What prompted me to write about this topic today is not some inherent distaste for men. What motivated me to write this was the psychological desire to process the discomfort I felt during one particular interaction. This is not a “man-hating” article. This is about my personal experience and how it helped me set clearer boundaries.
To get it out there, to let others know this is a thing and it happens.To help others feel normal and that they are not alone in how they feel.
To be clear, this one interaction, in only a few words, left me feeling uncomfortable and uneasy. It was small statement, the kind people would write off as a quirky compliment or seemingly innocent gesture. Yet, I felt awe struck and my mouth hung open in an uncertain smile. Should I laugh, should I say thank you, should I scold him? I choose the word uncomfortable because it is the closest word to how I felt in that moment. His statement lingered in the air and in that second, I could not mentally process the experience fast enough to find an appropriate response to this man’s statement that would be strong, and authentic to who I was.
“You’re a credit to the Female Race”
He said it twice, in passing, after an everyday exchange of pleasantries. A normal customer service interaction.
My “Hi, Good Morning” was the best he’d ever heard apparently.
I’m a friendly, outgoing person with LOTS of customer service training and a background in psychology. I am open to starting conversations with strangers, and I am getting better at interacting with people who experience homelessness. This pleasant exchange took an interesting turn when he began to say how pleasant I was and what a beautiful smile I had. I am use to the “beautiful smile” comment (I have big teeth and was lucky enough to get braces as a teen). These are compliments I am used to receiving, however, normally these qualities are not attributed to my gender.
In this instance, I experienced what researchers call a “double- bind”, where the tone of the comment is positive and “unlikely to be labeled as sexism” while anyone who rejects the comment “is labeled as cold or having a chip on their shoulder” (PsychologyToday, 2020). Thinking back on my life, I remember many occasions where I received comments in complimentary tones that it made my skin crawl, leaving me screaming internally.
This doesn’t stop me from staying positive. Exchanging pleasantries with strangers on the street or in shopping centers is something I do, and I intend continue to do in order to spread positivity in this world. Being able to set and communicate clear boundaries is a skill I am continuously improving on.
This interaction left me psychologically discombobulated. I had to look it up. I had to google the quote in order to find the term “Benevolent Sexism”. Research has defined it as a covert form of discrimination that “occurs when someone says something that seems supportive and positive, but is based in traditional gender stereotypes… it may appear supportive while simultaneously reinforcing and extolling the virtues of traditional gender roles, responsibilities, and capabilities” (PsychologyToday, 2020). Specifically for me, this BS is representative of the subtle discrimination. The threatening part about Benevolent sexism or BS, are the comments that are “deployed with consciously good intentions” and at the same time “maintains gender inequality through the idealization of subordinate qualities in women”.
The Take Away
Clear boundaries. I want to live my life to the fullest. I will dress how I want to dress and in the way that makes me feel sexy. I will dress in ways that might raise eyebrows. It is how I respond to that, that matters. When setting clear boundaries it is important to remember the goal. The goal is to teach others how to treat YOU. I want humans to tap into their psychic abilities more. Until that happens, we have to tell people what is not okay to say.
In that moment, I couldn’t think of a witty comeback. I let that man walk away. In the future, I have phrases I can use that help me feel empowered.
Do you have a witty comeback? Share in the Comments 🙂
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Why might it go unnoticed?: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201808/why-are-women-attracted-benevolently-sexist-men