A few weeks ago on Twitter the hashtag #QuestionsforMen was trending, where women asked men questions pointing out everyday sexism in our society. Unfortunately, trolling has flooded the hashtag at this point, but before it did I was able to put my two cents in.
“Have you ever been asked if you get hit on at work a lot because you’re young?”
I posted this question on Twitter finally feeling vindicated for the early days in my teaching career when men asked this as a pick-up line. Now, if I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt, I am sure they meant to say that I’m attractive and they may have even thought I’d laugh. Here’s the issue, though, no matter what I look like or my age, I expect to be respected as a professional in any field in which I work. Therefore, in my early 20s, when this line was used to lure me into conversation, I left several men in my dust. At work, I am first and foremost a professional, and my various degrees give me every right to be there, not my appearance (although, I do expend a lot of energy making sure I am dressed appropriately for work).
The backlash my question provoked did not see it that way:
“If you don’t want to get accused of sexism, don’t compliment a woman.”
“Rephrased as: ‘People think I’m attractive, it’s such a burden. #Humblebrag”
Of course, once something is posted to the Twitter-verse, I know I open myself up to being ridiculed and insulted. However, I think this does prompt a larger question: What is a compliment and what is objectifying?
As a book nerd and word-lover, I turn to Merriam-Webster for guidance. According to the dictionary objectifying means, “to treat someone as an object rather than as a person.” While a compliment is, “a remark that says something good about someone or something; an action or remark that expresses admiration or approval.”
Now, going back to the pick-up line, “do you get hit on a lot at work” (knowing that I’m a teacher), to me this says, this guy must find me attractive, however, he assumes that because I am attractive my colleagues and students do not take me seriously as a person and only see me as an object and not a professional. Therein lies the objectifying. Insinuating those whom I work with do not respect my mind and intelligence in my field is never a compliment and an insult to my education.
Whatever happened to, “Your eyes are very pretty”? Or, “you look very nice tonight”? Those are compliments I gladly accept and feel flattered hearing.