Linguistic Duplicity? – 12


As I see it, the problem isn’t that equal rights and anti-discrimination/harassment movements have mollified people’s speech.  The problem is that even after we’ve established that *all* people deserve equal rights, we’ve only ever attempted to train our language to mimic this change.  Essentially, we made a linguistic game out of equality rather than actually attempting to change our behaviors and attitudes.

With this in mind, if we don’t know someone, odds are that “complimenting” them in a way that highlights aspects of their physicality and our desire for their body will not be perceived so much as a simple compliment as an un-solicited advance.  While there are certainly those that are open to such advances, those who are not often rightly find this type of behavior threatening (harassment).  As members of civil society, no one should need feel threatened by the proximity or interjections of their fellow humans.  So, in short, if you’d really like to pay someone a compliment, let’s lay off the cat calls and objectification in order to perhaps make what’s said less menacing and more meaningful.

Interestingly, along somewhat similar lines, I came across this text in a “Personal Living” book I was using to teach a class:


I feel like for many of us, myself included sometimes, BS (Benevolent Sexism) similar to that indicated in this passage is a fairly subtle form of sexism that is often near-indistinguishable from something so simple as helping one’s neighbor.  The not so subtle distinction here is that we know that Manuel’s BS was not performed equally to all in need, and came with the expectation of time or a date with Lori.

I hope that these examples (my comic’s example of two people “complimenting” a stranger while it is only in the third frame that the comment is actually perceived as such, and the “definition” of motivation suggesting that the motivation guiding a kind act need not be helping another person in need, but rather helping a desired partner with the unstated expectation of some sort of future reciprocity) both help to draw out what BS is and by extension how one might wish to and be able to avoid it.

Thoughts anyone?



About wagarob

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2 Responses to Linguistic Duplicity? – 12

  1. EFQ (Smalls) says:

    So happy to see you bring up benevolent sexism here!! You know that’s my JAM!

    Wanted to put out there that studies have shown that when women have had a benevolently sexist act occur to them they perform worse on task performance tests than those who didn’t experience ben. sex [Dardenne et. al. 2007 “Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism…”]. In fact, even when one just sees a ben. sex. act occur to another woman in front of them, they think more critically about their bodies [Shepherd et. al. 2010 “‘I’ll get that for you'”…]. These actions, even if thought of as “just being nice to the ladies”, create intruding thoughts (self-doubt, low-self-esteem) that distract and can consume women after it happens. It’s also a difficult kind of sexism because even if women are having these intruding thoughts or don’t enjoy the “compliment”/”assistance”, it’s not really seen as socially acceptable to speak up against it – the person was “just being nice…[to the ladies]” after all. This may be why many hearing about it for the first time can get quite passionately defensive…it’s true that no one’s necessarily told them they didn’t like that before (or, if they did, they were a biotch). Also, as with many gender role issues, there’s always the “but my mother taught me this!”, which, while it may be a reason not to be really mad that you’ve been doing it your whole life, is not a reason to keep doing it once someone points out how it could be harmful. Fathers may tell their boys never to cry (or really only used to, I hope! We have realized that this is not really helpful by now, haven’t we?) – but that doesn’t necessarily make it good practice!

    My personal bottom line: Be nice to everyone. Pretty simple! And if you do find yourself doing something just because someone is female/of a different skin color/disabled/lgbt/etc., examine the roots of why you feel the need to do that (tradition’s sake doesn’t count – look deeper) and find out from many different people of that group how they really feel about it. Also, explore the many more productive, encouraging ways to be polite and helpful to someone – like showing respect and complimenting them on something you yourself would really value being complimented on.

    • wagarob says:

      Smalls, this is one of *many* reasons why you’re awesome! Somehow, every time I think about ben. sex., I can’t help wondering if the solution that we can’t say because it sounds too simple is (recognising the negative effects you mentioned and others cited throughout many other studies) to treat people as individuals. And as you say, to be nice. Or if you’re not a nice person, still treat people as individuals and don’t assume that one label will apply in the same way it does to a group to any one person labelled as part of that group.

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