If you haven’t seen Jen Kirkman’s new special on Netflix Just Keep Livin’? you are seriously missing out. There is a lot of hubbub (always, but especially right now, it seems) about whether or not women are or can be funny. I’m not here to weigh in on that debate, because I know that I qualify as a woman in a certain number of circles and I happen to be hilarious.
I’m recommending Jen Kirkman because she is also hilarious, and the special opens with a great bit about meditation.
I bring up Ms. Kirkman because she touches on the question of street harassment in this new work. Street harassment is another topic that every seems to have an opinion on and require one from everyone else.
She brought up something that had been circling my thoughts as well, as I started to actually experience street harassment.
(The shift had something to do with working out and dressing for my job selling women’s athletic wear. I’m sure that riding public transportation increased the probability of its occuring. But this is a digression.)
Kirkman does an excellent job of expressing why street harassment can make people (and by “people” we mean “women”) feel unsafe: any semi-complimentary statement about a body part could either be left at that, or could be a prelude to some kind of claiming of said body part. (“Nice ass” could be just that, or it could be followed by “How about I take that for a ride?”)
She also covers why it makes people (and by “people” we mean “women”) feel uncomfortable: any comment about your body is a reminder that you have a body. Most of us live our lives trying to forget we have a body. Not out of self-hatred, or willful ignorance, but because when we are running to the bus stop, our biggest concern is whether or not our legs and our lungs will get us there before the bus, not whether our butt looks good in these pants. (She also incisively remarks that “nice ass” not only reminds us of our physical form, and our subjectivity, but also usually introduces the doubt “is that a real compliment? or a mockery?”)
Finally, she provides a solution. Should you wish to say something nice to a stranger, try complimenting something they have done, rather than something they are. That is to say: compliment their outfit, their choice of shoes, their hairstyle, these all reflect choices this person has made in presenting themselves to the world. Acknowledge their effort.
This brings me to a quick story about how compliments work. Some number of years ago, when I was living in a dorm, I had exited my refuge of solitude and entered the common area to get some water.