“I said you’re pretty! It’s a compliment! What’s your problem?”
I get that line from time to time because my reaction to being told that I’m attractive is often negative. I suspect any women who are reading this might understand why, but I doubt the guys would. You almost just have to be female — to have that distinctive life experience — to understand. Fortunately though, the operative word here is “almost”.
I’m not normally this lazy, but I think this time around I’ll let a news article on a recent study do the explaining for me because 1) the study’s results match my own life experiences, and 2) I can’t really think of a better way of wording it than what’s presented in the article. So, in full and with full attribution, here it is, quote:
Google tell me: Is my son brainy? Is my daughter fat?
By Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Published: January 24, 2014 4:04 PM
Updated: January 24, 2014 9:38 PM
More than a decade into the 21st century, we would like to think that American parents have similar standards and similar dreams for their sons and daughters. But my study of anonymous, aggregate data from Google searches suggests that contemporary American parents are far more likely to want their boys smart and their girls skinny.
It’s not that parents don’t want their daughters to be bright or their sons to be in shape, but they are much more focused on the braininess of their sons and the waistlines of their daughters.
Start with intelligence. It’s hardly surprising that parents of young children are often excited at the thought that their child may be gifted. In fact, of all Google searches starting “Is my 2-year-old,” the most common next word is “gifted.” But this question is not asked equally about young boys and young girls. Parents are 21/2 times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Parents show a similar bias when using other phrases related to intelligence that they may shy away from saying aloud, like, “Is my son a genius?”
Are parents picking up on legitimate differences between young girls and boys? Perhaps young boys are more likely than young girls to use big words or otherwise show objective signs of giftedness? Nope. If anything, it’s the opposite. At young ages, when parents most often search about possible giftedness, girls have consistently been shown to have larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences. In American schools, girls are 11 percent more likely than boys to be in gifted programs. Despite all this, parents looking around the dinner table appear to see more gifted boys than girls.
Parents were more likely to ask about sons rather than daughters on every matter that I tested related to intelligence, including its absence. There are more searches for “is my son behind” or “stupid” than comparable searches for daughters. Searches with negative words like stupid and behind, however, are less skewed toward sons than searches with positive words.
What concerns do parents disproportionately have for their daughters? Primarily, anything related to appearance. Consider questions about a child’s weight. Parents Google “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as frequently as they Google “Is my son overweight?” Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 30 percent of girls are overweight, while 33 percent of boys are. Even though scales measure more overweight boys than girls, parents see — or worry about — overweight girls much more often than overweight boys.
Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same. Google search data also tells us that mothers and fathers are more likely to wonder whether their daughter is “beautiful” or “ugly.”
Parents are 11/2 times as likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is, but they are nearly three times as likely to ask whether their daughter is ugly than whether their son is ugly. How Google is expected to know whether a child is beautiful or ugly is hard to say.
In general, parents seem more likely to use positive words in questions about sons. There is a larger bias toward asking whether sons are “tall” than “short.” Parents are more likely to ask whether a son is “happy” and slightly more likely to ask whether a daughter is “depressed.”
Liberal readers may imagine that these biases are more common in conservative parts of the country. Not so. I did not find a significant relationship between any of the biases mentioned and the political or cultural makeup of a state. These biases appear to cut across ideological divisions. In fact, I was unable to find any demographics that significantly reduced the biases. Nor is there evidence that these biases have decreased since 2004, the year for which Google search data is first available.
This methodology can also be used to study gender preference before birth. Every year, Americans make hundreds of thousands of searches asking how to conceive a child of a particular sex. In searches with the words “how to conceive,” Americans are slightly more likely to include the word boy than girl. Among the subset of Americans Googling for specific gender conception strategies, there is about a 10 percent preference for boys compared with girls.
The disturbing results outlined here leave us with many open questions, but the most poignant may be this one: How would American girls’ lives be different if parents were half as concerned with their bodies and twice as intrigued by their minds?
Link to the original context.
As a concluding commentary, what I’m aiming to point out here is that people pay way too much attention to how girls and women look and are just generally oriented toward negative judgments of girls and women regardless of on what basis they’re offering judgment. (And yes, I know a couple of you may not believe this, but most of the appearance judgments I personally receive, for that matter, are negative ones.) I’d much prefer to be evaluated as a whole person and on an equal basis! Don’t just take one look at me and think you know everything you need to know about me.
So getting back to this post’s opening quote, the short answer is that when you compliment my appearance, it’s my instinctive, and usually correct, judgment that you care little or nothing about the rest of me or about the rest of any girl or woman for that matter. If you want to offer me a compliment, hence, it might be best to stick to compliments that aren’t so laced with sexist implications; ones that focus on other attributes of mine.