Thursday, August 20, 2009

But men aren't pretty!

The above was uttered to me earlier today by a co-worker during a conversation where a group of us were listing off bands and musicians, and talking about who we loved and who we wished would stop making music. My boss mentioned loving Jared Leto, to which I could not help but unthinkingly exclaim, "Oh, I love him! He's so pretty!"

This prompted my male co-worker to inform me that "men aren't pretty."

I don't think he meant this maliciously, since he was smiling and shaking his head in that way that people do when they think I've said something funny, even if I hadn't meant to be funny. I really think Jared Leto is pretty, and didn't even have to think before I uttered that.

And it could have been worse. I once had a woman get very upset with me when I said her male puppy was pretty. I knew it was male (because she'd just told me his male name), but I still thought it was a pretty puppy, and I said so. She jerked her dog away from me and stated "He is handsome."

And in these situations I mean it as a sincere compliment. I don't think I say it necessarily because I find something feminine in these males I deem "pretty." There's just something about them that I find aesthetically appealing where no other word will do in my description and praise of them.

I'll admit I'm partially conscious of how I use language to challenge gender barriers, and most of the time I use traditionally feminine descriptors when talking about men. Going back through stories I've written shows that I apply this to male characters as well. But I forget that not everyone is as comfortable challenging gender as I am, and it's in everyday conversations that I'm reminded of this. Not only do we identify with gender and perform gender, but we adhere to strict rules regarding the language of gender. I used an adjective that did not fit the prescribed gender of the noun, and this confused my listener.

Nonetheless, I stand by my assertion that men can be pretty.


Emily said...

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly! I'd challenge anyone who'd say that Johnny Depp isn't pretty! :)

Malkuth said...

This is always a weird subject for me, too. I haven't run across people reacting strangely to my choices of adjective much lately, but then, it's an exceptionally rare day that I converse with anyone I don't already know well, or anyone harboring such weird ideas about the appropriateness of certain adjectives in relation to the gender of what or whoever they are being applied to.

Seriously, though. The puppy thing? That is just bizarre. The reaction would at least be less surprising if it had been a human child, though no less illogical in the end, but a puppy? I worry about someone who feels so threatened by the mere idea that someone *might* be describing their *pet dog* in a way that does not perfectly align with their perceptions of gender traits and the various gender-related implications of certain adjectives. That is frankly disturbing to me.

I guess it's just another of the myriad examples of how deeply ingrained and screwed up some peoples' beliefs, prejudices, and perhaps most importantly, insecurities about gender are.

stufflikemikans said...

Of course men can be pretty. I also think that women can be handsome. It's fun to play around with gendered terms.

And the lady with the dog is just hilarious. Like the dog even cares.

RMJ said...

It's odd that folks would be so concerned with gendering their pets. I call my male cats pretty all the time!

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend says I look pretty sometimes. Handsome just sounds boring. But then I like a bit of make up, nail varnish and have a mix and match approach from tradionallly male and female attire so pretty sits better with me.

I found this rather sexist article in the Telegraph (UK newspaper) deriding "Girlfriend fashion".

You might like to take a look.


Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that you don't approve my comment, despite there being nothing wrong with it.

Good echo chamber you've got here.

FilthyGrandeur said...


the reason i didn't post your first comment is because i found that it violated my comments policy (you know, that link right above the comments box which you obviously failed to look at?). Saying it's insulting to be told you "look like a woman" or "look like a man" when that is not what i was discussing is just another form of transpanic, which is not welcome here.

if you're so uptight about your own presentations of gender that you can't take a sincere compliment that may challenge the gendering of language, that's your problem--not mine. many women have been referred to as "handsome" and didn't flip out about it. each year many men are referred to as "beautiful" in magazines, and they find it extremely endearing.

obviously this post made you uncomfortable. maybe you should think about why.

BenYitzhak said...

My last girlfriend once called me a pretty boy. I have to admit, it was nice to hear that.

And she certainly wasn't calling me that because I look feminine.

Zippa said...

I often wonder about the idea of gendered language (and the accompanying issues) in languages which use gendered modifiers--nouns, pronouns, subject/object markers, etc. Also how the cultures shaped around those languages--and people for whom the first language is strictly gendered--deal with gendering language in English.

Just musing out loud here.

julian said...

My favorite men are the pretty ones. "Pretty" does (for me, at least) imply a certain amount of softness, a certain amount of femininity -- but folks have a hard time understanding that a person can have feminine traits while still clearly being a man (or vice versa).

The puppy... LOL. I'm curious if he had been neutered yet or not? I mean, according to popular discourse (that female runner they are accusing of being..not really female), without the "correct" hormones and "correct" parts, that puppy couldn't *really* be male!

Anonymous said...

An interesting thing is that this gendering of adjectives is relatively recent, as revealed by listening to the lyrics of several traditional songs, or songs written over a hundred years ago. These will often refer to an attractive woman as "handsome" and (less frequently, still possible to find) men as "pretty" (or similar adjectives nowadays associated only with femininity), with no obvious meaning of denigrating their genderhood.

I think that there are distinctions in the types of attractiveness covered by "handsome" versus "pretty" (for example, I feel that personally, I am much more "pretty" than I am "handsome") but I think it is important to recognise that these qualities are not gendered (although modern gender-stereotypes may make them so).

Lauren O said...

This adds exactly nothing to the dialogue, but:

I am laughing so hard about the puppy incident.

Anonymous said...

So, I see the headline, I scroll down and see Leto, and I say 'ooooohhhh.....pretty'

so, yeah, i complee agreetly.