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Personal is Political: Thank You So Much for Telling Me I’m Pretty – The Feminist Wire

Personal is Political: Thank You So Much for Telling Me I’m Pretty

By Susan Harlan

Catcalling IIIThank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. It’s really very useful information to have. I assume this is why you’re interrupting me while I’m reading my book: because you understand just how important it is to cut me off right in the middle of a paragraph to tell me this very important thing.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. It’s not like I’m trying to actually go somewhere. I mean, how would you know that I’m trying to go somewhere? This would require you to notice that I’m crossing the street and walking with a sense of purpose. And thanks so much for planting yourself in my path so I have to stop and walk around you.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty and then waiting for me to say thank you. Because obviously, I really should say thank you in response to your overwhelming expression of approval. I am so thrilled that you find me attractive. But you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t say thank you. It’s just that I’m not exactly thankful. How should I put it? – I’m really pretty annoyed that you can’t just ignore me so I can get on with my day.

See? I used the word pretty. But in a different way.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. So pretty that you want to buy me a drink. But I’d really rather buy my own drink and not talk to a businessman from Long Island who is swaying on his barstool. I’d really rather buy my own drink and talk to my friend about something I care about. Like the play we just saw. I don’t want to talk to you about the play we just saw. But I suppose I would only be allowed to be left alone if I were not pretty. To you.

Catcalling IIThank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. It’s really such a compliment, and all women like compliments, right? I know this because you just told me. I find this information incredibly useful, too. I don’t know how we women would figure out what we liked or didn’t like unless you told us. So, thanks for that.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty while I’m trying to watch a movie. I’m not really watching the movie; I just come here to seek out uninvited masculine attention from men. And do feel free to tap me on the shoulder, since my body is, of course, yours to do with as you like. If you hadn’t tapped me on the shoulder, how would you have communicated this very important information to me?

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty when I’m trying to sit here alone in this green park. Even though I’m siting here alone, you were astute enough to judge that I really wanted company. I really wanted you to sit down and tell me that I’m pretty so that I have to get up and relocate to another park bench. The birds chirping thank you, too.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty while I’m trying to be alive.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty when I’m shopping for groceries. Here I am, contemplating which brand of tuna to buy, and you’re right there to stop me and tell me I’m pretty. So pretty. You say I’m lucky to be pretty. Such luck. Lucky and pretty. What a combination.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty when I’m a perfect stranger to you. Don’t worry–feel free to barge into my life. Women don’t want to be left alone. We really want you to engage us about our appearance. You like the whole package, you say. And your opinion means a tremendous amount to me, especially since I don’t know you at all and have never seen you before.

NYC Street HarassmentThank you so much for telling me I’m pretty and for asking me to smile. “How about a smile? C’mon, let’s see a smile.” Yes, I should smile at you, because it’s not like I am an actual human being who might be happy or sad or neither happy nor sad. Or I might not be smiling because I’m thinking about something, which is what we women do when we use our brains. But of course you are completely within you right to ask me to smile, as I only exist to decorate this planet for you, and my face is insufficiently decorative in its present state.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. Too pretty to be a professor. “Professors don’t look like you.” “No?” I say. What do they look like? You, presumably? Middle-aged white men? Thank you so much for telling me I don’t look like my job. Maybe I should consider a job that I look more like.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. Because I would likely cease to breathe without your viewpoint on this matter. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty. Just like a picture. Just like a pretty picture. Just like a pretty little girl. And you tell all of them they are pretty, too. And you will keep telling them their whole lives until they die or are no longer deemed pretty. Or maybe when we are all dead, we will be even prettier, like in a Shakespeare play.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty when I’m on the subway and can’t get away from you. It’s so lovely to have you leering over me. And thank you for telling me when I ask you for directions. And when I’m eating my lunch. Right in the middle of a bite of my sandwich. And do I say thank you? No. And what do you say? Bitch. It was a compliment.

CatcallingThank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. We appreciate that it must be really exhausting and time-consuming to say this to all the women in the street. You must get worn out. If you get too worn out, you could practice not doing it. You might even find that each time you don’t say it, it will get a little bit easier. Eventually, it won’t be a struggle at all.

Thank you so much for telling me I’m pretty. Because I can’t possibly know if I’m pretty unless you tell me. How could I know? Clearly, I must need you to tell me. I must need three, seven, ten men to tell me everyday. But you know what? I am like Han Solo. I know. And I don’t care. And I am walking on this sidewalk. And I am imagining a whole day with no one telling me I’m pretty, and I am thinking that’s what it would be like to be a man.


HarlanSusan Harlan is an English professor at Wake Forest University, where I specialize in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. My non-academic writing focuses on the intersections between place, objects, and memory. My essays have appeared in The Toast, Nowhere: Travel Stories, Literary Mothers, Skirt!, 5×5, Artvehicle, Public Books, Cocktailians, Smoke: A London Peculiar, Airplane Reading, and Open Letters Monthly, and I have a monthly column for Nowhere magazine entitled “The Nostalgic Traveler.” 

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