Cute Is Not A Compliment

I get called cute a lot. I get it. I am young. Well, not that young but in a professional setting I am younger than most. I have curly hair. And freckles. And a round face. Being taken seriously is a battle for me, which I continue to fight. As well as being called cute in the office. The other week it happened twice – once a man uttered the words another time a more senior female. Which, did not make me feel anywhere close to cute. And closure to outraged. Why does this bother me you think? Why does this not seem like a compliment me and make me feel all good inside?
Because – do you call an executive cute? Do you call Oprah Winfrey cute or Kerry Washington? No – women are beautiful, powerful, smart, but not cute. Cute is a word you call your younger cousin, someone non-threatening. The definition of cute is “attractive in a pretty or endearing way”. Now trust me, I am not endearing. If you meet me, which you should;), you would not consider me endearing. I doubt you would define me as cute. Yet it is a way to make me less powerful, less threatening. Calling me cute, is a patronizing way to degrade me. Especially in front of other people. It puts me in a place that I don’t want to be. I have worked too hard all my life to be called cute in an office.
So – what is the best way to avoid it? Generally, you cannot influence other people’s behavior. It is hard to change the way people act, especially as an external person. If we would know how therapists would ever be grateful. And probably, a lot of human suffering could be eliminated – like concentration camps and Khmer Rouge. But as we remain helpless in changing people – the best we can do is put them in their place and deal with the consequences.
Perhaps following up with a saying like: “I wouldn’t use that word to describe me but ok”. Or just giving a gentle nod and continuing back on the topic – saying something smart and hopefully not cute. Important thing is not to smile, or say something to make the person retreat in defensive mode (so something like: “That’s sexist” or “I wouldn’t call a person in my position cute” would most likely reflect negatively on you). Put them in their place, don’t try to put them down like they did you. Remember to go high when people aim low. And that’s why no one called Michelle Obama cute.

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