By: Amber Rowe
You’re at a party, and you’re a bit tipsy. In other words, you’re feeling good. At least until some guy you just walked by checked you out and said “nice ass”. And girls (holla if you hear me on this one) it rarely feels cool when a strange guy at a party tells you your butt looks good. Pretty eyes? Your heart is melting. Great hair? Generally not a threat. But nice ass? Why does that comment just burn?
When my friends and I had this conversation, I believe we forgot to note just how sleazy it is to say that to a girl, and that it is generally a sleaze bag who says it. But in doing so, we had some honest (and I put a lot of emphasis on “honest”) dialogue.
Our conversation began with one of my friends recounting the party story told above. A guy friend asked, “What is it about the breasts and the ass that make them off-limits in terms of compliments? What if I just wanted to go up to a girl and say ‘You know what? You have some nice breasts.’”
I thought, well it depends on whether you leave the sexuality out of the comment, or put a lot of respect back in. Because, as I will explain, sexuality has entirely different connotations for men than it does women. We have history to thank for this, a history that has not always seen sex used for pleasure, but for control and for conquest.
Because really, what guy makes that comment “innocently” to a woman he doesn’t know, unless it is in some way a signal that he wants her for sex, or at least sees her as potential? Would it even be said otherwise?
This stranger would likely not make the same effort to tell the girl that she had a lovely skin tone, or that the hairstyle is perfect on her. I propose a reason for this: (I don’t mean this to be inflammatory), but this is because neither of these two features illicit a response from his dick. “Nice ass” is very rarely used in the context of a simple compliment. It is more like a sexual heads up. And in there lies the issue.
Not EVERY girl is comfortable with her sexuality. In my case, my sexuality had been used negatively against me, in my childhood, by my father. For someone else, it may have been a boyfriend who wanted sex when she didn’t want to give it, and so she just let him. Or for another, it may have been a boy in grade four who felt up her skirt even after she told him no. For all women, it may be less, or it may be more.
These incidences are far more common than we like to think. The issue with the “nice ass” comment is that it ignores the varying sexual histories of the women it is directed. Women have a serious build up of psychic scar tissue when it comes to sex. It is generational, passed down to us from our mothers and grandmothers, and almost without fail it is experiential.
The sexual desires of men have proven devastating and sometimes fatal when not paired with a respect for female sovereignty. If this weren’t true, the TTC wouldn’t have the bus drivers drop women off between bus stops to make a safer journey home at night. No rape crisis centres. No need for feminism. And it’s not like we are deaf to related events around the world. We hear about the rape crisis in the Congo, or sex slavery globally. When we listen to these stories, we don’t just listen with our intellect. We listen emotion and memory. We listen with the ears of experience.
Since few men have “the experience,” they are coming purely from a place of intellect (or not). That is to say, they will likely not feel the urge to clamp their legs together when they hear stories of sexual abuse like I do. The only world in which “nice ass” could be said without me feeling uncomfortable is one that has no memory of sex EVER being used as a weapon. The case is that sexuality remains a dangerous territory for some.
I realized just how true this statement is a month or so ago, when a man approached me one evening in Indigo’s Bookstore. He said, “Excuse me miss, but I just think you’re really pretty. Are you from around here?”
I froze. In the instant he said those words, my heart had started racing. But it was not the twitter of attraction. It was pure fight-or-flight. “Nooooo…” I said. I sounded like a real bitch and I that please-get-away-from-me look on my face. Which also happens to look like disdain.
Thankfully, he was not the product of my worst fears, and he left obligingly. So what the hell was wrong with me?
In saying those words, he revealed to me a part of myself that was deeply afraid of being attractive. In our appearance obsessed culture, this makes little sense. That should be what I want, shouldn’t it? To that I say yes, but because of the sexual abuse of my childhood, I have some very specific conditions that surround that desire.
For years I had kept myself under the impression that I was unattractive not because of magazines or music videos, but because being unattractive made me feel safe. If I was ugly, I didn’t have to worry about guys looking me up and down. I didn’t have to live in fear of some one finding me so appealing that they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Really, being ugly solved all my problems. Specifically, it cocooned me from my deep distrust of men.
I understand this is an extreme example. It wasn’t even sexual, but then you have to wonder: how would I have reacted if he approached me and said “nice ass”? For some women, this is their experience and it takes the simple presence of a man to make them uneasy. For others, it takes a comment like “nice ass” in order for them to get in touch with that back-of-the-mind worry.
And as I pointed out above, it is so remarkably easy for a woman’s discomfort and fear to be mistaken for bitchiness. If a person feels threatened, even subconsciously, they will get nasty, especially if they think they can fight. For those who don’t feel so confident or have had a negative experience in the past in which fighting back wasn’t an option, then they will try to ignore it. Smile and keep walking. In their mind, the only defense is to placate who ever made them uncomfortable, with the hope that the man will go no further. And I can guarantee you that both types will be a little extra alert for the next couple of minutes, in case the issue presents itself again.
My own conclusion is that this is where the offensiveness of “nice ass” comes from. It rings with that I-want-you-I-got-to-have-you feeling, which to some is merely insulting. To others, this is an all too familiar situation, and the words mean “danger.” They are preparing for someone who doesn’t have their best interests in mind.
To answer my friend’s question (“Why can’t you say ‘nice ass?”) is this: You better be damn sure the woman you’re talking to knows you respect her and care for her well-being.
Or maybe you should just keep to complimenting asexual features. Tell a girl she has pretty eyes?