is looking away. I think he knows it’s not the point. Or maybe he just isn’t listening. Maybe he’ll never listen. But maybe I’ll just keep saying something anyway.

*  *  *

Are you obviously affected by casual comments like these about girls and women? Sometimes I’m really not. I think part of the reason why I was with this guy is because there were so many negative ones and they came so frequently.

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in hot pink.


Kate on April 22nd 2013 in beauty, body, fear, feminism

72 Responses to “the things men say about women in front of other women”

  1. Kelli responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Yes, I think that I am affected by these comments, more than I realize. And since I had a baby 7 months ago I’m still carrying 15 lbs of extra weight. And I don’t get the same kind of attention from men that I normally do. And….that bothers me, & also bothers me that I’m bothered! Because I think I’ve not realized how much I enjoy being validated that way. I don’t think I should rely on that but I’ve realized I have. It is good food for thought, & I agree that women’s looks shouldn’t be discussed in such a casual way all the time. By men or women! It annoys me when people dismiss a person for percieved negative traits but I don’t think about it too much when a woman or man is being praised for “positive” physical traits. Anyway, I think I’m rambling but this piece has made me realize I have some thinking to do about this subject!

  2. Kate responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    I felt like I was kind of rambling in this post! Your comment doesn’t sound rambling at all.
    I also don’t mind when people praise others (it’s nice!), but when the only good thing someone is saying about women is related to appearance, it starts to set me a little on edge, too.

  3. Mandy responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:02 pm #


    Good for you for having the courage to call the guy on his comments. I look at it like this: would you let someone you liked walk around with their fly unzipped? And, yeah it’s exactly like that–letting them know is awkward and potentially embarrassing, but wouldn’t you want someone to speak up if YOU were doing something that made someone else feel bad?
    If, as you say, it’s just a bad habit, then maybe you should make him aware of it, so he can decide if he wants to stop doing it.

  4. Erin Lee responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    It’s hard to ignore your initial reaction of someone’s appearance. It’s out there, before they even speak, before you know their name or their experience or their interests, before everything else. So the immediate judgement isn’t something you can just NOT do, you do it before you get a chance to choose not to.
    It is unfortunate, but this is how it is for all living organisms that need to find mates. Fundamentally, we’re all looking for someone to procreate with, and traditionally your appearance reflects your robustness, strength, health & fertility – your GENES, and whether they’re worthy of passing on. Humans are different and we think independently now; we aren’t just animals anymore. But that instinct is still there.
    Part of being human, though, is acknowledging what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t – this guy doesn’t seem like he understands that other people are now judging HIM on his judgements. Maybe he just needs a gentle nudge… or scream to tell him that his default to describing people by accentuating their appearances is not an attractive trait to have and can hurt more feelings than just the person he’s talking about.
    Keep on saying it like you do, Kate. I will too.

  5. Maia responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Yes! Exactly! I feel hyper-aware of chauvinist comments all the time, and I also feel like if I say anything, I will seem overly-sensitive and crazy. And then, also, I am a woman who doesn’t shave, and who tends to talk about feminist issues, so I am already always a little nervous about being branded as “that kind of girl,” an “angry feminist,” or something. Which is completely messed up. And it’s not that I’m ashamed to be an “angry feminist”…maybe I AM. But I am worried about being perceived that way because I worry that will somehow discredit what I am saying, that other people will stop listening to me. Anyway, I am really glad you said something to that guy. To hell with being “cool”– I think standing up for things like that IS cool. And by the way, please let me know if you get a chance to check out my blog, You were definitely my main source of inspiration when I was working up the courage to start it!

  6. skye responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Your baby is lucky to have a mother like you. Thanks for standing up for yourself, her, and all the rest of us! That was brave, as is the fact that you wrote this article. Do you think he’ll know who you’re talking about?

  7. Ayah responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    I have to say, and this has nothing to do about this post, but I wish I could write like you. You make everything sound real and authentic without adding a sense of melodrama, I’m really excited to read your upcoming book. :) Thanks for talking about the things that matter..

  8. rowdygirl responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    The “looks” thing is out there all the time, so it’s no wonder this came up. He probably does it to try & fit in, just like you said. It shows a shallowness and lack of maturity, (in men & women) which unfortunately isn’t all that uncommon. Your daughter is blessed to have a mother who cares about something besides looks and will teach her about those things.

  9. Melanie responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    If I hear a man making a generalized comment based on shallow aspects of a woman I usually laugh it off and feel sorry for them because they don’t realize what they are doing. If they are saying something I find rude about a particular person, I will generally make a comment to call them out on it, even though I know in my heart it’s not my place and I should leave it be.

    When I’m in a “mood” I will call to the man’s attention his flaws and ask how he would like it if when people mentioned him they said, “Oh yeah, Rob with the ears that stick out way too far?” or “Do you mean Eric with the woman’s ass?” I don’t think anyone likes to be tied to a physical attribute, whether it be good OR bad. I have gotten used to, “Nerdy sci-fi Melanie with all of the tattoos.” That one actually is quite fitting. :)

  10. lik_11 responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    If standing up for others makes you uncool… then I want to be uncool, too.

  11. STARGAZYRR responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    It’s amazing how no matter what we accomplish, what great feats we tackle, it all still comes down to looks. It shouldn’t and we all know that, but it does.

    Recently on Facebook, a family member was trumpeting her daughter’s minor accomplishment and made mention that “luckily” her daughter wasn’t like the other women in the family, “tattooed, pierced and grossly overweight.” I would be the grossly overweight one. I would also be the (only) one who is happily married, has a successful business that I started myself, is a homeowner, and is a giving person who’s constantly trying to do things for my family and friends… but God forbid her daughter turns out like me because of my weight. Talk about a slap in the face.

    Everything that I’m doing right is negated by the one thing I’m doing wrong… and that’s because it’s something so obviously wrong that it can’t be hidden. That’s the thing about how you look, you can’t hide it and it’s the first thing people see. It’s a depressing thought.

  12. Nat responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    Awesome response to his Hillary Clinton comment, by the way. Cuts right to the heart of what was wrong with the comment.

    I too have been upset by the men in my life talking about women in passing in that way. It’s very difficult to raise the issue directly because sometimes if you do raise it and they handle it badly (‘it’s not a big deal, everyone does it, the problem must be you…’) then that can cause a lot more hurt than even the initial behaviour did. It can feel like bringing the relationship to ‘crunch time’ – are they with you, do they care enough about you to take your feelings seriously, and if the answer is ‘no’ can you ever feel mentally safe around them again?

    And the thing is, it’s really unfair of *them* to behave this way and put you in that situation. You should be able to hang out with friends without having to make that “swallow shit, or ruin the entire afternoon?” call.
    [Quote source:

  13. Claire Allison responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Thanks Kate, I feel that sometimes too. It’s this gross lingering feeling that leaves you pissed off or upset in some way for some reason, and a couple of days you realize why. I liked your comment to him, it was the perfect way to respond to his behaviour without being mean and by being thoughtful, and encouraging him to be thoughtful.

  14. Kae responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Gosh, yes, this kind of comment makes me REALLY uncomfortable too.
    - What did _that guy_ say in response to you, if anything?

    But yeah, I feel similar about the idea that all women are ranked on the basis of their appearance – I feel me a mixture of uncomfortable / angry / insecure / sad about it. A guy I was dating once made a point of telling me, ‘You have such a great figure, I really like that’, and even though it was a ‘positive’ comment, I felt really awkward about that – the way he said it seemed to imply to me that if I didn’t have this figure, he’d like me less..

  15. Gaby responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Really? Hillary Clinton? How on earth does someone think that about Hillary Clinton unless you live under a rock or don’t uderstand English and have no idea who she is, and even then…Sorry, she’s like my superhero so I’m a bit sensitive.
    And as for you, I totally understand the feeling, when one thing is wrong then everything is wrong, I’m ugly, unsuccessful, boring, blah blah blah. It’s natural to express feelings that way by making it about something else, but you are none of those things, you’re definataly beautiful and fun to be around and have the coolest career ever. I wish I were a talented writer, I don’t think anyone really understand what I even do.
    As far as that guy, you’re right that he probably doesn’t mean it but I think men need to be made more aware of what they’re saying. Because you’re going to continue getting upset and if no one tells him he is going to forget about the stupid things that come out of his mouth about 2.5 seconds later. This happens to me all the time with Max. In fact right now I’m really really angry about an argument we had yesterday about rape in the military and he gets overly sensitive when people attack men and then said all kinds of bs about how society can’t talk about the horrible things women do to men, emotionally and economically and I flipped and felt like he was equating that to rape somehow and said I was going to be an emotionally unstable b word like all women are and stormed out of his apartment. He apologized and moved on, and started asking me what I wanted to do for dinner this morning while I’m still fuming and don’t want to see him until he somehow explains his views on women.
    My point is that guys say some serious bs they probably don’t mean without thinking and then forget it and it’s unfair because we will analyze it over and over in our heads. I’m not sure what the solution is but just wanted to share, maybe with all of our brilliant women minds we can brainstorm something :)

  16. em responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Well it’s hard to say. Some people are not really that sensitive. (I hope, and I know, that you will give your daughter freedom to be light and easygoing and not at all sensitive, if that’s her natural personality, and will delight to discover the things to which she personally inclines to devote deep thoughtfulness and advocacy!)

    I end up viewing things like this as just human variety and freedom. There are always going to be people who engage and interact on these superficial levels, for whatever reasons of awkwardness, ignorance, unkindness, mindless habit, lack of deeper intelligence or involvement, etc. Women by choice also participate in it both as commentator and as subject. I don’t love it either. It bores me and often disgusts me.

    I think one big way we “fight” it is by just NOT being that, by instead being someone who always (or nearly always?) comments in a more thoughtful or relevant way, someone who has just a little piece of something to say in these cases that may enlarge or expand, inform or elevate the people who otherwise practice this sick little way of talk.

  17. Sarah S responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    How did you know exactly what’s been knawing at me all week at work? Constant exposure to this BS wears me down. I share your outrage, and I’ve been attempting to have this conversation with people to varying degrees of success.

    I’m one of the few women in a leadership position in my orchestra, and most of the other principals and leaders are (mostly) very nice, kind men who simply don’t realize that such a boys club exists (mention it to some other women and the commiserating eye rolls immediately follow). I’m as smart and talented as my male colleagues, but you’d never know it from the way I’m often treated dismissively.

    It’s funny, my best friend, who is in a similar “middle management” position, suggested that I’m too sensitive and should just accept it as the way things are. She is certainly a happier human being for adopting such an outlook! My mom’s take was much more interesting (amazing what perspective an additional thirty years in the work force will give a woman); yes, the subtext of sexism is relentless, but one person can’t change ingrained societal behaviors overnight. Shift of such magnitude happen incrementally, over time.

    Therefore, I gather, it’s best to pick my battles. Fighting every sexist slight and comment leaves a person too exhausted to rally when she or he has the power to truly impact a situation. Wish me luck. :)

  18. Cait responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    I am afraid of the way I look being the only information that registers about me.

    ^ THIS. So much yes.

  19. Kirsty responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    Yes, this matters. We can speak up and challenge when we feel able, and we can always model better behaviour too. Thanks for writing about this, it’s really important that we stop being cool about the casual remarks that have such a serious impact.

  20. Kate responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    @Erin Lee

  21. Kate responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    @Sarah S
    I wish you SO much luck. And I think it’s badass that you’re in a principal role in an orchestra. My brother is a musician, and I know how hard it is to get there.

    I remember in grad school, how the one other female student in my department and I were very conscious of being the only ones. We were very conscious of there only being one female professor on the faculty. And we thought a lot about the gender dynamics. It seemed like no one else even noticed, and that, in and of itself, leads to a certain kind of awkwardness.

    I also find myself wishing, often, that I simply didn’t notice. That I didn’t care. Not caring always seems to be the easiest solution. And then, after that, not acting. It’s true, you have to pick your battles. But argh! It’s complicated!

  22. Kate responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    God, I hope my daughter isn’t as sensitive as me!! I envision her as a no-nonsense, tough astronaut. That would be nice :-)

  23. olivia responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    I often feel like you write articles literally based on how I feel! I have this conversation with people all the time, and I feel like I’m the only one who’s so affected by it, other people just seem to shrug it off.

    I think ultimately we can’t change biology etc., people are always going to be making assessments of womens’ appearances whether they talk about it or not. But we can start with ourselves and try and set a different example, and maybe try and gravitate towards people that are less shallow. I don’t know. But at least we’re all fighting this together :)

  24. Fiona responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    I am the ‘uncool’ person in my social circle – guys laughingly try to avoid ‘getting in trouble’ with me, while I find the girls quietly engage in deep conversations about their views on ‘social feminism’.
    I hate being the uncool one, but given the option of saying nothing, or saying something and being ridiculed for it, the choice is clear. I will happily fill this role, because even if the guys aren’t listening – their wives and girlfriends sure are.
    Thank you for writing this blog Kate, your words follow me throughout my day, making me feel stronger and less isolated in my thoughts (thoughts that you often scarily put up on this blog).

  25. Jessica responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I am bothered by these comments, from men or women.

    It bothers me when men make these comments because we are all supposed to chuckle that, “Boys will be boys.”

    And it bothers me when women make these comments because it feels like a) they are trying to somehow ingratiate themselves with any men present, or b) are revealing some of their own insecurities.

    Recently I was in a meeting where a man, a loud, generally likable guy, made a really icky semi-sexist joke. And oh, the men laughed and laughed, while the women kind of blushed and giggled along (“Oh, you’re AWFUL! Tee hee, tee hee”).

    Meanwhile I just stared at him. I didn’t like feeling like I was supposed to be playing along. I’m positive anyone looking at me thought I was being uptight. Fine. I’m uptight.

  26. em responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    I was once in a professional setting of mostly men (98% of the time I was the only woman), and they could not have been more professional and decent. As some time passed and we all became friends together as couples and began to spend time together socially, I can’t describe how astounded I was to see what boneheaded and ugly comments these same men would make about women, when away from work.

    I really did appreciate that they kept the workplace comfortable and professional for women, and they were still really good guys nonetheless – I just tried to realize that it’s kind of like junk food to them, talking like that.

  27. Cindy responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Oh, I just love you. It is so troubling to hear women reduced to body parts, or their positive or negative physical features (though somehow, someone being described as “the blonde/brunette/redhead with the beautiful smile/pretty eyes” wouldn’t offend me). As humans, we’re visual, but there’s so much more than that, that it can be hard to separate how we feel about our bodies and faces from our souls.

    It reminds me how I’ve been thinking a lot about this dichotomy between wanting to be attractive and wanting to be valued for our minds and personalities. There’s this Nora Ephron quote that says “In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind,” and I totally know that feeling (I think most women do). We are these intelligent, mindful, sensual beings, and I don’t think it’s wrong, necessarily, to want to be wanted for our physical attractiveness. However, no one wants be reduced to just their physicality.

    How does one reconcile inner and outer attractiveness? Does focusing on one detract from the other?

  28. Jennn responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    This is interesting to me, because now that you mention it, I’ve noticed guys (and girls) talking about other people that way, and it’s always bugged me in the moment. I’ve never taken it personally though, and always just judge the speaker for being dense and superficial. I have said things like “sheesh, that’s crude” when I’ve been offended, but I guess I’ve never expected people be nice. Maybe that makes me a pessimist?

  29. onebreath responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    I love how your posts are always thought provoking – the comments and discussion are truly a dialogue on really important issues.

    The part that bothers me is that you’re right – he’s just a nice guy who doesn’t even register what he’s doing. It’s natural. I think it would be easier to accept and to challenge if he were someone with some kind of evil tendencies… it’s the fact that he’s a regular joe that you even like – to me, that’s what makes it so unbearably sad. Somewhere along the line he’s come to believe this is okay and he’s not alone.

    I’ll echo others in saying thank you for speaking up. Ironically, that takes such courage in the company of friends.

  30. Vicky responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    The thing is, though, that I think it’s this way in most (if not all) societies, and it’s probably not just the fault of the globalized media or whatever. The female body has always fascinated men, more than the other way round I’d say. Surely there’s some biology to it. And before you all jump out at me, let me say I’m not excusing it. I, too, get uncomfortable hearing comments like that, and I too speak up despite it being kinda “uncool”. Who cares. And yes, it’s important to acknowledge the problem, and I think we could learn to avoid those kind of comments as a society, in the same way racist slurs have become completely inappropriate. But still, a part of me just wants to say what the hell and pass the butter, you know? Women will probably keep on being judged first by their looks– and so will men, by the way. A huge part of that is just how our brains are wired. I love that you bring up these topics, Kate, I think it’s very valuable, so don’t get me wrong: we need voices like yours, and it’s brave and COOL of you to speak up. It really is. But sometimes I just get fed up of the whole body image thing, and wish we could move on. As feminists. As women. As people. You’re written about that too, I know. Anyway– not sure where I’m going with this! I guess I’d just love for this discussion to grow and expand.

  31. Gemma NZ responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Wonderful thought provoking writing as always Kate. Good for you for making a stand about Hillary Clinton, would he commenting on her appearance if she was a man. In a world where Obama apoligises about commenting (positively) on Kamala Harris’s appearance, how can this man think it is acceptable to say that about Hillary Clinton.
    I have been feeling a similar way lately about one of my boyfriend’s friends. He comments on women’s appearance ALL of the time, like he has to catalogue every single women in the world, including in front of his girlfriend. I find it so disrespectful and I have been wondering how to say something about it. It makes me sick, he is a very nice guy other than that though.

  32. Elizabeth responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    I hope you show this post to him. It’s an incredibly moving expression of what ‘casual’ comments can do to us. I would guess that he’s probably very insecure about his own appearance and so tries to rank others on appearance to try to make himself feel better. Not excusing it, though. It sucks, and he should know better. It’s part of living in a society.

    The other thing I’d like to share with you is that it doesn’t matter if you have a ‘right’ to feel a certain way. Right or wrong doesn’t matter, when it comes to feelings. You just feel. Feelings are also reptilian. They do what the f*ck they wanna do and we just have to deal with them. So feel your feelings. You can’t stop them, anyway. What you CAN do, is control your actions and your words.

    And your words are so wonderful.

  33. Holly responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    I dearly love the way you put things. You have a knack of giving a face and a shape to the often ephemeral and elusive daily experience. When reading your work I find myself constantly saying, “Yes! I have felt that exact thing!” Such a joy to read your words.

    I have been blessed with wonderful men in my life. Good friends, dear brothers, a kind and wise father. Most of my experience has been positive interactions with these men, who make me feel clever, and kind, and valued. But somehow those feelings are so fragile, so easily destroyed by spending time around those men who do constantly comment on the female appearance. I’ve never been one of the pretty girls, and if the worth of women is reduced to prettiness, I know that my own worth is small.

    But I think what truly gives me pause in the face of a barrage of “appearance” comments is that I wonder if perhaps all the men I love, who I thought loved me, really feel this way as well. Is this what is going through their minds? Is it simply their kindness and politeness that keeps them from saying these things to me? Are they just being nice? That is the terrifying part to me.

  34. T.K. responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 12:43 am #

    At this point in my life I thankfully have very little tolerance for men like this. I have thought tooth and nail to get away from men ( and frankly women) like that and know all too well the feeling you experience. I would most likely not let the guy “get away” with it. I am still not in a place where I speak up as much as I should, but I am very comfortable deploying sarcasm and shining the light on his douchebagness. What also pisses me off is the condescending “oh, don’t worry you’re hot” brush off like personal insecurity could be my only possible reason for objecting their objectifying and rude behavior and like their judgement of my “hotness” would be welcomed. Never mind that it assumes that a so called “hot” woman would enjoy hearing another girl being referred to as a “fat chic”. Seriously, it just makes me want to give them a giant proverbial middle finger and frankly I don’t care how “nice” men like that might seem in other circumstances – you don’t have to be a flaming feminist to understand that these kind of comments are rude, and unappealingly shallow, and more often than not also mean-spirited. Yea, I get it, you’re a little awkward and insecure or you are so very alpha, or you are desperate to definie your masculinity but you don’t quite know what that means these days, but please do not do it at the expense of women’s bodies ( and faces). Not cool!

  35. Jessica Strader responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 12:54 am #

    I remember once when I was pregnant one of my boys (and obviously so), my husband and I had gone to a restaurant/bar to meet one of his friends. They were playing pool with some other guys who they found out were stylists at the salon my husband had just gotten his hair cut at. My husband mentioned that the stylist that washed his hair also gave him a great neck/scalp massage. The other man said, “Oh yeah, I always have one of the girls give my clients a neck massage and be sure and rub their boobs on the men. They always get great tips!” My husband was really upset and was like, “Hey man, that’s my wife over there.” And the stylist was like, “Yeah, I know. That’s why I said it.” Like, OBVIOUSLY, my husband would LOVE to get attention from someone other than his fat, pregnant wife. It really hurt my feelings at the time. Then my feelings were hurt that this stupid drunk asshole could even hurt my feelings. It hurt that a total stranger could make me feel insecure or inferior even though my husband is crazy-in-love with me, and I know 100% that I’m the sexiest woman in the world to him because he tells me all the time. I also really hate the way that I felt, in that moment, like least powerful woman in the world, because how fucking powerful is it to grow a human being in your body?!

  36. Jillian responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 1:00 am #

    I’ve been following you work for a couple months, but this is my first time commenting…

    I know exactly the feeling you speak of. I can recall with painful precision a happy hour I attended with my otherwise entirely male work team, with whom I was very close and who I believe respected me relatively highly. Standing around the bar, I listened as every passing female received a comment of one sort or another; some flattering, many judgmental and mean, others ambivalent, all reductive. I don’t know what it was about this particular day, but the comments became unbearable, especially after they ignited a torrent of self-loathing thoughts internally. I went home and spent the rest of the night on the couch truly sick to my stomach with what I can only call a true overdose of sexism and testosterone. That environment was not healthy for me and luckily, I left the company shortly after. Still, the emotional imprint of that moment of awareness sticks with me. It’s awful and I hope your daughter and my potential future kids are spared the feeling.

    Thanks for your stories, as always!

  37. Brittan responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 1:15 am #

    This might sound weird, but I’ve actually tried giving this a go in reverse. Like, when I’m around a group of men I’ve dropped in references to other men based on their sexually attractive features (like, “oh, the sexy guy with the beefy arms” etc.). A wave of weirdness seemed to descend on the room whenever I did this. Most of the time I’d get a comment like “I don’t know what guy you’re talking about. I don’t look at other dudes *like that.*” Women discussing their attraction to other men, around men, seems to often provoke a declaration of heterosexuality and a dismissal of whatever the comment itself was.

    Just something I’ve noticed–I don’t make a habit of referencing men based on their physical attributes anyway. That’s what names are for!

  38. Val responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 1:22 am #

    A lot of the b.s. that comes pouring gets very, very old.

    You are right about it.

    It’s like the stuff I get mad about when I have pms is real stuff. Just pms peels off my usual good natured layer so I see things more clearly and am spicy enough to deal with them.

    Craving ice is a symptom of low red blood cells–anemia, common in pregnancy.

    It makes me feel fragile and tired and take bullshit personally when it’s really someone else’s crap.

    This guy has a big mouth and a ton of his own insecurities which have nothing to do with you or your daughter.

    My daughters are not intimidated by jerks like this and yours won’t be either.

    They have us to look guys like that in the eye and say, “Go sit down.” And dads who never even think crap like this.

    Pregnancy is such a softening experience. Thank you for sticking up for Hilary Clinton too, btw.

    xo, Kate. You’re on that total roller coaster ride, and it’s nothing but a joy to be along with you. love, Val

  39. Anna responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 6:27 am #

    I just want to say that your blog inspires me, makes me happy, and gives me hope. Thank you for standing up for what bothers you. I hope I can be as “uncool” as you are and do the same.

  40. Kate responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Thank you so much. That really means a lot to me!

  41. Kate responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 9:12 am #

    I always wonder about this– what it would be like. So I’m glad you’ve tried it. When I’m hanging out with a group of women friends, there are definitely plenty of comments about guys’ appearances. I think the difference is that the men I’ve heard do this sort of thing publicly don’t seem to just be interested in women’s appearances, the way women are in men’s, they’re actively using this type of language to accomplish something– like bonding with other guys or a form of humor, or some sort of dominance, or something. Which is what makes it feel a little more complicated to address, I guess. I don’t know…

  42. Kate responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 9:18 am #

    This made me so upset and angry, just reading it. Holy shit. How incredibly hurtful and thoughtless. I don’t even know what else to say. But for some reason, this reminded me a little of these women on the pregnancy boards who are sometimes like “my husband just isn’t into pregnant women, so he won’t have sex with me.” And it seems like there’s a whole world of hurt and rejection behind those words to me. The idea of being dismissed as a woman BECAUSE you’re pregnant is so strange and turned around and insulting.

  43. Kate responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 9:24 am #

    I’m certainly never going to jump on you about biology. I think we aren’t always clear where biology stops and culture starts or what their relationship is, but biological speculation always seems fair to me.

    And yeah, I hear you. Sometimes the last thing I want to think about is body image and beauty, especially because I’ve written about these topics so much. Sometimes I think, “Enough already!” And I felt like that when I got upset at this guy. I felt mad at myself, like, “Why can’t I just ignore this crap and move on? This is so stupid!” But I also think that’s why I’m going to keep talking about beauty and body image, as long as it keeps making me feel bad, and other people feel bad, because that means it’s still real and relevant and a big part of the world. Not that other things aren’t. There is SO MUCH MORE to talk about, as a person, as a woman, and I definitely never want to give the impression that this stuff is where the conversation stops. It’s just one aspect of life. But I also believe it’s worth looking into, as long as it’s affecting us. And I also believe it’s not affecting us because we’re “choosing” to be affected. It’s affecting us because people genuinely care, on a large scale and an intimate one, about how girls and women look. I wish they would give it a rest, too :-)

  44. teegan responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 11:36 am #

    1. i thankfully don’t think i have any friends like you describe. there was one regular at the coffeeshop where i worked, a part-time church pastor who took every opportunity to mock all sorts of people/groups. one day i called him out on it, and even though it was a little terrifying, i felt so liberated afterward, and he never spoke unkindly around me ever again.
    2. when i was in THAT mood while pregnant, yoga was the only thing that helped. i know you’re not a big fan of yoga, but maybe there’s some other sort of activity (walking? swimming? dancing around like an idiot?) that might help?

  45. Amy responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    There was a time where I was walking with two men. One was my boyfriend at the time and one was a friend. My friend’s girlfriend was infront of us and he made a comment to my boyfriend along the lines of, “check out her ass, isn’t her body bangin’” or whatever. I didn’t think anything of it but my boyfriend thought he was a total creeper from then on. I felt much the same way you did, I really like this guy. He’s my friend. But as it turns out, sometimes…a lot of the time he says things that aren’t particularly well thought out. I spoke with him about it and for him it is about who he is around. He never says things like that when it’s just he and I. When other dudes are around, especially men with a mindset that a woman’s appearance really *is* the point, he says things that are congruent with what he thinks they want to hear. I doubt they’d notice if he stopped but I bet the women in the group would. I told him this and he agreed to give it a shot.
    I’m not sure how close you are with this guy but I’m sure if you approched him and made it about him and how people (including you) see him as well as how it makes you feel, he might try to find something else to talk about.

  46. Jen responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Thank you for putting into words that nameless something that sneaks up on me every so often. I used to be the only woman in a lab full of men and most of them, although excellent coworkers, sons, husbands, and fathers, talked like that. I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout, I think. Every once in a while, I would work up the nerve to call them on the bullshit and eventually they did tone things down in front of me but, by that point, the damage had been done and all I could think was “what are they saying about ME after I’ve left for the day?” It’s so insidiously toxic. I have a 2-month-old niece who is one of the most perfect children ever born and I’m already worried about how to shield her from this garbage as she grows up (well, that and her mother’s dieting and grandmother’s assertions that “ladies use smaller plates so as not to eat so much” along with other normal human things that ladies “don’t do”).

  47. Amy responded on 24 Apr 2013 at 8:32 am #

    This, this, a million times this! I hate this so much, and I tell people off about it all the time – I just never articulate it quite as well as you do here! During the Olympics this year, my boyfriend and my housemates were constantly making comments about the female athletes being hot – or not in the case of the less traditionally attractive women – and it drove me up the wall! I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it frustrated me so much that they had to comment every time a female athlete came on the screen whether they deemed her attractive or not. It wasn’t the point! Their bodies weren’t just for show, these were incredibly strong, fit women who I envied not for their flat stomachs or pretty faces but for their ability to run fast, jump high and generally be super-human (damn you Jessica Ennis!). I’m going to send this piece to them now, and hopefully they will understand at last!

  48. Elizabeth responded on 24 Apr 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Your daughter has a wildly courageous and powerful mother who isnt afraid of Truth and Honesty. She will watch and grow in your shadow until one bright morning she shines beyond it and stands tall and proud as a strong and powerful woman all her own.

  49. Marie responded on 24 Apr 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    I think we as a society need to stop making excuses for these men. The patriarchal model we live in is so ingrained in our condition that women who protest are automatically considered “uncool” or something worse. Good for you for saying something!

  50. Angela B responded on 24 Apr 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Dear Kate. Thank you for being brave and open. And entertaining. I have felt your rage about blokes’ comments, wanting to protect not only my daughter (who is 4 going on 14) but my younger self. Young girls don’t give a toss about hips and boobs and lips and enjoy bodies for how they feel, not how they look – exactly how I see my daughter now. Then, often as a teen, girls discover bodies can be slotted onto a heinous HOT spectrum by blokes – behaving like some sort of annoying Body Monitor with a clip board – and start wondering if they’re good enough. I did this before I was older enough to know a lot more. Now I feel the need to protect that young girl inside me because she still exists, deep down. We all have one. She is so much more than a notch on a spectrum and I feel sad she (me) didn’t always know that. In saying something about Hillary Clinton – and writing about this – you’re actually being the cool older sister sticking up for ALL the innocent younger girls – younger you, younger me, younger us, your young daughter, and her young friends. Your rage felt big because it is big; all the little comments add up to lots of girls and women not feeling good enough. That is the point. And it’s not OK. You go girl. It’s deeply cool to be fearless and your daughter will see that in you (eventually, once she gets over the embarrassment of you saying stuff!).
    Btw. My boobs never really got bigger when I was pregnant and I felt deeply ripped off. But then the baby came out, the milk came in and it was bedazzling…..

  51. EEL responded on 24 Apr 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    Thank you, Kate. I loved every word. This is something that bothers me to my very core. I’m old (40-ish) and while there is freedom to being older, men seem to think that I am less valuable as a customer (for example), that I no longer merit friendly chitchat. It’s the strangest feeling in the world, to feel that chasm grow and grow, and all because you don’t get their dicks hard.

  52. Siesie responded on 26 Apr 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Comments like these really wear me down over time, whether they come from a man or a woman. People tell me I over-think everything. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t mean my observations are distorted. And what bothers me about these offhand comments on people’s appearances, is that they leave no room for subjectivity. They rate people in the most crude, reductionist ways and state their judgments as facts. The “hot-or-not” mindset.

    But you know that these same people will tell a friend she’s beautiful without a second thought when she’s feeling insecure, or tell their daughter she’s the most beautiful girl in the world despite what the boys at school say. I don’t understand how this dichotomy can exist in a person’s mind. Logically, they have to either admit that their offhand comments are wrong or that they’re lying to their friend/daughter/whoever. Few people would admit to the latter because it would be harsh. Yet they continue to perpetuate the mindset that causes people, including their loved ones, to feel so insecure in the first place. I just don’t understand how people can be so contradictory.

    Once, when I was at a party, a guy was telling my boyfriend a story involving a a really “hot” girl. He was trying to put the girl’s hotness into perspective for my boyfriend—”This girl was like a BARBIE. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re pretty too,” he said, gesturing to me, “but,” turning back to my boyfriend, “you know what I mean.”

    He actually USED ME AS A COUNTER EXAMPLE OF AN ATTRACTIVE GIRL TO MY *BOYFRIEND*. As if my boyfriend would think, “Oh yeah, I know what you mean, this girl was ACTUALLY really hot, not like my marginally attractive girlfriend here who was just the best I could do.”

    I don’t even know which is worse: the fact that he thought his mindset was so ubiquitous that he assumed my boyfriend would agree with him (hell, maybe that IS the case—I have no faith in humanity anymore), or the fact that he believes women are aware of their rank in the hierarchy of hotness and don’t take it personally at all when we’re casually compared. Like we “non-Barbies” know our place and wouldn’t dare expect that we could be someone’s ideal woman.

  53. Lexie responded on 26 Apr 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    I love this post.

    I work in a largely male environment and because it’s an academic discipline I think it probably attracts lots of men who are, while bright, insecure about their ability to attract women and so women’s levels of attractiveness is ALWAYS something that comes up.

    It was the same in my last job, same industry, different office, same banter.

    In the office:

    “We’re getting a new intern. She’ll be in tomorrow.”

    “Is she hot?”

    “Because that’s the only thing that matters,” I said. “You realize when you say things like that, I assume it is the only way you judge us all, right?”


    The worst part is that I know so many men, the worst offenders in fact, who would argue with this notion. They would argue, because it is not their intention to make all the women around them feel like they’re not-so-secretly being judged for their looks.

    I posted this blog post on my Facebook page. I hope some of them read it and understand it’s not their intentions, but the results of their actions that ultimately matter.

  54. olive responded on 26 Apr 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Yes, exactly! I woke up today having fallen into a black pit of self-loathing — my weight, etc. I am also 52, and recently let my hair go naturally gray after dying it for years. The response to people has been interesting and depressing. I got more remarks on the gray in my hair than on publications, awards, etc. The remark you cite about Hilary Clinton is why this sort of thing is so damaging. What do we hear about Michelle Obama? She has great arms and fashion sense. What matters is her work for children. When one of the fat, male Republican pundits criticized her “fat ass,” he got a laugh. Why is that acceptable as part of the national discussion on obesity? Grrrr. Thanks for your blog — it sure hit a sore spot with me today!

  55. mystic responded on 27 Apr 2013 at 7:16 am #


    At least you’re lucky that comments are not constantly targeted at you. I live in a small city in Japan and every time I walk out the door, the comments start, most of them derogatory. It’s been extremely hard for me to live here. People make comments about my appearance as if I don’t exist and I understand what they’re saying. I wonder how you would cope living in such an environment. If you think the U.S. is bad, try Japan, one of the most sexist, ageist societies in the world. As I get older, I find
    myself thinking how beautiful and intriguing older women are.
    I try to concentrate on my work and what is inside me while facing the comments.

  56. Jessie responded on 28 Apr 2013 at 4:19 am #

    I just love the way you think, Kate, it makes me want to go out there and tell everyone that they’ve got to stop acting in their old ways, that they’re passing down bad ideas to the next generation and it’s got to stop. I told my dad off a week or two ago about using the term “retard” – a term I always used in high school but now never use! I completely agree that women are so often treated as purely physical beings. I love nails and hair and beauty, and almost feel guilty for liking these things, as it is adding to the stereotype. Sometimes males will pleasantly surprise you though, and the occasional one is very gentlemanly. My husband’s great that way, I’m very lucky. But even some of my best male friends will talk about women this way, then complain that they aren’t “getting any.” It’s even worse when the guy in question isn’t very good looking and he’s judging girls that are out of his league. Oh wait, I think I just described the internet, lol. Thanks for making me think!

  57. Stepheroni responded on 28 Apr 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I hate this. I have tried retorting, I have tried ignoring, I have angrily argued with the offender, and I have even tried commenting in the same strain (agreeing or disagreeing, trying to be one of the guys). Nothing has made me feel more comfortable, other than isolation. If not for the Internet, I might think no other woman was bothered. We are good at grinning and bearing it. I remember in college I’d even be confronted by “cool” women acting as “mediators” and urging me to relax.

  58. Carrie responded on 30 Apr 2013 at 11:05 am #

    If the way you look is the only thing that matters to someone, don’t worry because they are someone who shouldn’t matter to you. Care about the people who care about and respect you, those are the people that really matter.

  59. Oleo responded on 01 May 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Thoughts from the male persuasion. I enjoyed reading your article. It was very well written, something i am jealous about since i can’t string two sentences together. Anyway, you mention that you don’t like the way this guy talks about women, but no mention of how he talks about guys. Perhaps it’s not just women that he talks this way about but everyone. It’s interesting that what you notice is what you perceive to be negative about your gender. Do i think that many women are too insecure or sensitive about some of the things said towards them? Yes. Do i think guys say these things with malice? No. Do i think that guys in general should be less judgmental? Absolutely, but listen to the way guys talk to each other. I insult my friends on a routine basis, that’s how we bond. We grab a beer and make fun of each other. We are indiscriminate in our negative comments. Some guys unfortunately don’t know when to shut this off and don’t know where the line is when speaking to the opposite sex. But sometimes people read far more into it then necessary. Do i have flaws? lots of them. In fact being a short guy, i’ve been reminded of it just about every day since i was a kid. It used to bother me back then, but 30 years later i feel comfortable in my short stature and find humor in the jokes make at my expense. Once you’re truly comfortable with who you are, i don’t think an offhand comment really makes a difference. Besides, at least in my case, no one can say anything about me that i haven’t thought of about myself in the past.
    And i agree Hillary is looking rough and the horrible haircut is making it worse. I don’t think this is a sexist comment at all, because i think Bill looks rough too. If i’d say the same thing about a guy, how can it be sexist?

  60. Kate responded on 01 May 2013 at 9:13 am #

    The thing is, guys don’t seem to often comment on other guys’ appearances. At least, I don’t hear that happening around me. So what I’m writing about here is the way this guy is talking specifically about women. In front of other women– not just “with his buddies.”

    I get annoyed with the comment “just suck it up! It’s not a big deal!” Which is what you are actually saying here. Because “just suck it up” means we can’t even have a conversation. And the thing is, I think a conversation needs to be had, as long as this stuff is still hurtful on any level. “You’re being too sensitive” is a really easy criticism to lob at someone, for reacting to many, many things. But when we actually learn WHY someone is “being too sensitive,” that’s when things get more interesting, in my opinion. And also, it’s important to remember that everyone is different– even if you don’t feel upset by a certain type of comments, other people might. And there are certain things that upset you that would never bother me, or someone else, I’m sure. But deciding for other people what should and shouldn’t be upsetting doesn’t really get anyone very far, especially because most of the time, it’s really hard to control our own automatic reactions.

    Which is not to say that I don’t wish I had a thicker skin. I do! I think I mentioned that in this post a couple times, actually :-)

    And I am definitely glad that you have high self-esteem. It’s a good way to be.

  61. Eat the Damn Cake » sexy balding man with back hair responded on 02 May 2013 at 8:48 am #

    [...] like the nice guy I wrote about who made all those not-so-nice comments about women, I don’t think that making these comments about men necessarily makes women mean. I think when we [...]

  62. Jill responded on 03 May 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    I can’t stand how guys judge us solely on our bodies. At school, I’m known as Jill With the Ass. I guess it’s a compliment, but it doesn’t feel like one. It makes me feel like an object; I’d rather be known as funny, smart, or nice.

  63. Leslie responded on 05 May 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    * One of the most admirable things about this post is how hard you worked to name and understand something that started out as unconscious painful emotions and internalized thoughts of self-judgment. By choosing vulnerability – and bravely sharing the negative thoughts you were struggling with – you were able to trace the trigger of your recent bout of insecurity back to the recent, frequent remarks by your co-worker.

    The payoff? Deeper insight into yourself AND a thoughtful piece that articulates a common, painful experience shared by MANY women (myself included). I, for one, am grateful!

    * Have you considered privately sharing this blog post – or some variation of the ideas in it — with your male colleague who frequently makes these kinds of comments?

    I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with him, so this idea may or may not feel comfortable for you. And it’s certainly not “your responsibility” as a feminist to teach this grown man how to behave/speak!

    But reading your direct-but-not-hostile follow-up question to your co-worker’s insensitive and crass remark about Hilary Clinton, I get the impression that you can communicate diplomatically. :)

    Plus, for several reasons, it seems you have a good chance of “success” in getting through – or at least, in reducing the amount of these toxic comments you hear on a weekly basis:

    1. You stress repeatedly that you think of him as a generally “nice guy”. If you genuinely approach him with this bottom-line estimation of his good intentions, he may be able to hear what you’re saying.

    [Especially if you bring it up with him “off line” rather than in front of a group so there’s no pressure to “save face” (i.e. Maybe give him something to short to read/process in his own time & follow up with him?)]

    2. In this post, you explain *so beautifully* the pain and negative emotional impact that so many experience when hearing (or overhearing) these kinds casual “evaluative” comments about women’s physical appearance.

    You also address how widespread this behavior is and how common it is for (otherwise decent) folks to “play along”.

    You also acknowledge that men (or people in general) may not be aware of how (unintentionally) hurtful these kinds of statements are – especially given the “cumulative effect” of hearing these kinds of comments repeatedly and over time. [Even if – especially if – they’re “not personal” critical comments.]

    Because you write so eloquently and earnestly about this topic, it is hard to imagine a truly decent person not taking your concerns seriously at all. At the very least, your thoughts on the matter are clearly expressed and easy-to-follow.

    3. But imagine a “worst case scenario” after you approach this decent-guy co-worker (discreetly, graciously but forthrightly) about how this type of speech is [unintentionally] hurtful to you and others:

    Even IF he were to completely blow off your feelings about the matter (either internally or to your face):

    * Is it likely that he will *unselfconsciously* continue making those kinds of remarks?

    * Will he likely make similar comments at the same rate? Or even more frequently? (My guess is that, unless he’s a sociopath, probably not.)

    More likely, even if he disagrees with or dismisses your perception of the situation, he will think twice / catch himself before at least *some* of these comments in a group setting – at least with you present.

    But most importantly, I wonder if bringing this to his attention when you are both “off line” might spare YOU from frustration if (or more likely, when) he makes similar comments in the future.

    In other words, an assertive approach might take the pressure off of you to figure out whether or not to confront him in the heat of the moment and in front of others – especially if you often feel vulnerable, angry and/or upset when he says these types of things.

    [Instead of only YOU internalizing the negative effects of his tactless, thoughtful and (unintentionally) hurtful comments, HE will have to negotiate his awareness of the impact of his words.]

    Phew! Well, whatever you decide to do, please know you and your blog now have an impressed and excited new fan!

  64. Leslie responded on 05 May 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Oh, and 1 more thing: I really enjoyed reading about how you verbally processed with “Bear” re: exactly WHAT was troubling you about this co-worker’s frequent comments about female appearance, HOW these comments were impacting you emotionally, and then WHY it is so painful and unjust to be subject to these kinds of demeaning “evaluative” remarks, etc.

    Bear’s supportive responses reminded me of a really lovely ex-boyfriend from college. Because he genuinely valued my emotional well-being and respected my thought process, that guy took seriously my observations about gender and social inequality [even though many of these ideas were completely new to him] In any case, Bear sounds like a “good egg” to me!

  65. Lumnija responded on 06 May 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    I definitely agree and have always noticed this annoying trait of men ever since I was a teenager…it’s uncomfortable and awkward. Womyn are seen as objects or accessories to some men, men feel they have a superiority that allows them to base a Womyns self worth off of her appearance. So if a womyn were to have one “off” physical quality she’s automatically less attractive and possibly worthless as a being. What really gets to me is when a group of guys do it in front of one female. I’ve experienced this on numerous school trips >.< thanks for speaking about such important issues that most womyn face.

  66. Celeryko responded on 07 May 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    I have a very good friend who never uses any descriptors of women except for comments on appearance. It’s not even that they are (often) nasty or dismissive comments, but it’s frustrating. People that he loves. Women he lived with. I used to try to grill him, to see if I could get anything else — what did she like to do? was she messy? could she sing? Anything. All I know is that they were gorgeous. And he’s a wonderful and generous-hearted friend. So it’s not a question of sheer awfulness. Blinkers?
    Thanks for the topic.

  67. Tom Stanbury responded on 11 May 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Thanks for this post really appreciated it. 18 months ago I joined a global company. My department is predominantly male, almost entirely in the area where I sit. So there is constant reference to the appearence of the ladies on the floor and women generally. I am not going to go into detail but are the lines of your observations.

    The worst thing is I used to be shocked by this but now have found myself joining in as a way of proving my masculinity. Not all the time, I think I do it to assure my place as one of the guys.
    It is going to sound overly worthy and pious but I have decided this is unacceptable and going to question some of the statements. Let’s forget about cool, anyway I am a 37 single man staying in on a Sat night reading a blog for women which I don’t 100% comprehend the contents of.

    I’ve said for a long time to female friends, if you want to know what I man really thinks about women or you, it is somehow important to know how he talks about you and women when only with men. Such as on the golf course or the changing room.
    And what I don’t get some of the men that women seem to regard as ever so charming, are more often than not those that make the most derogatory comments about women (including their wives/partners) when in the company of only men.

  68. Melinda responded on 23 May 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I feel you on this, Kate…I’ve felt this way ever since I hit puberty. It’s not just the stares and the way I’ve heard men talk about me, it’s also the way I hear them talk about other women. It’s just very insensitive and disrespectful.

    I believe that most men are socialized to view women not only as objects, but as parts…like we’re compartmentalized somehow. Like here’s a pair of tits, there’s a butt, check out the rack on that one! And it becomes a habit with some guys.

    Like Tom Stanbury said, it seems to also be about male bonding, a way to prove their “manhood”. I’ve noticed this with most of the men I’ve been around, including my husband and his father. Sometimes they will talk about women like I’m not even there. It seems to be deeply ingrained in some men that it is OK to size up all women on the basis of appearance and openly comment on whether they fit beauty ideals. My stepfather also does this.

    What’s funny is that most of these men would be offended if some other guy did this to their daughters, sisters, etc. But it’s perfectly fine if they, themselves objectify women outside of their families. Some of them can be defensive when called on this type of sexism too…they claim that they are simply appreciating beauty and if a woman objects to it, she is clearly a b*tch or an ugly feminist who is jealous that no one looks at her.

    That bothers me because in a way it promotes further division between women (ugly girl jealous of pretty girl getting male attention) and also the notion that women shouldn’t speak up when certain things happen. It is fine for a man to admire beautiful women, but not in a way that demeans them and other women in his presence. And it definitely isn’t OK to reduce women to mere body parts/objects that simply exist as eye candy or props.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing men or anything, but it frustrates me. I’ve even heard other WOMEN engaging in this and not in the typical “catty” ways, either. They almost sound like men sometimes in the way they talk about other women. Maybe it’s internalized sexism, I don’t know.

  69. Melinda responded on 23 May 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    @ Oleo…dude, I say this with the utmost sincerity. As a man who is short, you might be ridiculed for your small stature but you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman who is constantly subjected to criticism on a daily basis because of appearance.

    If women are, in your view, “too insecure and sensitive”…please consider why they might be that way. Many women are told from the time they are children that their worth comes from being beautiful. Sometimes their own families are the ones promoting this. And when girls start school and socialize with other kids, they become painfully aware that looks matter. When a young woman (and even some older women) are constantly internalizing comments and other things that link beauty to being loved, successful, etc…not to mention hearing a boyfriend/husband/partner or even one’s male relatives talk about women in demeaning ways, it can take an emotional toll sometimes.
    Women are constantly being told that they need to be beautiful, sexy, and so on. That generally means…be slim but not too skinny. Have curves in all the “right” places but don’t be fat. Have the “right” skin color and the “right” hair texture. Wear makeup but not too much, because men like natural beauty. Don’t voice your opinions too often or too passionately. Show skin but don’t look “slutty”. I won’t even get into the cultural baggage that influences this stuff sometimes. Or how about in the workplace, even with laws against harassment?

    I see your point about using humor as a buffer, but like Kate says, telling somebody they are too sensitive is like denying their right to feel the way they do. It is very simple to dismiss another person’s feelings if you aren’t in their shoes. Try to understand why many women struggle with insecurities, feeling like they aren’t thin enough or pretty enough.
    As a woman, I’ve heard men comment not only on my appearance but on the looks of other women (in both good and bad ways). It definitely has an effect on how a woman perceives herself in many cases.

  70. Melinda responded on 23 May 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    @Angela B…well said! What about the guys who rate women on a 1-10 scale in terms of looks? I hate that. And the ones who bark or moo at women if they think the woman is unattractive (like a dog/pig).

    This one guy in high school would make unsolicited comments about the appearance of girls, including me. One day he said something unkind about my looks and I finally snapped, “who cares about your opinion?!”

    That is honestly how I feel about people who do this…why do they feel the need to belittle others for the way they look? Who made them the ultimate judge of beauty? Why do they feel the need to express themselves so hurtfully?

  71. Melissa Samples responded on 20 Jun 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I just went through an incident exactly like this one today in my office. I felt totally uncomfortable and inadequate. I started thinking of all the times in the past I’ve endured these pathetic uncomfortable conversations between men, who try to include or ignore the women in the immediate area. I thought about how many times I’ve argued with men in the past about such comments, and how I’ve tried to explain my own feelings about myself to men who have cared about me and not understood WHY I and many other women feel the way we do in our own skin. No matter how attractive we may be, or how accomplished we are, we’re always looking for what needs improving … trying to find it before someone else points it out to everyone. I’ve explained that this kind of talk and behavior from men, in front of females of varying ages, affects all women, rather we want it to or not. It seeps in through the cracks of our souls. It affects us all. That made me start wondering why men do this. I’m still left wondering why. I don’t understand. I’ve decided that men and women who measure people by their looks just don’t think, ever. I came across this article while doing my own research on the subject and WOW! How beautifully written!!! It described my own situation perfectly!! More men and women need to read this article!! I also loved reading all the responses and I felt a bond with all of you. Thanks to all of you for the article and the responses. And congrats on the new baby :-) ~ M

  72. abXO responded on 09 Sep 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    I came across your blog by chance and I have to say I really love it. Not only do your posts really speak to me but I feel like you are able to verbalize so many things that are really important and often neglected and ignored. This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves – men talking about women this way. Having suffered from low self-esteem on and off over the course of my life I can definitely say comments such as the ones made by the man mentioned in your post do eat away at self-esteem in a way that is difficult to really pinpoint. Strangely, sometimes such comments make me feel not good enough (and then I wonder why I need that type of validation, or wonder why I care what a random stranger thinks) and at other times or simultaneously enrage me because like you said, why does a woman’s value come down to how she looks? A related issue is that it is almost always assumed that women “like to look good” and do so “for men” and thus that somehow makes it okay for men (or women) to objectify and commodify in that sense rather than just allowing a person to look how they want without trying to assign it some kind grade. There is just a lot to pick apart in this type of dialogue and a long way to go to stop such perceptios…thanks for a great post and I will definitely be reading your blog often!