Dear Cis Het Man Tharoor, Would You ‘Compliment’ Male Colleagues Like You Did Your Female Ones?

It's not wrong to be nice, just be nice to everyone equally. If you are complimenting female colleagues only, on their looks, then you are not treating her as a professional, as any other colleague, but as a woman.

Why compliments on women’s appearance are problematic, when given by cis het men.

The other day, someone I have only known in a semi-professional capacity messaged me that I had looked so pretty. I replied with an ‘aww’.

There are several layers to why I replied thus.

To the women reading this, I probably don’t need to explain it because many of you on a daily basis have learned to diffuse compliments on your appearance, knowing what a potential landmine they can be. But to the cis het men, here’s why I infantilised that seemingly innocuous compliment.

Women’s need to not anger cis het men

Truth is, I don’t know the intention behind the compliment. It could have been small talk, a la what’s with the weather these days, it could be a genuine aesthetic appreciation of my appearance, but like all women I went for the worst case scenario- this person was interested in me beyond the scope of what a professional relationship offers, and I had to nip it in the bud.

But here’s the dilemma, cis men are dangerous creatures. They are the apex predators of this planet, and women cannot practicably ‘afford’ to anger them. A compliment is a tricky/sticky situation and I may still need to interact with them in a professional capacity (although after this exchange, I will no longer work with this man, and that’s a privilege most women cannot afford). So I chose to answer in a way that alludes to my disinterest, forcestop the conversation in its tracks, but without wounding the fragile ego of the man.

Are the cis het men reading this beginning to realise the complexity that an innocent compliment poses to a woman yet? No? Then read on.

Cis het men do understand implications of a ‘compliment’ but…

There is a phrase in American pop culture ‘No Homo’. No Homo is a hugely homophobic phrase added is a postscript to a compliment or something affectionate you as a cis het male say to another cis het male.  The worry is, the compliment could be misconstrued as romantic or sexual.

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So, men do understand that a compliment can make a disinterested party uncomfortable, but when it comes to a woman they don’t care about her feelings.

Post Shashi Tharoor’s tharki comment on his colleagues, women parliamentarians, many men are whining nasally, what is the world coming to that they cannot even compliment their colleague. What is a poor man to do?! Some women are fighting for Tharki Tharoor’s honour claiming that there’s ‘too much ado over nothing, what’s the problem if the women didn’t mind it’.

But Tharoor did not compliment any colleague on their appearance. He only complimented his ‘female’ colleagues.

Women professionals are more than their looks

Think about what it is to be a woman professional.

You are still a minority, no matter the profession. If you’re super successful then you have supposedly “slept with the boss”. In the lower positions you are often the “decorative tokenism”. You work hard, often harder than your male colleagues, and all you are complimented on is your appearance.

So no. Cis het men, you who have made this world unsafe for all genders, you don’t get the privilege of complimenting a woman. Mind you, it’s not wrong to be nice, just be nice to everyone equally. If you are complimenting female colleagues only, then you are not treating her as a professional, as any other colleague, but as a woman. And that is sexism in a nutshell.

Image source: Twitter


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About the Author

Hema Gopinathan

Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...

38 Posts | 241,703 Views

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