July 17, 2017
So, you’re just back from Paris, Mr. President. Quite a whirlwind trip, there! What a lovely parade, and so moving to see American and French soldiers marching together to celebrate Bastille Day. When you saluted the American military participants? That was a nice moment.
But that thing you said to Brigitte Macron? Umm…maybe not so much.
So, I know you meant well. I know you thought you were paying her a compliment when you said, upon meeting her for the first time ever, “You’re in such good shape … beautiful!” I know you think that this is exactly what every woman wants to hear when she meets a man for the first time.
Yeah, it’s not.
Hey, could you put your phone away? This is important.
What you said was inappropriate, and not just because of your history of being, well, sort of an asshole when it comes to women. It was clumsy and weird and creepy and sort of suggests that you’re still living in the 1950’s. Which, okay, in many cases, you are.
But to focus on the matter at hand, for the last 100 years or so, women have been trying to communicate an essential truth to men. They’ve tried to say it in a lot of ways, in a hundred different languages, and in a variety of media, but what it comes down to is this:
What I look like isn’t who I am.
Let’s say that together, Mr. President: “What I look like isn’t who I am.”
Now, it’s true that most women – indeed, most people – attempt to present their physical selves in a pleasant and appealing manner. Many women, and even some men, are flattered when someone provides feedback that suggests a positive assessment of one’s physical appearance.
Most women, however, tend to feel uncomfortable when such an assessment is made within the context of a business setting, or at a casual social function that is not a date, at the library, watching or participating in a sporting event, picking up the dry cleaning, test-driving a car, donating blood, getting your teeth cleaned, attending church, standing in line to vote, buying groceries…oh, and meeting your husband’s professional counterpart at a public event celebrating your country’s independence day.
In fact, probably the only circumstances in which it’s perfectly appropriate and even a nice idea to compliment a woman’s physical appearance is when it’s your significant other, but even then, you should also remind her that it’s her formidable intelligence, determination, and creativity that really get you going.
Now, you may not know this (because it doesn’t appear as though the women with whom you’ve chosen to share your life were particularly interested in the cultivation of their intellect, personal growth, or independence while they were with you), so you may need to do some further reading.
Yeah, I know, you don’t like to read.
Okay. Well, maybe we can do it this way. Here is a brief survey of the seminal literature on feminism in a format that even you can read and digest:
- The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir (1959): Tracks the role of women throughout history and the extent to which they have been suppressed and dominated by men largely by virtue of their ability to bear children.
- The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan (1963): Talks about how suburban housewives in the 1960’s were frustrated that the roles available to them were limited to wife and mother.
- Sexual Politics, Kate Millett (1969): Discusses how male-dominated culture has produced writers and literary works that are degrading to women as well as the tyranny of sexual stereotypes.
- The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (1991): Explores the growing social prominence of women and society’s demands for them to conform to specific standards of beauty.
- Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit (2014): Defines and demonstrates the concept of “mansplaining,” in which men attempt to explain to women topics they believe women do not understand, particularly when dealing with areas that are traditionally within the exclusive purview of women (such as the menstrual cycle, which, since the beginning of time, no biological male has ever experienced).
Men have been treating women like crap for a while, and we don’t like it. We are not here solely to procreate or to serve as sexual playthings or eye candy, whether or not you think we are pretty/sexy/hot enough to make us desirable to you for that purpose. You should treat women with the same level of respect and professionalism as men, and commenting on a woman’s appearance should be avoided.
See? That was easy!
Now, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what you said to Madame Macron last week and examine:
You said, “You’re in such good shape…beautiful!”
Here’s why that was maybe the wrong thing to say:
1. As we have discussed, you should treat women with the same level of respect and professionalism as men. If you wouldn’t tell a man he was in such good shape and beautiful, you shouldn’t say it to a woman.
2. Commenting on a woman’s appearance should be avoided. (Yeah, I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating).
3. Your comment did not just suggest that Madame Macron is an attractive woman (“…beautiful!”), which, on its own might not have been so awful (though still wildly inappropriate). It also brought her body into the conversation (“You’re in such good shape”), as in, you have a good body, which turns what could have been a relatively innocent comment (“you look nice”) into something undeniably sexual in nature. For example, a father might say to his daughter, “you look beautiful today, sweetie!” and that would be okay, but he would NOT say, “you’re in such good shape, sweetie!” Well, okay, maybe YOU would – and, indeed, you basically HAVE – but most non-creepy weird fathers draw the line at making assessments of their daughter’s bodies. You might want to think about that, too.
4. Finally, and not to get too personal, but geez, your wife was RIGHT THERE! I mean, show some class, guy!
You may be scratching your head and saying, “wait, I’m not allowed to talk to women about their periods, or their face lifts, and I’m not supposed to shove them against the wall and start making out with them…good Lord, what’s a man to do???”
I’m glad you asked.
Here are several things you might have said to Madame Macron – and, hey, if you want, I can make them generic so you can use them the next time you meet with Prime Minister May or Chancellor Merkel, or President Coleiro Preca (Malta), President Grabar-Kitarovic (Croatia), President Simonetta (Switzerland), President Kopacz (Poland), Prime Miniter Straujuma (Latvia), Prime Minister Bratusek (Slovenia), Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark), Prime Minister Solberg (Norway), Prime Minister Siber (Cyprus), President Jahjaga (Kosovo), President Grybauskaite (Lithuania), Prime Minister Simpson Miller (Jamaica),Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad and Tobago), President Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina), President Rousseff (Brazil), President Bachelet (Chile), President Geun-hye (South Korea), Prime Minister Wajed (Bangladesh), President Samba-Panza (Central African Republic), President Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), or Prime Minister Toure (Senegal). (Damn, that’s an awful lot of female world leaders. I wonder when we’ll get one?)
Here are things you can say instead (I used a lot of exclamation points, because you seem to like those):
- Good morning, Madame Prime Minister! How nice to meet you!
- I am very much looking forward to our meeting this afternoon, Madame President!
- What a beautiful country is [insert name of country here], and how excited am I to be here!
- I bring the well wishes and friendship of the people of the United States, even those who did not vote for me, which is only about seven, but them as well!
- You are totally smokin’ hot, Madame President! (THAT WAS A TEST TO SEE IF YOU WERE PAYING ATTENTION!)
- I am very intrigued by the policies you have implemented in [insert name of country here] to advance the cause of equal pay in the workplace, mandatory maternity leave, and universal medical care! (Admittedly, there are only a handful of places where this would be appropriate, seeing as how most of the countries whose leaders you will be meeting have already adopted those policies).
- Welcome to the White House, Madame Prime Minister. I look forward to our hour-long joint press conference where we will both give responsive answers to all media outlets!
- I can’t wait to have some croissant/falafel/pad thai/hakarl/fasolada/bulgogi/poutin/pho! I hear it’s incredible!
So, now you’re good to go. You can handle any situation. Keep these simple tips in mind, and you’ll be prepared for anything. Well, okay, not anything. Or even most things. Or, really, anything at all, except how to properly greet a woman you’ve never met before, but, hey, it beats grabbing them by the pussy.Go in peace, Mr. President.