Ladies, Stop Considering These 8 Sexist Remarks As Compliments

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There are compliments, and then there are genuine compliments. While the latter seeks to laud you for the achievements you have conquered, the former is nothing but sexism veiled as laudation. The most dangerous bit about this is that women have been conditioned to think of them as positive statements hailing us, which makes it difficult to differentiate authentic from false.

For instance, how often are women complimented for their intelligence over their looks? Very rarely. Upon meeting a new person, the first feature that makes an impression is outward appearance, not intellect. It’s more common to hear a woman be described as “beautiful” than “confident.” But doesn’t that limit a woman’s capability to only her physicality?

Several compliments such as this, meant to pat women on the back, end up demeaning them. Here are 8 to look out for and stop considering sexist remarks as compliments:  

1. Arey wah, beauty with brains

No no, this is not a compliment no matter how glad it makes you by seeming to cover both your highest points. Before your mother puffs out her chest with pride when an aunty tells her “wah, aapki beti toh beauty with brains hai,” tell her that the aunty isn’t really complimenting you, but bringing down the capabilities of all other women who don’t fit these particular criteria.

It’s disappointing to see that women are expected to still fall under one of the two categories: either beauty or brains. To many, these concepts are mutually exclusive and it’s rare to find a combination of the two. Through this “compliment,” the dumb but pretty girl stereotype, as well as the nerdy, workaholic woman stereotype, is reinforced. But whoever said women can’t be a bit of both?

2. You have very pretty features. Lose some weight to highlight them

When desi neighbourhood aunties or relatives say this to women, they feel it’s the compliment of the year. Actually, it’s nothing more than an underhanded way of saying, “Why are you fat? Don’t be. Because pretty girls aren’t fat.” Why is it that “pretty” features and big body sizes don’t sync? That they are seen as a mutation? Something uncomfortable that needs to be corrected? Believe it or not, even a star as big as Vidya Balan gets this regressive remark thrown at her. Watch her talk to us about it here

This snide remark of telling women to lose weight to conform to regular, marketed beauty standards, is thinly cushioned with something positive about your features or dressing sense. So that you don’t take offence. But you know what? You’re better off taking offence at this.

3. You drive well for a woman, varna other women drivers toh…

It’s a common stereotype, and the butt of many tasteless jokes, that women are bad drivers. On Indian roads, especially, it’s not unusual during a minor inconvenience or blockade or accident to hear “Arey a woman must have been driving.” Except, this is a falsely generalised argument. Only because the majority of women historically began driving on roads later than men, does it mean they haven’t still acquired the skill of driving?

Upon that vein, “you drive well for a woman” isn’t a compliment by any measure of the imagination. Because it collectively denigrates all women – including you, until the person complimenting didn’t know of your driving chops – as being bad drivers. When you are handed this casual sexism under the garb of a “compliment,” the best thing to do would be to give them a piece of your mind on this.

4. You’re so flexible despite your chubbiness

For years, we’ve seen and known of ace dance choreographers like Saroj Khan, Ganesh Acharya, and Farah Khan, who don’t conform to the ideal “skinny” body type. They were what people called “healthy.” But did that ever stop them from remaining at the top of their game? Never. Why then does it come as a shock to people that people with bigger body sizes lack flexibility and agility?

Size does not restrict people from movement or from achieving what others with seemingly fitter body types can. Why, I have a friend – who is perhaps three sizes bigger than me – and she can crush me at pilates or yoga. Because a thinner waist isn’t insurance of flexibility. And you’re only doing a flexible person disservice by pointing out their alleged “chubbiness” to them.

5. You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl. Ekdum dusky beauty

Dusky beauty. As if those two words together are an unbelievable anomaly. That is the exact sentiment people pass this compliment to women with, when they say, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Why the surprise, aunties and uncles? Are dark-skinned girls not essentially expected to be pretty? Why must it be exoticised in such a manner? Does it not reinforce that dark, pretty girls are an exception to the rule that dictates beauty is ideally the domain of fair-skinned women?

In our world of cinema, actors like Deepika Padukone, Bipasha Basu, Nandita Das, Konkona Sen Sharma, have long been known as “dusky beauties.” But more than a compliment, it only means that these women are deviant to the convention of beauty standards. A shocking aberration, but nice to look at nevertheless. And the fact that this “compliment” actually holds no water is proved when Das and others are told their skin will be “lightened” on screen. Read more on it here.

6. You are not like other girls

This one is most likely to come at you from a boyfriend or other guy friends who deem you “bro” enough to hang out with them, without being uptight. Being served the “you’re not like other girls” compliment is going to make you feel like a “cool” person, someone boys love hanging out with. But don’t fall into the trap. Because the “other girls” category you are so carefully evading is nothing but a pit of wrong stereotypes about women. It is usually meant as a generalised jibe towards women who reinforce “femininity” by apparently being too emotional, clingy, vain, overbearing, committed. But are all women like that?

By othering you from the “other girls,” what men are being thankful for is not you. But for finding someone who suits their exact requirements from a woman, without them having to compromise on their “manliness.” And when you fall into the trap of being “different” for them, you are tight-bound to a trope you cannot budge from if you want to remain desirable to your guys. And do you really want that burden?

Also Read: 5 Different Types Of Vaginal Discharge And What They Mean

7. You brave your period pain, how strong

We’ve said it once, but we’ll say it again. Your body isn’t a battleground for you to prove your worth as a woman. Braving period pains does not make you tough, and neither does buckling under the pain make you weak. For far too long these false connotations have persisted, handed down to women by well-meaning mothers and grandmothers: “beta, thoda tolerate toh karna padega.” And in our bid to tolerate, we end up totalling our strength according to the pain we are capable of bearing.

Why must we put up a happy front when our chums are literally crying war inside our uteruses? And who are we proving our physical and mental grit to, by working under pressure as if all is well? Are people with body aches expected to pretend to be in solid form, even if it takes a toll on their body? Why then, must a woman on her period? Ladies, go ahead and take that day off. The masculine world with its masculine workplaces designed for masculine men will just have to adjust.

8. We have raised you like a son, not a daughter

I have always found this one to be the biggest mark of ingrained gender inequality in a family, no matter how much the parents saying this believe it is a step forward towards equality of sons and daughters. And then they thump their chests at how progressive they are. But this is far from a chest-thump-worthy compliment. When the worth of the daughter is being measured basis the worth of the son, then is it really equality? If you are raising a daughter “like a son,” then why are you raising a daughter at all? You might as well have raised a son.

What families mean when they say this is that they have accorded their daughter all the rightful freedoms – jobs, night-outs, clothing choices – as they do their son. And while that is significant in the fight for equality, the compliment “like a son” immediately undoes all the progress. By likening the freedoms of a daughter to those for sons, it means that those freedoms are essentially meant for the son, and always will be. So dear parents, go ahead and raise your daughters like daughters, not like sons. Because even as daughters, they deserve every opportunity they are getting.

Views expressed are the author’s own.