Staff Columnist

I'm not a sweetheart

Candy heart with message
Candy heart with message

I suppose I should be grateful when a man compliments me, shouldn’t I? I should be grateful when he snidely calls me “lovely” even though we are both professionals both doing our jobs.

I should be grateful when a man yells about my body as he leans from a car window and I am jogging and it’s dark outside. I should definitely not be afraid. I should be happy he’s assessed me and screamed his assessments in my face. I should like it when the pieces of me are dissected for men to look at, comment on, appraise like a hog at the State Fair.

Why can’t I take a compliment?

I will never be grateful for any comment that picks me apart, that makes it about my hair, my dress and my lipstick, rather than the fact that I am person. And I won’t be grateful because I am not a sweetheart.

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And if I find it menacing, if I find it demeaning, or condescending well, isn’t that my fault? I’m too sensitive, aren’t I? Too attuned to the fact that one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Or that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the office.

It’s my fault for remembering that I too was once assaulted by two men who told me they liked me, who complimented me and who told me, when I was crying, that I was being too sensitive.

Shouldn’t I be grateful then when a man who I am working with comments on how I look in these jeans or a man who is a business owner sends an email to my work email to talk about my face, my clothes, his thoughts on my legs?

After all, as he tells me, he’s just a man this is just a man’s thoughts and he’s here to tell me and shouldn’t I be grateful he even has them about me? Why can’t I just thank men and be grateful every time he makes it about my body instead of my work? Makes it about my face instead of the words on the page?

I should take what is given to me and be quiet, shouldn’t I? Aren’t I silly for not liking it. Silly for asking that I be treated like a professional, like someone who is more than just a collection of parts to discuss and judge and dress up.

Shouldn’t I also be grateful when I see a Facebook thread picking apart my looks, my cleavage, the color of my dress?

They are helping me after all. Helping me know that my personality is offensive, my arms are offensive, the tone of my voice, everything I am is offensive.

Maybe I should just be quieter, maybe I should have just a little less of a personality. Thanks for your feedback. I should be happy. So happy noted that the very body I inhabit is unacceptable. I should be sorry for existing, sorry for doing my job. Sorry for living in the world in a way that doesn’t bend and contort and try to make everyone happy.

I should be, but I am not.

I should be grateful after all that they have noticed I still have a body. Still noticed that I haven’t devolved into a crone, who would be dismissed, ignored, or worse, taken seriously for her ideas rather than her body or the way she dresses.

I should be happy, shouldn’t I, that they’ve taken time to notice and make a comment loud enough to hear?

How can I fix it for you? How can I make myself contort to be more pleasing, but not too pleasing? More sweet but not cloying? Quieter but not too quiet? How can any woman bend herself to be smart and qualified but not too smart, not too qualified? How can she be appealing enough, but not so appealing that she’s threatening? What do any of those words even mean anyway? Should I be both nightclub and Netflix? Both smart and sweet? Will that make me electable? Will that check the boxes?

It won’t.

And I won’t like it. I will never be happy to be reduced to nothing more than an object.

I will never be grateful for any comment that picks me apart, that makes it about my hair, my dress and my lipstick, rather than the fact that I am person. And I won’t be grateful because I am not a sweetheart.

Comments: 319-398-8513; lyz.lenz@thegazette.com

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