We’ve been a little quiet here, lately. It’s a problem that we’re working to fix. In the meantime, however, I wanted to write about something that bothered me recently. It’s a little thing. The kind of thing you probably don’t even think about, and yet once you do, you’ll catch yourself saying it and wonder why. Proof, I suppose, that sexism comes in many forms. The worst are the ones that we don’t even think about.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone who wanted to use my work. He promised to attribute it, and to include the phrase “by the lovely and talented Melissa Findley”. I’m aware that he meant it as a compliment, but for some reason it got me steamed. When I get angry about something, I usually try to figure out WHY it makes me angry. And once I put aside the fact that this person didn’t know me, has never seen me, had never even interacted with me, and that he meant “lovely” as a platitude (false flattery, with me, often gets you the opposite of what you want), I started to think about the phrase itself.
I’ve said it myself. I know I have. Usually about other artists I’m promoting. Also, I only say it about women.
I ran a Google search for the phrase “lovely and talented.” Turns out it’s been applied to just about every female actress, musician or artist at some point in time. It’s vary rarely been applied to a male.
“Lovely and talented.”
There are deeper implications to those words than there might seem to be on the surface. Lovely implies many things. That the person is physically beautiful is the obvious one. That they are polite, sweet, kind, nice to work with. “Lovely” can mean many things… but my question is: why do we feel the need to qualify a woman’s skills by implying something first about her looks or personality?
I suppose just saying “talented” falls flat. “The talented Louisa Gallie,” for instance, just doesn’t have the same ring. When there are a wealth of other words that could be applied along with “talented”, though, why is it so commonplace to compliment a woman on her looks and/or personality rather than her skill or intelligence or diligence?
How do we introduce men? We don’t say “the lovely and talented Jason Chan,” even if he is “lovely”. We might say “the amazing and talented” or “experienced and talented” or “young and talented” or “smart and talented” or “driven and talented” or “ dedicated and talented.” (Actually, we have said all those things. Or other people have. I ran a Google search for “and talented Jason Chan”. It’s an interesting experience. And I’m not picking on Jason. I have a lot of respect for the man.)
For women, though, “lovely and talented” seems to be the phrase of choice. Although in my searches I ran across more than a few “beautiful and talented”s as well. The “amazing and talented” type of compliment was more rarely used for women, even if those sorts of compliments were better deserved.
So, again, I have to ask: why do we do this? Is it just one of those phrases we use without thinking? I know I did. Not anymore.
If you’re a female artist, or have ever had that phrase applied to you in any way: speak up. How do you feel about it? Does it bother you? Does it just roll off your back? Or have you honestly never thought about it before?
I hadn’t thought about it. But now that I have, in regards to me, I would wish people would find another phrase. I have few illusions about myself. “Lovely” is not a word that fits me comfortably.