How will men be able to respect you?

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My boyfriend and I recently watched 17 Again: a film where Zac Efron plays the part of a middle age man who through divine janitorial intervention is transformed back into his 17 year old self and has to attend high school with his two teenage children.  The film was fine, made me laugh, nothing out of this world. This is not a film review.

During the film Zac Efron’s character delivered an instructional speech to three girls who finding him attractive, decide to get their flirt on and let him know they are interested. His words (I’m quoting from memory here) were:

Girls! ‘If you don’t respect yourselves, how will men ever be able to respect you.’

Stop right there Zac Efron, or more accurately the screenwriters of 17 Again! Please, this is enough. This is another phrase I hear constantly especially in films and television. And it is seemingly portrayed as empowering message to young women… does no one else see the problem here?

Don’t get me wrong the first part of this statement isn’t the problem. I highly encourage all women and men to respect themselves, it is incredibly important and something we should all strive to do. I do not, however, understand this idea that women who actively pursue men they are sexually attracted to are ‘disrespecting’ themselves and I have NEVER heard this extrapolation from one to the other directed at men or boys!

But as well as this ever present sexist stereotype that prevails in the media that girls who have sex with people other than their life partner do not respect themselves is the massively problematic statement ‘how will men ever be able to respect you’. Where do I start?

This statement is equally insulting to men as it is to women and this is an example of when stereotypes used to subdue women further box in and insult everyone. Men (as well as everyone else) are entirely responsible for their own actions. I have respect for everyone I meet based on the fact that they are a human being. Women do not not have to earn the respect of men through acts of coy, virginal purity; although it is important to encourage young women to realise that they can and should respect themselves as people they should also be able expect it from the opposite sex on a very basic, innate level.

Making statements like ‘if you don’t respect yourselves, how will men ever be able to respect you’ is removing responsibility from men to treat women with respect. It doesn’t take much for an abusive husband to convince himself that hitting his silent wife is acceptable when she she is too scared to speak up against him and must therefore ‘not respect herself’. Or a guy who forces himself on a passed out girl at a party isn’t doing anything wrong because her drunken state, her short dress and maybe the fact she kissed him earlier means she ‘does not respect herself’. Of course most young men are not going to become abusers but this statement is just another example of the ingrained sexism that is entirely commonplace in today’s society and prolific in our media, teaching men and women to victim blame and that men cannot control themselves.

Men will be able to respect you because they should and they can.

It’s one line you say. Well then, it would have been equally as easy to miss it out; leave it behind; replace it; help break down one more sexist social construct.

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14 thoughts on “How will men be able to respect you?

  1. Very interesting observation. I have never looked deeper into this phrase, but you are completely right. Respect to others should be a default state of mind instead of privilege. Both girls and boys should learn how to respect themselves and others around them. Even though modern society has progressed a lot towards equality, there are still many gaps including different attitude towards sexuality based on gender. Why is a man who sleeps with many women a macho, but a woman in the same circumstances is a slut?
    Thank you for this piece of thought.

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    • Oh I’m so glad I wrote this post then. I completely understand why you wouldn’t notice it. It happens so often and seems so minor that it took me ages to go WAIT WTF? I think the more I read and the more I think about things the more I start to notice, which in turn is making me notice more haha. I’m sure I’m still missing things though haha. Glad you agree though! Nice to hear someone else say this is unhelpful and unhealthy ^_^

      Liked by 1 person

      • Many things that seem “normal” are just archaic legacy and are used out of habit rather than because they make sense. For example, religious belief that pig is a “dirty animal” – in hot climate it makes a lot of sense as the meat goes bad very fast, though it is a different thing in colder climate and eating meat used to be necessary to people in Northern countries to keep people warm and healthy, but not may people think about such statements in terms of their origin and reasoning behind it. Nowadays technology and import/export makes it possible to choose what food we eat – using fridges in hot climate and choosing to go vegetarian or vegan in cold climate is not a problem at all. Same goes for many questions regarding inequality. Lots of things are done out of habit and tradition rather than common sense (which is not that common, apparently). Fortunately, with the help of Internet we can make our own decisions, understand other cultures and learn much more about the world we live in, which was not possible a generation or two ago.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, there is just so much wrong with that one statement. Apart from all of the things you mentioned there is also, once again, the implication that everything women do, must be done for the sole purpose of being desirable to men. Respect yourself SO THAT men will also respect you. Just like we wear make-up to woo men, wear certain clothers to attract men and ‘play hard to get’ to get men to pursue us.

    But if we decide to take matters into our own hands and instead actively pursue (for lack of a better word) men, then that means we have no self-respect and thus gives men a pass to not respect us either. UGH.

    Great piece, as usual! I love everything you’ve been doing lately, you’re really inspiring me to be more active and more vocal as a feminist!

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    • Yes yes yes! You are so right – it’s just another line that’s part of that whole host of lines like ‘men prefer women who don’t wear makeup’ crap. Women shouldn’t live their lives in order to make men happy. All that matters is that we all treat each other with respect.
      And thank you! That is really great to hear :D!!!

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    • I see 2 problems in this whole situation:
      1) There is hardly any emphasis in media about what MEN should do to please women (except maybe some journal articles about sex)
      2) Men don’t really care, it’s other women who make the matter complicated (at least that is my personal observation)
      It’s most noticeable, if we discuss looks. To be honest, I see nothing wrong with trying to look good to feel good and also be liked by others. It’s the media that forces people buy products to make us look thinner, more “mysterious”, “better looking”, etc. Especially the Photoshoped images leave a lot of damage – young girls, who haven’t gained their confidence and don’t have enough experience to know, what makes them feel good about themselves, fall into this trap of mass hysteria. If this popular image is different from what a young girl sees in the mirror, it might affect her confidence and force to buy all those products. I was one of those girls before I met my first boyfriend (now husband) who convinced me that I am awesome the way I am! We both try to please each other by acting and looking the way the other likes, but that is done out of love, affection and personal will (not force).
      In different cultures perception of how a woman should look like is so different. Just to mention an example from my life – I come from Latvia where there are two dominant cultures – Latvian and Russian. And the opinions of what looks good is quite different. Russian women like to be very noticeable, colourful and tend to use more make-up than Latvian women. Latvian women tend to choose more natural tones, stick to bare and more modest style. And I have heard comments regarding this from both “fronts” – to Russian women Latvian women seem too plain or boring; Latvian women think that Russian women are often over-the-top or vulgar. It’s a cultural difference and there is nothing wrong with either ways of choosing your style, it’s the perception that make notice these differences. I have lived in the UK for 6 years now and have seen so much diversity, that I have overcome my prejudice about beauty and changed my views on how a woman should look like.
      I think we should not make it so much about gender differences, but rather see through what media and big companies wants us to think. Let’s make our own decisions and voice our opinions based on what we want and not what we are told to do.

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  3. Hi! Very interesting post. I understand where you are coming from and I agree…to an extent. If a guy came on too strongly to me, I’d be turned off. It smells of desperation. I wouldn’t respect that guy in the slightest. There’s a quote from Ferris Bueller about his friend Cameron: “Cameron has never been in love – at least, nobody’s ever been in love with him. If things don’t change for him, he’s gonna marry the first girl he lays, and she’s gonna treat him like shit, because she will have given him what he has built up in his mind as the end-all, be-all of human existence. She won’t respect him, ’cause you can’t respect somebody who kisses your ass. It just doesn’t work.”
    Is that sexist or human nature? I think the latter. 💕

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    • Well 2 points – the first is that I don’t think the ass kissing example applies here, women who have sex for their own gratification with more than one man are often accused of not respecting themselves. But also as much as I enjoy Ferris Bueller I don’t think that is a healthy quote to perpetuate in your own life. The person who CHOOSES to mistreat someone else, treat them like a lesser being, disrespect them etc. needs to be held accountable for their own actions and address their behaviour. They can’t use someone else’s self esteem issues as an excuse to be a disrespectful person who treats others like shit. We need to stop acting like thats ok and it is not human nature because every single person I am friends with would never behave that way. It is a choice.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post, I first watched this movie when I was a bit younger and just starting to question these patriarchal standards, so even then I thought it was a bit iffy. But I know if I watched that film for the first time now I would be like WTF??!

    I don’t understand how so many people think it is acceptable to say women must “earn” respect from men. You are completely right that it is insulting to men too. Perfect example of how sexism affects both genders.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Right? Especially when half the time the man doesn’t even know the woman so is making a superficial judgement. Respect should be our go to and sexual respect should be mandatory regardless, both ways.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes! Thank you for this post! I’d like to think that such throwaway phrases are derived from innocent, albeit ignorant, intentions but this doesn’t discount the damage they can do. More and more I’m starting to appreciate that whilst society might not always have glaringly obvious problems (which we absolutely do, no doubt about it), the more subtle things can do just as much damage. We’re not giving anyone a chance when children grow up subconsciously soaking up all our skewed values everywhere they look. It contributes to a deeply ingrained subculture that is hard to reverse or erase.

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  6. Really great post! I can see both sides of the argument here. I was just thinking about an ex-friend today who was consumed with conforming to mainstream ideals of beauty because she was desperate for a boyfriend. I honestly don’t think she enjoyed spending a lot of money and effort to look that way, but she felt like she had to. To make matters worse she was horribly jealous of other women and cruelly criticized their looks, the way they decorated their apartments, etc, and that is why our friendship ultimately collapsed. I think the root of this was low self esteem, and fear she wasn’t good enough. The media is really bad for making girls feel this way, but sadly so are other women, who like my friend, bully those they don’t see as fitting the artificial standards they are literally destroying themselves to achieve. Women need to respect each other and ourselves a whole lot more. We need to love ourselves and trust that we will be good enough for others to love, men included. Sadly my friend did not. She continued in relationships with men who did not respect her because, back to the low self esteem thing, she didn’t think she deserved any better. Or maybe she thought that’s how things were supposed to be. Just as she conformed to a standard of beauty, she was conforming to an outdated, sexist expectation of how a woman should be treated by a man. And in this way, I think, yes, if a woman doesn’t respect herself, she may not expect others to respect her. As for men, they should always treat a woman with repect regardless of her self esteem. However, women with low self esteem and poor body image are more likely to put up with an abusive asshole, so in that I can see the point the movie was trying to make, it just didn’t state it very well.

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    • I wish it was even attempting to be as nuanced as that. The boy who said the line was suggesting that he did not respect them/could not respect them if they behaved as such and he was supposed to be the ‘good guy’. 😦 It is very sad, however, how like you say media pressures can affect women and girls self esteem so detrimental that they perpetuate the same message. Hopefully through discussion we can continue to provide an alternative though :D. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

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