Here is a little rant. Often times in my life people (both men and women, but more commonly men) have told me, “oh it’s okay, you’re so pretty” or “don’t worry, you have such a pretty face.” The context of these statements vary but generally can be separated into two categories:
1. Talking about and gaging my chances of success. i.e… “Don’t worry about finding a job after you graduate. You’re pretty, of course you’ll get a job.”
2. When I want/need something from someone who is a (cisgender, heterosexual) male. i.e…”You should just ask him, he can’t say no, you have such a pretty face.”
Yes, being called pretty is a compliment, but it is irritating and offensive that such statements reduce me to my looks alone. When discussing my concerns about my future, finding a job or whatever after college, why is it that I will “be okay” primarily because I am pretty, not because of any other characteristics I may possess? Why can’t I not worry because I am intelligent, hardworking, talented, and passionate? Why does it have to be mainly because I am pretty?
Essentially, by saying that I don’t need to worry about finding a job after I graduate because I am pretty, one insinuates that success is dependent on having good looks. Not only is this superficial but it is sexist because it denies women their subjectivity and instead objectifies them, reducing them to be merely the direct objects for the cisgender, heterosexual male gaze. Our cultural and social experiences are irrelevant and our most important function becomes maintaining someone else’s (that someone being a cis, het male) subjective reality.
And case two, when I ask a male for something (and am likely to get it because I “have a pretty face”), is just another example of institutionalized sexism that prevents men and women from achieving true equality. These practices, granting women something or letting them get off the hook just because they are pretty, continue to otherize women as a separate and unequal group. Further, these perpetuate the objectification of women in which women are valued most for their appearance and their beauty rather than their personality, their brains, their achievements, etc.
What is also upsetting is that when I’ve spoken up about this and expressed how I felt (I appreciate the compliment, but I would also like to point out that your statement is also sexist) is that I am so quickly silenced by “Gosh, you feminists can’t just take a compliment”, “Whoa, I was just saying you’re pretty, no need to get mad”, or “You’re looking way too much into that, all I said was that you’re pretty, what’s the big deal?” These silencing techniques further the objectification of women in which we are primarily supposed to be pretty, but silent, faces.