“She’s not even that pretty.”
I was hanging out with a group of new and old coworkers, and I found myself openly trash-talking a girl who had left with a flippant remark.
“I mean she has a hot body, but her face is ugly.”
“Morning after guilt” is simply the best, said no one ever.
“How did I get home?” “Where is my bike??” “They sharpied what on my face???”
Our firsts thoughts are often funny, unfiltered, and 100% where our minds should have been before we did the aforementioned guilty deed. In this case, there was no humor, just remorse.
“How could I have said that?”
Last week, I had gotten into an argument with a close guy friend of mine about Jill Abramson and her dismissal at the New York Times. Our “debate”: Was gender an issue in her dismissal? Me: Duh. Editing while female. Wage gap. A male editor would never be criticized for being “pushy.” Him: Downplaying the role of gender, indicating there are other factors that go into a compensation package, and he was saying that was probably what happened in the Abramson case. Despite the many wrinkles of the Abramson issue, including the way it messily unraveled–to paraphrase Jessica Goldstein, embarrassingly to the Times, being a media organization–this is not the main point of my story here.
The point is, quoting Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury in the now cult-classic Mean Girls, “There’s been some girl-on-girl crime here.”
The morning after our night out, I guiltily realized that I’d put down that girl I hadn’t even properly met.
By saying those things, I was just perpetuating a cycle, making it okay to judge, enshrining “attractiveness” as the #1 criteria for that judgment.
As someone who lives and works abroad, with friends from around the world and with backgrounds different from my own, I’d like to think I’m a pretty open-minded, non-judgmental person.
I’d also like to think I’m a feminist. I’m involved with a women’s professional development group that strives to give women the tools they need to carve their own paths and define their own version of success and happiness.
But I was not exactly pleased with myself when I recalled, “She’s not even that pretty.”
Before the Abramson discussion, my guy friends had been sitting with a college-age girl, but by the time we left for a different joint, she’d left. I hadn’t spoken to the girl, or even learned her name. And when we bounced to grab some late-night snacks, I threw out my dismissive critique without a second thought.
“I mean she has a hot body, but her face is ugly.”
Given the social context, what was the role those words played? In other words, if I’m so open-minded and feminist, why would I tear this girl down?
With my new, successful female colleague to whom I said the comment, I was “strengthening ties,” bonding with her by making fun of someone else.
With my guy friends present, the comment was as much for them, I was cutting this girl down to elevate my own status. If she “wasn’t that pretty,” maybe they’d see me as “hot.”
But I was just threatened, insecure.
The language we use to describe others has a large, lasting impact.
A well-circulated, but little-known fact is that the movie Mean Girls was actually based off of the book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wisemen. In high school, I’d picked up the book, sitting unread on my mom’s desk, and couldn’t put it down. I remember gaining a set of new vocabulary for things I “knew” but couldn’t form into my own words. Concepts like the “Act Like A Man/Woman Box” helped me understand some basic theory about social and gender dynamics.
And the hilarious Mean Girls script Fey cooked up conveyed powerful lessons in feminism. The gym scene intervention where Fey addresses the high school’s female population is particularly representative of Wannabes, delivering an impactful message cleverly woven into the humor of the movie (I mean, we both know audiences wouldn’t want to know they were receiving a positive education, amirite?).
“You’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” (2:40)
Later in the movie, Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron says, “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any smarter. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any skinnier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”
Describing this unnamed girl as “not pretty” with an “ugly face” is of course less insulting than calling her a slut or a whore… but it’s not far off. Debasing her in front of others to lift my own status, it just further enforces the idea that it’s okay for anyone to be judged by their level of attractiveness—and makes it “okay” for women to be judged by something other than their job performance.
By treating others the way you would like to be treated, you help to circulate a superior model of communication and of life.
By cutting others down, calling other women “sluts and whores,” you’re just making it harder for yourself—and for gender equality in the long run.
Follow me on Twitter @Ginny Tonkin.