Flattery and Harrassment, and RIP: Don LaFontaine


Don laFontaine, voice of movie trailers, dies

“Don LaFontaine, the man who popularized the catch phrase “In a world where…” and lent his voice to thousands of movie trailers, has died. He was 68.”

And now to change gears COMPLETELY(!), I was Stumbling and came across an article on FinallyFeminism101 by Jennifer Kesler (of The Hathor Legacy, for those of you who follow that blog) called “Why, if you think women should be flattered by your harassment, you are stupid.” The FF101 site looks pretty cool so far, and Jennifer Kesler is always a good read, so I don’t want to infringe on their traffic by copying and pasting too much from the article, but if you’re not into clicking around you’ll miss the author’s message and approach to the topic, which I found refreshingly clear, so I’m including a short segment of the article below.

For whatever reason I’ve somehow randomly Stumbled Upon a ton of articles on feminist themes lately and more often than not they’re bogged down by so much intellectual posturing and “Hear Me Roar” name dropping that I can barely make it through the opening paragraph without yelling at my computer screen that *this* is part of why people can’t make heads or tails of New Wave feminism! It’s too bloody hard to understand what it’s about or why anyone should care!

Sorry. Little diversion there. At any rate, a few excerpts from the FF101 article (bolded emphases mine):

I recently wrote a post to explain the difference between street harassment and sincere flirtation. Unthinkingly, I wrote it to an audience of women. I guess I unconsciously assumed any man who would yell sexual remarks at strange women would not come to this site in an attempt to figure out why “that uptight bitch” glared at him, told him off or called his boss and damn near got him fired!

She may have a point there…

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write that version all the same, so here it is. If you’re a man who has been rebuffed more than once by women you thought you were flattering, this article is for you. (I say “more than once” because misunderstandings could account for the occasional incident.)

I appreciate that she allows for the reality that sometimes it really is just a misunderstanding, that sometimes it’s something totally out of your control that makes a situation go awry.

The first problem with thinking a woman should be flattered by your behavior and getting irritated when she’s not is that flattery is subjective. Some people are flattered by comments about how smart they are. Others want to hear how good they look. And some of us react warily whenever someone seems to be attempting to flatter us because we assume they’re buttering us up for a favor.

A-men. And now for the self-referential bloggy part:

If I really break it down for myself, I’m more likely to be flattered by positive comments about my appearance, and more likely to be empowered by positive comments about my abilities. The logical, responsible side of me will take empowerment over flattery any day. But, slippery Piscean that I am, that logical side often loses out to the side that wants nothing more than to see that black shirt with the ties in the back fit again like it did when I first bought it and anyone who says it still looks good on me is automatically bumped up to BFF status.

To make matters trickier for would-be flatterers, if you catch me in the right (wrong?) mood I’ll take compliments on my appearance as a threat and high tail it out of that conversation as quickly as I can. I don’t know what you’re after and I’m not in a state of mind to figure it out so: better to be gone than to be praised! And if I’m in the right (wrong?) mood and you say something positive about some project I’ve worked on, some job I’m done, I’m just as likely to assume you want me to do something similar for you and to doubt your sincerity since for all I know you’re just trying to buy me off with oohs and ahhs.

And it’s not that I advocate cynicism; I don’t. In the words of Peggy Noonan, “Cynicism is… unrealistic and kind of cowardly because it means you don’t have to try.”

I’d rather feel encouraged, empowered, and proud than flattered and blushing, but in the end it doesn’t matter what external or internal quality you’ve focused on: there’s always a tinge of fear there. Does the person giving the compliment really mean what they’re saying? Are they putting me on? Are they trying to get something from me? Do they expect me to compliment them back, thereby giving them the idea I’m equally interested in them when I know that I’m not? So in my individual case, it’s pretty darn likely that any flattery directed my way is most likely not going to come across to me the way you intended.

If a woman doesn’t take what you intended as a compliment the way you expect, the correct response is to recognize you’ve had a communication problem, and it might be that she misunderstood you but it might also be that you don’t sound like you think you do. To think of her, call her, or later describe her to your friends as an “uptight bitch” is an attempt to feel superior to her – to label her as defective. Because that is the real reason you’re yelling at her – to, in some way, make yourself feel superior. If that weren’t true – if you really just found her appealing and were hoping for her phone number – you’d be anxious to correct the communication problem and, with any luck, actually get that number.

So so true.

Is it possible that the woman really was being an “uptight bitch”? Of course! Some people are just inappropriately negative and callous in otherwise benign situations and we should probably consider ourselves lucky when they don’t respond favorably to our flattery because if that’s not dodging a social bullet then I don’t know what is.

But that’s not the particular context the author of this article is connecting with at this time, nor do I think it’s neglectful to not focus on it here. This isn’t an article about how to deal with genuinely irritating people who are irritating for no reason. It’s an article about what you may really be seeing when things don’t work out the way you’d expected.

If you’re into someone and the way you express it doesn’t translate for them, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with them or with you, (unless you’re an “uptight “fill-in-the-blank” of your own), so to berate them, or yourself, in a situation like this just doesn’t follow logically. If they’re worth the initial trouble, they’re worth respecting after the fact regardless of the outcome, so a lack of respect on your part betrays your own idiocy and inability to properly judge people and situations. And if they weren’t worth the initial trouble then you have no good reason to poison the waters around them and should probably find some other way to occupy your time than flattering people who don’t interest you.

Like learning to shave in a grocery store bathroom using generic KY.

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11 comments

  1. Newsflash for all women:

    Just because a man talks to you, it doesn’t he wants to fuck you or rape you. Sometimes people just want to talk. If you’re so ridiculously callous that you cannot be arsed to chat with a stranger for five minutes, then you are an uptight bitch.

    Relax, for crying out loud. This is why I don’t talk to a lot of women; I assume that they assume that my “that new hairstyle looks fantastic” comment is my opening line to get them in the back alley so I can rape them all night long.

    Shit. People are fucking stupid.

  2. There was actually a really interesting conversation in the comments about this exact aspect of this idea on the original post the article came from– about how it’s not about people saying genuinely nice things, but about when aggressive behavior is used in an attempt to flatter and how it’s *that* behavior and *those* comments that are the ones where if a woman doesn’t respond well to it you really can’t be surprised. I just took this as an opportunity to air my personal insecurities in related instances. For whatever reason, I can’t accept most compliments at face value. I did not, however, write that I would respond aggressively to compliments, nor do I think that would be an appropriate response. I think that would just be downright stupid and pretty arrogant to respond that way, actually…

  3. I’m just annoyed by women who rebuff any man who talks to them for any reason. These people are uptight bitches, no matter what anyone says about anything.

    You can miss out on some pretty cool stuff by ignoring everyone who talks to you.

  4. Although, I suppose that most of these women don’t ignore every man; if he looks like Brad Pitt, these fools will give him much more than the time of day.

  5. I agree- you can miss out on so much in life by just brushing people off as a default, no matter how you choose to do it.

    Though I have to admit that the more the guy looks like Brad Pitt, the more likely I am to be even more convinced he’s actually drunk, after a favor, or after my cute friend next to me. ;)

  6. Eh, I don’t know what I was going for. Some “feminists” have it all wrong in my mind. They should be arguing that people are people, not “I’m a woman, stop harassing me just because I have lady parts, etc. etc.”

    Maybe I’ll go out this weekend and try talking to a bunch of different women, all using the same line. If I accomplish this, I will report back.

  7. Worst attempt at flattery a friend of mine got on the subway in London: “Wow you’re gorgeous-I’d love to take you out for a drink…but it’s the credit crunch.”

    How would you respond to that?!

  8. *Is* there a way to respond to that?! Maybe she could find some lost pocket change in her sofa cushions and buy him a sympathy card…

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