I'm going to issue a disclaimer here: The following is not being written because I think men should walk on eggshells around women. We are not weak, and we do not need to be treated with kid gloves. We do, however, deserve respect and understanding, and that's what this is about. There are certain things that men are not entitled to know about women's lives and relationships. There are certain things that men should avoid asking women, not to shelter woman from the world, but in order to promote equality, respect, and in the ongoing mission for all humans to be treated with empathy. Too often women are asked specifically gendered things that come off as backhanded, snarky, and offensive. Because there's a history of inequality between men and women, it can often feel diminishing for a woman to be asked such gendered questions by men. And if you're a nice man, a nice human, or even a nice goat, your aim is probably (hopefully) not to diminish other people.
There's so much intersectionality involved in equality for any certain person. There are men who, for whatever reason, whether it be race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, etc., are also marginalized by insensitive questions. So you can take the basic tenet of being sensitive in your interactions with people who have experienced social, cultural, economic and political disenfranchisement with you and practice it when talking to anyone. When asking questions directly to women, and ESPECIALLY to women you don't know/are getting to know/only know in a professional environment, it's important to remember that she's heard it all before, and she knows exactly what the implication of your question is, no matter how subtly you're trying to ask it. Try not to be sexist. Try not to be offensive. Here are six questions you should most definitely avoid asking women, especially if you're a man (and actually, if you're a woman who isn't her BFF too):
1. "Are you on your period?"
What an insane and insanely common way to invalidate a woman's feelings! Sure, it's completely biologically sound that a woman's hormones are all over the place when she's PMS-ing, and sometimes she subsequently has elevated or irrational emotions. But that doesn't mean that those emotions aren't real. It also doesn't mean that because her body gets a little wacky once a month (so she can bear children and, you know, propagate the human race, but whatever) she's not a capable or worthy human. Asking a woman if she's on her period when she's being emotional or demanding is a great way to undermine whatever she's feeling, and a tacit acknowledgment that menstruation makes a woman's needs and desires frivolous or unworthy.
2. "Are you really wearing THAT?"
YES I AM. What business it of a man's what a woman wears? It's not up to men to police women's clothing, and if you think an outfit isn't "sexy enough," keep it to yourself. After all, sexy is completely subjective. The male-driven media (yes, it is; sit down) is already angled towards creating an image of women that's completely fetishized by male desire, so try not to be part of the problem. As sassy and wonderful and smart as a woman can be, there's something really infantilizing about a man telling us how to dress. And in even the toughest woman, seeds of insecurity can be sown when it's implied that we're not sexy/sophisticated/pandering/likeable enough. The only time a man should pipe in about what a woman is wearing is if it's freezing outside and she hasn't worn enough warm clothing (how sweet, showing concern for someone's well-being), or if he's planning on taking her on a surprise date to The Plaza for a ritzy cocktail and she's in sweats (because you know, there's probably a fancy dress code there).
3. "Are things easier for you [in your chosen profession] because you're a good looking woman?"
If you'd like to invalidate everything about a woman's intellect, hard work and personality then make all their achievements about their looks. I once heard Chelsea Peretti get asked a similar question on a podcast and she went to town on the male host, telling him in no uncertain terms that she's successful because she's funny, not just because she's pretty. The bottom line is that a woman's merits don't rest entirely on her looks. She is a whole entire person, just like a man is, so don't go reducing her to a pretty face by asking inane questions about her looks.
4. "Why do women... [insert thing that stereotypes women here]?"
Asking one woman to answer for all women is infuriating. Because guess what? We don't have a hive mind! Women are individuals who think independently, so while one woman might do things a certain way, there's no telling the countless other ways every other woman in existence does that thing. For instance: I was once asked why women can't put on mascara with their mouth closed, like it was some universal truth that all women apply mascara while open mouthed. I had no answer to give because I am always close-mouthed while applying mascara. Assuming that one group of people (and this includes ANY group, sexual, religious or racial) is so one-dimensional that they all think and act alike is really diminishing and reductive.
5. "But aren't you a feminist?"
I really hate this one. When a woman works out to have a great body, watches reality TV, cooks a meal for her boyfriend —"But aren't you a feminist?" Feminism means wanting equality for women; it doesn't mean you have to eschew all your likes and dislikes and become a man hating, bitter hermit. If you ask me, a man asking a woman if she's feminist when she's doing something that seems "un-feminist" to him is just a patriarchal way of undermining feminism. It's a man's way of saying, "You do all these things that I don't deem to be sufficiently feminist, so can't you see exactly how frivolous and silly feminism is?" Being a feminist doesn't exclude a woman from being an individual, or from having a faceted personality. Men who are threatened by feminism will try to promote guilt in a woman who identifies as a feminist by making her feel like she's not a good enough feminist. I'm here to tell you that's bullshit; you can be a feminist whatever which way you please, and it's not up to a man to judge whether or not your feminism is "good enough".
6. "Do you always have to argue?"
If a man had a point to make, and he was trying to make it, would you accuse him of being "crazy" or arguing too much? Most of the time, we accept belligerent men, and yet when women start getting loud about their opinions, it's often whittled down to emotion or irrationality. Too many times women are told they're "insane" or "nuts" when arguing. Sure, men have been called the same, but more often than not, these qualities are attributed to loud women. Think about it. Think about the last time your male friend talked about a woman at a bar arguing loudly. She was "crazy," right? Think about a man describing a man doing the same thing and you'll find he was "opinionated" or simply "loud". Think about a man describing a fight with his girlfriend. She was probably "batshit insane" while he was merely "angry". It's very subtle, but it matters so much. The acceptance of an argumentative man in social situations is a given, but an argumentative woman is often called out for her hardheadedness in a much more subversive way. Asking a woman if she really needs to stand up for herself is suggesting that women should be seen and not heard, and that an argument, when coming from a woman, is somehow less worthy of vocalization.
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