When is it reasonable and in good taste for a straight man to comment on a woman’s appearance? Lately I’ve noticed that I cringe and tense up whenever male friends talk about their girlfriends’ asses or prettiness or whatever else. For a second, I thought this might be because I was jealous, but I think it might genuinely be that a man just can’t talk about a woman’s appearance without sounding like a total misogynist. Am I being too much of a feminazi?
JJust about every creature whose reaction can be studied responds to a fellow animal whose facial symmetry, bright yellow feathers, or other superficial features it finds pleasing. Humans are lucky enough to have language to discuss such delights. In a post-patriarchal world, as well as one with a more imaginative view of human attractiveness, perhaps no one would ever object to such conversation. But we’re not there yet.
Straight men should feel free to sing a lovely woman’s praises among close friends, but should also anticipate and avoid some pitfalls. It’s obnoxious to do this in a professional setting (and some are now reaping the consequences in this #MeToo moment), because it creates an atmosphere in which women feel judged by criteria other than their own competence. Conventionally hot women fear their appearance is a distraction from their professional worth, while other co-workers feel invisible. Outside of work, it’s fine to praise physical beauty with other men and women who—and this is an important caveat—are known to enjoy such conversations. This might or might not include former lovers; sometimes we settle into a comfortable camaraderie with those whose beds we have shared, and they become exactly the companions with whom we want to discuss other people’s asses. But given how tired women get of being rated on their looks every day, men should understand that many women don’t ever want to put up with such banter. And not all men want to hear it, either. What our current president calls “locker-room talk,” the feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich called “compulsory heterosexuality.”
I’ve always really liked children. Their humor, honesty, curiosity, and wide-ranging emotions move me immensely. But as I find myself well into my reproductive years, I wonder if it’s fair to bring children into such an indescribably sad world. Sure, there is friendship, springtime, good wine, a beautiful book, and a swim in the sea if we’re lucky. But even if I were able to guarantee this hypothetical child a middle-class life (which feels increasingly difficult given tuition costs, rent, etc.), witnessing the world right now is incredibly painful: Syria, starving polar bears, antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Even when we are safe ourselves, remaining cognizant of what’s going on around us feels excruciating. How does one in good conscience bring a being into this world in such dire times, which will probably (socialist revolution pending!) only get worse?