A couple of weeks ago, I met my boyfriend's roommates. Bob said, "First off, you're gorgeous," before going on to introduce himself. I was irritated and wrote an essay about why rather than confront Bob and convince him that I'm an overly-sensitive bitch.
Apparently my boyfriend had a talk with his roommate this morning about why commenting on a woman's appearance is not cool. Bob proved himself to be an awesome person capable of change. First he sent me this apology (which I accepted gratefully):
I feel I owe you an apology. When we first met, I fell to my unfortunately normalized habit of offering a compliment on your attractiveness.
This is not how two human beings become friends. It's how a man offers a judgment of a woman's appearance. I am trying very hard to work on my "casual chauvinism," so I would like very much to ask your forgiveness on the matter.
Then he posted on FaceBook:
The journey to self-awareness and growth never, ever ends, and it's often quite painful.
I am unintentionally, casually chauvinistic. I say "unintentionally" only in that I never, ever mean to demean or marginalize women I meet or have in my life, yet I nonetheless contribute regularly to the very problems I've been railing about lately.
Like the folks who "just grew up that way," casually throwing the N-word (or some other racial epithet) around - "Aw, I don't mean nothin' by it!" - I offer observations about a woman's attractiveness and features very readily, and usually upon first meeting. Sometimes with what I think is poetry and dashing; sometimes with a casual familiarity that is utterly unwarranted, due to my self-ascribed Life of the Party role.
Almost always inappropriately. I only offer the modifier in light of the rare occasions where I am flirted with first.
In doing this, I've been couching many initial contacts with females in the context of what their appearance means to me, rather than what their humanity means.
I may be (indeed, am) completely interested in them as a potential player in one of my games; fellow fan of one geekdom or another; person who can enrich my life in some amazing and unforeseen way; and a host of other possibilities.
What I tell them, however, when I compliment their eyes, or the fetching dress they are wearing, or their great smile, or the "hot glasses" they are wearing (recent example) is that, first and foremost, I am placing a judgment on their appearance and wish to communicate that judgment as an early part of our connection.
I don't mean nothin' by it.
Doesn't matter. I am doing damage. I am perpetuating so many wrong things when I do this. I need to stop.
I will be working on this. I won't swear to never do it again; decades of habit are never easy to break. I do swear to work on it, and to work on not being defensive when you call me on it.
Please do call me on it.
One of the things I try to tell the casual racists in my life is that they are grownup, capable of making adult decisions to change their behavior, and no amount of "but that's how things were when I grew up" excuses their behavior.
Hello, Man in the Mirror.
To all the women in my life who have experienced this with me (and far too often simply forgave me as yet another dumbass who didn't seem to know any better), I am very sorry. I love that you've forgiven me - time and time again - and that you've understood that I never meant to marginalize or insult or create inequality.
Stop letting me get away with it.
Please feel free to share this around if you feel it has any value to others in your life. I am never afraid to take my personal shame and journey of growth and use it to create more understanding.
The responses after that were almost all supportive, and at least a couple were appreciative that he was going to stop because it had made them uncomfortable. It's always amazing when you see someone not only willing to acknowledge their personal challenges, but to do it publicly so that others can learn from their mistakes.
I'm pretty impressed right now.