As a resident of the Internet in 2014, I constantly read things about how men should talk to women—what’s appropriate, what’s respectful, what isn’t a rape culture way of thinking. I hear people saying, “If you are smart, kind, and not a woman-hater, you will only say these kinds of things to women.”
I get how this might be confusing, so here is a list of things you can talk about with me, a real, live woman:
You can address me as “ladies” or as “dude” or as “bro” or as “guys.” I know what gender I am. Your choice of greeting doesn’t impact that. Words are fun to play around with. They have dictionary meaning and colloquial meaning.
You can compliment my appearance. Because it’s a compliment. I don’t operate under the assumption that a person can’t both be attracted to you and respect you as a human being. That’s ludicrous.
You can give me your opinion on my appearance. I want everyone to have opinions. And, well, even if I didn’t they are going to have them anyway. It doesn’t hurt me if you say “I like long hair” when I talk about getting a haircut. Opinions and preferences are natural. It doesn’t hurt my feelings when someone has a different preference than me.
You can talk about having a sex drive. It’s not inherently anti-women to have sexual desires for women or to express them. I can’t imagine someone telling me my sex life was misandrist if I ever expressed a desire to a person that didn’t include “…and I also respect you as a person.” That part is assumed, and if it isn’t, the expression itself is not the problem.
You can say, “You’re pretty smart for a girl.” I’ll know that you’ve probably not been around women who were comfortable expressing their opinions around you. Thanks for giving me this valuable information about you! That saves me a lot of time rather than you not saying it and me not knowing how you are. Asking someone not to say this is avoidant; it’s playing Whac-A-Mole with something that’s going to come out eventually—and I would rather know sooner than later.
You can say something “creepy” to me. Because chances are that the “creepiness” of it is determined by how attractive you are, not whether what you are saying is truly inappropriate.
You can criticize feminism. Criticizing a movement is a gift to the movement. Here’s (feminist icon and) philosopher Simone Weil talking about being critical of Christianity: “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” If feminism (or any movement) is the right thing to do, it’s going to stand up to criticism. When we don’t criticize, we act in fear that the movement or thing we love will crumble under further inspection.
The reason people tell you not to say these kinds of things is that people love to have an external locus of control because it is a lot easier than having an internal one. For example: It’s easier to tell everyone, “Don’t have alcohol anywhere in the world because I cannot manage my alcohol intake responsibly” rather than “I am going to avoid situations where alcohol is served or learn to be around it without partaking or going out of control.” People want the world made safe for them instead of making it safe for themselves. I don’t agree with this; it will never work. You will never convince everyone to only talk to you a certain way, so you will inevitably have to learn how to digest their words. Why not cut out the middleman and do this from the start?
Wait—I guess, fuck all those other rules because the only rule is this: You can talk to me any way you want to talk to me.
I’m not made of porcelain and I’m not going to break if you use the wrong words or reveal yourself to be a terrible person.
The things people say reveal more about them than they do about you. I would like to have this information and be in charge of how I process it and proceed. If you sound boring or unintelligent or disrespectful to me, I’m probably not going to continue the conversation. I may get up and leave. Because guess who controls my life? I do. I don’t need to police what you say; that’s your choice. Just like how you can’t tell me how to react to what you say; that’s my choice. I don’t need other people to tell me what I can and cannot handle or what should offend me, or what I should require in order to feel a certain way.
I don’t want you to talk to me like I am fragile. I want you to talk to me like any other human being—any way you want to. And I’m going to react to what you say like any other human would.