Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Enjoy the Tributes

Attracting men is not the meaning of female life, and sometimes it is a pain in the neck. As a teenage girl I did not exactly appreciate being catcalled by construction workers, for example. Of course, I was probably not attracting them as much as attracting their attention, and the shouting was their way of entertaining each other or asserting their masculinity or whatever.

I suppose the most annoying thing, when I was a teenager, was attracting the boys I didn't have a crush on instead of the boy I did have a crush on. In some cases, it wasn't just annoying but scary. Who are you, and why are you interested in me? What are you up to? Stay away! And it's not like these were bad guys. They just didn't fit my mental template of "boyfriend material."

It was rather different at university, I remember, because I rather liked my admirers. The problem there was knowing how to discourage them firmly instead of trying to be friends and swithering over whether I should date them anyway, and if I should break up with my current boyfriend. Oh, the DRAMA. Meanwhile, if you had told me I seemed to be popular with men I would have laughed. ME? You must be kidding.

Readers often write in to say you have never been on a date, or that you never get attention from men, and then later in the very same email, you describe the two lousy dates you have been on and the unwanted attention you have received from men. Hello. Is there some new, hip alternative meaning for "never"?

Given my own college-era not-rooted-in-reality-ness, I suspect a kind of young-woman absolutism, if that's the word I want, at play. In this situation, reality is not determined by what IS but by what sounds most dramatic. ALL men notice you, or NO men notice you. Both are equally likely to be untrue, unless you are over 40 and have deliberately cultivated invisibility, or are any age and wander about naked, or are the only person of your race in town. (I saw a grand total of two black guys in Kraków, one in a Dominican habit, and one a French tourist.)

So. Let's get this straight. If you are under forty, some men notice you. Guaranteed. Whether they do any more than notice, however, is entirely up to them, and this has much to do with their cultural circumstances. Toronto is a cold, overcrowded city where people want their space and are never sure who can speak English anyway, so your chances of being chatted up in Toronto except by the most outgoing (or crazy) guys are relatively low. Edinburgh is a warm-hearted, small city where people enjoy a good blether, so all you have to do is walk into a pub. Glasgow even more so. (In Glasgow, people will butt into private conversations to tell you what they think. Glasgow is hilarious.)

Now it is true that many of the guys who notice you and then decide to say something are not the guys you would have picked yourself, often because they do not match the "Perfect Boyfriend" template in your head. They might be too old, or too young, or too plain, or too abrupt, or too poor, or too posh. Whatever. But they aren't asking to be your boyfriend, are they? They are just acknowledging your existence. Apparently you look pretty or sympathetic or interesting. If it's just you and he, and if he's not smirking horribly or showing off for other men, it's a compliment. It's a human interaction. It's a good thing. Smile, accept the compliment and move on. He'll probably forget you in ten minutes, but that doesn't matter.

The older I get, the more I appreciate these compliments. I even find them vastly amusing because surely I am an old married lady now, come on. And when the tributes come, they come from such wide variety of non-boyfriend types. Okay, I admit I do occasionally get icked out by ancient Lotharios, but that's not because they're ancient but because they are (or were) Lotharios. But I certainly I enjoy being addressed as "my darleeng" by the fat man at the polski sklep, and the hope-tinged remarks of a Bangladeshi chef on the bus make me giggle even now.

You could, of course, argue that these little tributes from men you don't want are just another reminder of how you have not been chosen by a man you do want. But this strikes me as masochistic. You could just as easily assume that because because men you don't want find you noticeable that it is exceedingly likely that one day a man you DO want will notice you too. And I recommend that you think just that. It will make you happier, and nothing makes a woman more attractive than happiness.

Happiness is most definitely a state of mind. Cultivate it like flowers in a garden.


Kasia said...

Dorothy - this is going to be one of my favourite posts of yours. This is so very true and such a good advice to anyone looking for love.
I think we've talked about it - a lot of single girls I know think that they can only be happy when they find the right men. But men are attracted to girls who are happy, self-secure and satisfied with their own lives. And not just men - I have never met a women who would look for someone who's miserable and not happy with themselves. So, yes, I do agree, if you're single start by appreciating the fact that there's people around you who admire you. It'll give you an enormous boost of confidence - and you there's nothing more attractive than a happy, confident girl.

Pearlmusic said...

When I was younger, I would have huge problems with accepting compliments from men who were by no means supposed to be my boyfriends/husbands, because they were married/had girlfriends/waaay too old (which means "of my grandfather's age") when at the same time I wasn't receiving any from guys who could potentially be my husbands. It seemed so weird, paradox and a sign of bad luck and I felt even sort of guilty for that.
Then, as a young teacher I used to feel embarrased by students' remarks on my looks - it seemed very inappropriate and I was retrospecting and analyzing for anything I'd done that made them feel free to say something like that.
Thankfully, I noticed that an elderly Pretend Grandpa saying something like "how cute you are, honey, you remind me of my sweetheart from the time of war" or a student saying "You like darn good in white, Miss P." are actually very sweet and innocent. Usually, when a man says I'm pretty, then it means he thinks I'm pretty. And that's great anyway. Period.

Also, I'm sorry I couldn't attend the retreat, Seraphic - I'm house- and workbound till the end of June. Blah. I hope though, many Polish women received your message of love, faith and integrity, regardless of state in life. And, a belated Happy Anniversary!

Julia said...

Will you pleeeaase tell us what the Bangladeshi man said, Auntie?

Seraphic said...

What! Haven't you heard enough about the Bangladeshi chef? I am quite sure I have mentioned the Bangladeshi chef six times already.

Let me see if I wrote what he said word-for-word anywhere. "You look really nice" was in there somewhere. Hee hee!

Seraphic said...

Oh yes. Well, when I was taking the bus home alone from Mass one Sunday, I switched to a front seat, as you do. And then a young South Asian man from across the aisle kept staring at me , so I took out some Polish poetry to read. However, he kept staring at me, and eventually he asked me where I was from. So I shut my book and admitted that I was from Canada, and learned that he was from Bangladesh and has been a cook at an Indian restaurant named X for eight years. He was very excited to hear that I live in [Historical House area] as X is in ][Historical House area], and he told me that I looked very nice.

It was all very absurd. I most definitely mentioned "I'm here because my husband is Scottish" but that seemed to go over his head. Or it didn't stop him from admiring my mohair-caped self.

Sarah said...

My problem is not that the men who give me attention are not "boyfriend material" or that not enough of them notice me, or too many of them do...

I simply think it rude and presumptuous for a man to comment on the appearance of a woman he doesn't know.

The worst one (besides the "Hey baby, looking good" kind of thing) iswell-intentioned men insisting that I am too pretty not to be smiling. Like, dude, this is just my face.

Seraphic said...

Well, you can be angry about it, or you can allow their light-heartedness to influence you so much that you crack them a smile.

And one good response to "Hey baby looking good" is "Thank you." Since I turned thirty-five or so, I have returned every "Whoo-hoo baby looking good" with either an amused smile or "Thank you."

Although men who get IN YOUR FACE are to be avoided, ones who cheerfully yell out innocuous compliments are solidly our brothers and plainly in the image and likeness of God. So smile. Say thank you. Don't get angry. Save angry for insults and insolence.

Seraphic said...

And, really, when I think of the number of times I have been told I need a haircut, I am grateful to all the "Hey baby looking GOOD" guys.

"Hey baby looking GOOD" and "Hey a girl as pretty as you should SMILE"= tribute, no matter how much they interrupt our train of thought. (When you're in public, your train of thought is going to get interrupted.)

Jessica said...

I agree with the basic message of this post - I think girls/women can be too quick to label attention "creepy" when a man's intentions are perfectly innocent. I commented a couple weeks ago that I wanted to tell the graduating seniors at my university (where I'm a grad student) that they can no longer consider 30-year-old men creepy, as a healthy relationship between a 30 year old man and a 22 year old woman is a definite possibility. I also got used to catcalls ("piropos") while living in Spain, and while they bothered me at first, I quickly realized it was just an acknowledgement of my existence/part of a male ritual haha, and had no underlying threat behind it.

That being said, lately I've been running outside and have had some weird encounters with men. Twice now a man working outside has simply stopped and stared at me as I pass. Another guy called out to me, "You look good already!" I also *think* I've had cars honk at me a number of times, although maybe they were honking for some other reason.
This to me feels different from some man telling me my skirt looks nice after Mass. I can't help thinking that a guy going for a run wouldn't face the same slightly threatening type of attention. (I usually run in the daytime, but there aren't necessarily a lot of people on the streets, so if one of these guys really had bad intentions, he could probably carry them out.)
I'm trying to decide if this is a case of fair not necessarily meaning equal (ie, women have to deal with catcalls, men have to deal with gold-diggers or something, we all have our crosses!) or if this is really unfair/unjust and something both men and women should be trying to confront and stop.

Seraphic said...

How is it threatening? If you are in broad daylight, and there is not indication that anyone is going to touch or hurt you, where is the threatening part?

When it comes to running, however, I always make sure I am wearing a loose jacket or top. Sometimes men stare at exercising women because our breasts giggle. Sad but true, and took me forever to realize this.

Amused said...

Love this post! I tend to get these kinds of remarks a good deal of the time at my job (from customers, not co-workers). As long as it's respectful, I always smile and thank them. If they get crude--or think they can address me as "Sexy"--I give them a cold, withering stare of death and say, "I do not appreciate that kind of remark. If it happens again I will call my boss." They've always apologized and behaved respectfully thereafter. One guy even came up to me a month later to repeat his apology, and to add that he "should have realized he was speaking to a lady." Of course it's usually the woman who ends up enforcing boundaries when a guy wants to take it too far. But I really like men's compliments. I think it's very good for us to hear them and also for the men to give them.

Seraphic said...

Thanks, Amused! That's a great example of drawing a boundary and defending it.

Sarah said...

Why would I smile and thank them when I feel the behavior is inappropriate? I don't have to be "angry" about it, but why would I encourage it when I feel it violates my boundaries. You may be okay with it, and that's all well and good, but probably the most important thing to remember about boundaries is that everyone's are different.

Seraphic said...

Do you think you have to be angry when men say flirtatious things like "Hey, a girl as pretty as you are should smile"?

I ask because I remember reading Gloria Steinem or someone getting steamed about men telling them to smile. They thought this was an example of outrageous male bossiness, so I thought, "Oh, so I should be offended when that happens!" But it strikes me that these days such a remark is much more likely to be an overflow of male high spirits (especially when prettiness is mentioned), or a very low-octane kind of flirtation.

Obviously men shouldn't yell "Hey sexy" or truly disrespectful things at women they don't know. However, the more outgoing of them may be bewildered at the idea that women don't like to be told they look good today or are pretty. But I am absolutely sure fewer of them do it today because they more scared of women then they used to be, and less likely to put themselves out there. I don't think I know any men who would tell a stranger she was pretty. They would think it, but they wouldn't say it. (And she meanwhile would assume that men never notice her, etc., etc.)

I so well remember this climate of fear and anger about men giving compliments. I am not sure how to convince you of this one, but take it from me: when you are over 40, fewer men are going to say "Someone as pretty as you should smile" and when/if they do, you're going to smile.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and the answer to your question is that it will make you feel better in the long run. Your attitude will shift from men-noticing-I'm-pretty-is-outrageous to men-noticing-I'm-pretty-is-kind-of-nice. And you will make his day instead of making him feel like something the cat dragged in.

Jessica said...

w/r/t "threatening" - Staring at a person walking down the street (including turning your body to keep staring at that person) is not within the social norms of the US, so it makes me wonder what other socially unacceptable things the man would be willing to do. (I'd be equally unnerved by a woman staring at me like this, but 1) I probably wouldn't find her physically intimidating and 2) it's never happened, which to me says this is a particular tendency of male-female interactions.)

And I'm a B-cup, so once I put on a sports bra I'm not very jiggly at all. ;)

I'm thinking back to some of your earlier posts when you encouraged women to put their safety above men's feelings -- like not getting in an elevator alone with a man if something about the situation feels off to you, even if he calls you racist for doing so. I also think there are some situations when it's safest to totally ignore men's "compliments" if they make you uncomfortable.

Again, I agree with your main point that there's no reason to fly off the handle either way for 95% of male compliments. Parts of your post seemed to conflate compliments and cat-calls tho, and I think it's helpful to separate those out a little more.

Sitting Pretty said...

I think I understand where you're coming from, Sarah. For me, it's not the compliment part of the comment that bothers me, it's the commanding part. In fact, on the few occasions I've been told to smile by strange men, they've skipped the compliment part altogether. They usually just say something like, "Why aren't you smiling? Huh? Huh? SMILE!" as if I owe it to them to plaster a dopey grin on my face while I'm pondering the cheese selection at the grocery store. Yes, I'm certain that these men think they are being charming and brightening my day, so I try not to be grumpy about it, but REALLY... someone ought to kindly tell them to find another way. Heck, if they just smile at me themselves, it's pretty much guaranteed I'll smile back!

As a teenager, it straight-up terrified me to be complimented by strange men. 10+ years later, I've learned to graciously accept the sincere ones, laugh at the outrageous ones*, and meet the sleazy ones with a frosty stare. Maybe my aversion to bossy-but-well-meant comments will mellow with time as well. :)

*Personal Favorite: The guy who hollers, "How YOU do'in?" out the window of his car as he drives past. I'm not sure what they hope to get out of that... so I usually just laugh and wave.

Anonymous said...

Re: running and catcalls/honks/stares

I used to get them a lot when I ran alone. Then, I got a puppy last year and started running with him. I haven't heard anything since I started running with a big dog. Just some nice smiles and the occasion check out. But, a nicer check out where I don't feel exposed.

Generally speaking, I don't mind comments as long as they are respectful. Car honking is less appreciated because I startle and tend to jump like a crazed chicken. But, they would sometimes worry me while I was running. The fact that it has suddenly changed makes me wonder if I was justified in sometimes feeling threatened before. Although, maybe it's just been a fluke so far.


Seraphic said...

Okay, the staring seems aggressive. Is he working in his own garden or is he an employee? If he's behaving badly on the job, a call to his employer may be the way forward, I recently had a good experience complaining about some foolish window cleaners.

The only other option I can think of is for you to walk up to him and tell him that his staring makes you uncomfortable and you'd like him to stop.

Sitting Pretty, the guys who are actually in your face about smiling are real jerks, and they would certainly get an earful from me!

Negotiating public spaces is tricky and changes from space to space. I spend as little time as possible in dangerous neighbourhoods--the Rough Bus is the exception, really. Naturally I am all for trusting your gut. But it is sad how quickly the conversation reverted to men-as-enemies.

Seraphic said...

Car honking is not a compliment. The driver is basically saying, Whoo hoo, look at me!

Sheila said...

I am with the "commands to smile are rude" camp. It's a compliment (sometimes) coupled with a criticism -- that I should look happier. I don't feel I owe strangers a smile, though I'll almost always return a smile if given one. I understand, though, that I often look angry when lost in thought, so perhaps they are reacting to that .... but still. It's pretty rude.

When it comes to compliments from men who just aren't at all available -- married, way too young, way too old, etc. -- I think they are more likely to give out compliments because they know that you know that they aren't coming on to you ... their unavailability makes them more comfortable to say what they're thinking. So if old guys and married guys say you're pretty, probably the young single guys think so too, and just don't want to say it!

Overall, there's a difference between encouraging and appreciating. Even a rude comment, which you certainly don't want to encourage with a positive reaction, is at least evidence that you are attractive to somebody. So you can decline to react (or even make a complaint), but keep it in mind too, when feeling a lack of confidence.