Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Be Nice To Strangers

There's a lot of things about being a girl that I find frustrating, and I don't think I'm alone in this. It's not that I'm not happy with being a girl (Who wouldn't be happy with having a pair of tits, for crying out loud? Tits.) it's that how women are represented in pop-culture tends to piss me off. We live in a world where the depth of  a female character is represented by the fact that her name is Alex and she runs an organic bakery and she doesn't trust men, intrinsically, maybe because she's had a terrible experience but probably because they're all fundamentally shit.

But this has been pointed out countless times, and reiterating it here would not only do a disservice to much better phrased and more original arguments, but would also undermine the number of fantastic female characters being written by exceptionally talented writers all the time.

Like this one!

And this one!

And all of these ones!

The thing I find most frustrating however, is that women seem to like being portrayed as being totally lame. They self perpetuate it in their own media by writing terrible articles about men and saying terrible things about other women. I should point out here that when I say terrible, I mean that in the 'utterly morally bereft' sense, and also in the 'universally boring' sense. They're not even coming up with new insidious things to tell us every week. It's literally the same bullshit over and over again. This is perhaps best explained by the illustration below, which was not done by me, but which I really, really wish was.

Because all of this crap exists, and because it exists in such volume that it completely dwarfs anything awesome made by women at all, it's really important for me to believe that it's the media who has the problem. This is obviously ridiculous, because blaming 'the media' is like blaming 'the economy' or 'society'. Things that we like to think are autonomous bodies completely separate to us, but really only exist because we tell them to.  It's our actions that determine their outcomes, and this is what brings me to the point I really want to make. Which is this:


There was probably no need to put that in capital letters and bold print. There was also probably no need to use the word 'fucking' quite that explosively, and Mum, I know you're reading this, and I know you're composing a five hundred word email on why I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry. You are right, you did not raise me to say such things. 

Obviously, the notion of being lame is completely subjective, and if there were a definitive list of lame things that women do and if I was allowed to write that list, it would include things like Katy Perry, cupcakes and nail art. But this wouldn't be fair, because I know lots of smart, fun girls who for some reason, genuinely enjoy nail art, cupcakes and.. that other thing. And far be it from me to question that. 

I also don't want to imply that it's only women doing lame things, because men do a ton of crap things too, but right now these things don't really concern me. 

However, I can think of one way in which women can improve their public image drastically, and it is so simple that I'm surprised it isn't handed out written on stiff card the moment we hit puberty. 

We need to be nicer to strangers. 

We need to stop acting like men wanting to talk to us is such a massive pain in the arse. When a man we don't know tries to start a conversation with us, and he does not seem like an immediate physical threat or someone who's going to ask us if we want a free moustache ride, we should be nice. We should not post facebook updates about how some 'creeper' had the audacity to talk to us. And at all times, we should realise this: it is really, really hard to approach someone you like the look of. 

When someone takes time out of their day to try to make you feel good, try to be a little more gracious. Even if you have no interest in that person whatsoever. Stop acting offended, and stop acting like they're wasting your precious time. 

There are more nice people in the world then there are assholes. If you believe otherwise, you're in for a pretty miserable existence. 

There are more not-rapists then there are rapists. So shut up about rapists already. They are a threat, yes, but they make up a relatively tiny percentile of the population. And do you know how seldom rapes happen in Waterstones at 2pm on a Saturday? Almost never. 

You may use the retort that "He's only talking to me because he wants to sleep with me."

So? You'll find the majority of conversations that happen between strangers can be boiled down to "Hey, can you do this one thing for me?" And whether that one thing is directions or spare change or a place to put his genitals, at the end of the day, you don't have to do it. But you can politely decline, and you can say "Have a nice day" afterwards. 

Women need to stop acting like sex is something men need to trick them into. Sex and your ability to have it is not the statue that Indie swaps for a bag of sand in Raider of The Lost Ark, only to be chased by an angry boulder seconds later. 

You are not the statue, and you are not the angry boulder. The look on your face when someone well-meaning talks to you should not melt the face off a dozen Nazis. You are just a human who another human is trying to connect with. 

You're not the Ark of the Covenant, either, but that should be obvious.


  1. Definitely agree that 20-something women need to remember that they are not the ark of the covenant, and broadly with the Caitlin Moran-style argument that it would help a lot if women stopped being lame in so many ways, though i think there are better lame female behaviours to start with*.

    However, I think the 'being nice to strangers' thing is a bit more subtle than this - there is a spectrum that runs from being chatted up to harrassment and it's hard to make a swift judgement call on where along that spectrum a complete stranger is going to land. Being even vaguely nice can get you into some pretty unpleasant situations (I say this having been basically chased around green park station yesterday by an extremely persistent man/idiot who did not understand my polite decline. And I WAS nice to start with). Depending on the man involved it's not just about "chatting to someone you like the look of"; it can be a symptom of a broader societal idea that women who have the temerity to go out in public looking nice or simply looking like a woman are fair game for male 'appreciation', regardless of whether or not how that appreciation is expressed distresses them. So I think the reverse of your argument could be true, and it might do wonders for men's PR if a small but annoying minority of them didn't hassle women on a low-level but large-scale basis.

    *i am working on a long-term plan to destroy pinterest and everything it is associated with (baking, crafts, themed parties, weddings, cute pictures of dogs, interior design).

    p.s. - i really like katy perry. i know it's wrong but it's like fucking stockholm syndrome.

    p.p.s. - sorry to get a bit serious on what is a seriously entertaining blogpost

  2. I like Katy Perry too, because in one of her videos she portrayed herself as an omnipitent PVC wearing sex alien, watching as all the bad things in the world happened... I fucking love that shit.

  3. What about 13 year old kids who go out dressed like hookers, what is that all about, sometimes its seriously disturbing.What is a 14 year old boy with a brain the size of a pin supposed to think.

  4. Great post, enjoyed it immensely. As a father of two girls, one of which is nearly 19 and tottering in impossibly high platforms with way too much (un-needed) slap on, I hope enlightenment comes their way from sources such as yours.
    One subject that gets my goat is the activity known as 'Pole.....' - I left out the other word because there are two words it seems to add to that: either 'Dancing' or 'Fitness'.
    Pole Dancing conjures up sleazy images of strippers in spangly underwear, and Pole Fitness is being touted as a health-promoting physical activity and sport.
    I used to date a girl into this, and she was more keen to say it was a fitness thing. But everyone into it can't seem to decide: Is it a sport or a sexy dance? 'Fitness' practitioners often play with the notion of titilation (npi), while when being defensive, 'Dancers' will insist its no different than aerobics. If they really want to be taken seriously, they need to decide for sure - and if it IS a 'sport' then stop waering 5-inch sequinned platforms!