Not-obvious things you shouldn't say to women
September 15, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

What are some not-obvious things you can't/shouldn't say to women?

I'm in my late 20s, and I just found out that you shouldn't (or should be very careful) pointing out to a female that she looks tired.

I've randomly said that to girls throughout the years, usually out of a place of sympathy. When someone mentioned how that's probably the last thing you want to say to a woman, esp. upon greeting them, I was surprised that I've been unaware for so long.

Are there other not-obvious no-nos that I should be aware of?

Are there other common wince-worthy things frequently said to women that men typically don't have a clue about?
posted by pauldonato to Human Relations (171 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
How far along in your pregnancy are you?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:53 AM on September 15, 2010 [57 favorites]

Response by poster: @Nickle Pickle wow, great one. I was about to ask someone this a few days ago!
posted by pauldonato at 11:55 AM on September 15, 2010

I'm in my late 20s, and I just found out that you shouldn't (or should be very careful) pointing out to a female that she looks tired.

I don't think this is gender specific. It might not thrill a man to hear that anymore than a woman.
posted by amro at 11:55 AM on September 15, 2010 [16 favorites]

You look so much better/slimmer/prettier/etc. [than yesterday/with that new haircut/in those boots]. Compliments should never imply that the person didn't look good without the thing being complimented.
posted by vytae at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

Please don't tell me to smile. My facial expression isn't scenery for your environment.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2010 [285 favorites]

"I'd fuck you." -True story, first internet date, while walking me to my car. YMMV.
posted by ShadePlant at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with Nickel, unless you're talking to a person who has just announced a pregnancy.

I'm not sure I understand why you're not supposed to tell women they look tired. Women are people and they, in fact, both feel and look tired sometimes. You need to figure out what kind of relationship you have with whichever woman you're talking to. Obviously the things it's okay to say to your best friend or your sister are not always things you'd say to your female boss or co-workers.

In my experience, determining the appropriateness of comments based on relationship is something more people of all sexes and genders need to work on.
posted by shamash at 11:58 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and please don't point out the sexual advantages of my height/features/clothing unless we are in fact having sex.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:59 AM on September 15, 2010 [19 favorites]

You look so much better/slimmer/prettier/etc. [than yesterday/with that new haircut/in those boots]. Compliments should never imply that the person didn't look good without the thing being complimented.

Yeah, that's not really gender specific either... just today someone got upset with me because I implied he looked better today then yesterday. *shrug*

Some people are so sensitive. :P

Really, the only gender specific thing I can think of is asking about a woman's pregnancy - everything else we kinda share with men... even telling someone to "smile".
posted by patheral at 12:00 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Nickel Pickle is correct, do not mention pregnancy unless she mentions to you that she is pregnant first. As someone who is not infrequently asked about her (nonexistent) pregnancy, it gets old.
posted by crankylex at 12:00 PM on September 15, 2010

Uh, unless she has invited you to the baby shower, or is in that very conversation being detailed about how she's expecting, never say anything about pregnancy at all.

Never offer that someone looks thinner or younger "in that outfit" unless you know them really well and are sure they'll be thrilled.

Never say "are you sure you should be eating that" unless you know it's poisonous (it's okay if, say, you know they're allergic to peanuts and it has peanuts in it, it is not okay if they're diabetic and you can see that it's made of chocolate.)
posted by SMPA at 12:00 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd avoid suggesting that "women" are a monolithic group with all the same preferences.
posted by juliplease at 12:01 PM on September 15, 2010 [84 favorites]

vytae is correct. Especially prevalent and crazy-making is "Have you lost weight?"

Please just say "you look great" or something. If the person hasn't lost weight, they often think that you have a mental picutre of them that is of a much larger person that they are.

Not gender specific.
posted by rainbaby at 12:03 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

'Have you ever tried wearing make-up/painting your nails/wearing heels/growing out your hair?" Somewhat implies that they need to look more feminine than they already do. I get asked this a lot and it bugs me.
posted by np312 at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2010 [21 favorites]

Are you on your period?
posted by WeekendJen at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2010 [43 favorites]

I'm not sure I understand why you're not supposed to tell women they look tired. Women are people and they, in fact, both feel and look tired sometimes.

"You look tired" kind of implies that a person is looking unattractive and/or dissheveled. And, while we all have off days, it's not pleasant to know that it's that obvious.

I don't know about other women, but I kind of cringe when I'm referred to as "ma'am." "Miss" isn't great either, but "ma'am" sounds downright matronly.
posted by jennyesq at 12:07 PM on September 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

If a woman bends down to, say, get something from her handbag, don't say "While you're down there ..."
posted by essexjan at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

And even if you know for a fact she's pregnant, best to avoid:

  • Wow, you're so big!
  • I bet you're about to pop!
  • Are you sure it's not twins??

  • posted by headspace at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

    Response by poster: @jennyesq what would you prefer?
    posted by pauldonato at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2010

    I usually wear my hair curly. On the rare occasion that I straighten it, I get a lot of comments that people prefer my hair this way or that way. It make me feel a little weird. Because really what do you say to that. Anyway, I'm never rude but I do judge people who prefer my hair straight. So it least it gets that out into the open.
    posted by mokeydraws at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2010 [21 favorites]

    Never tell a woman how old she looks, even if she asks you to do so. This will result in disaster.
    posted by Telpethoron at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    Seconding "don't ask me to smile". This happens to me all the time and it's infuriating.
    posted by morganannie at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    @jennyesq what would you prefer

    If you know their name, say their name. If you don't, don't. There's nothing wrong with saying "Thank you" or "Have a nice day" or "Hello" without the extra "ma'am" or "miss" in there.
    posted by brainmouse at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: @mokeydraws is "Your hair looks great" not okay?
    posted by pauldonato at 12:11 PM on September 15, 2010

    Most of the things you "shouldn't" say to women are things you shouldn't say to anyone, unless you're friends with them, because they're rude or imply intimacy that doesn't exist.

    For instance, to a colleague at work who is also a friend, I might say - out of earshot of anyone else - "You look tired today; everything okay?" But to a colleague with whom I am friendly but not friends (i.e., we never discuss anything personal, never hang out outside of work), I would not say this.

    I don't comment on people's clothes, unless it's something I might want for myself (I love your jacket! Where did you get it?), and that also depends on context.

    Anything regarding weight, appearance, etc. is off-limits unless we're friends and the context of the situation would make it acceptable to make a remark like that. A couple of close friends of mine have been dieting and working out and going to the gym, and it's fine for me to say "You guys are looking great!" But this wouldn't wash with someone I'm not friends with, regardless of gender.
    posted by rtha at 12:11 PM on September 15, 2010 [20 favorites]

    "You're cute when you're angry."
    posted by motsque at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2010 [65 favorites]

    I don't know about other women, but I kind of cringe when I'm referred to as "ma'am." "Miss" isn't great either, but "ma'am" sounds downright matronly.

    Here in Mississippi nearly everyone over 30 is either "Sir" or "Ma'am". It took me a while, but I got used to it.
    posted by patheral at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Please don't tell me to smile.

    Thank you for mentioning this, iamkimiam. I am a naturally scowly person, I guess. Being told this always makes me think of that (apocryphal?) story about someone asking Ringo Starr if he was as sad as he looks and him saying, "No, it's just me face!"

    Except with actual scowling upon being told to smile. Eternal teenagedom is a blast.

    I also recommend not commenting on appearance, including when your co-worker tries out what she thinks is neutral, nonobvious lipstick. HEY ARE YOU WEARING MAKEUP?
    posted by theredpen at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    3rding the pregnancy thing. I'm hoping the whole Empire Waist trend goes away soon. A woman's waist isn't an inch below her breasts. The way a top with an empire waist flares out like a triangle beginning just below breasts makes even the most skinny women look pregnant. Regardless of the situation (newlywed couple who are trying to have children, for example), don't mention congratulate her!

    The trick to mentioning pregnancy is to let the woman tell you that she is pregnant. Until she does, it's best to realize it's none of your business and not mention it.

    I'll also add that you should consider thinking less about what not to say to a woman and more about learning to be more considerate, period, regardless of gender.
    posted by 2oh1 at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I also hear "You look like shit" when someone says "You look tired," but I am hypersensitive.
    posted by theredpen at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    I've learned to preface "you look nice today" with "As usual, ..."
    posted by komara at 12:17 PM on September 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

    @mokeydraws is "Your hair looks great" not okay?

    You should not be commenting on someone's appearance (hair, clothes, jewelry, etc.) at all unless you have a close relationship with that person.
    posted by crankylex at 12:17 PM on September 15, 2010 [13 favorites]

    Sometimes, women look great when they're not dolled up. Sometimes, a T-shirt and sweats looks rather fetching.

    They often don't think the same, and any compliment given at that point is suspect -- it's either pandering, lying or indicative that you don't know what the fuck you're talking about.
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:19 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    pauldonato - that's fine, it's just the implication that the way I wear my hair 98% is "not preferred" that I think is weird.
    posted by mokeydraws at 12:22 PM on September 15, 2010

    This isn't so much a "never say", but, from reading your question it sounds like you need this advice.

    Women are people. We are individuals. What offends one of us may not necessarily offend all of us. Please behave accordingly (including speech).

    Maybe, if you wanted it phrased as a "thing never to say to women": never speak to or about a woman as if all women are interchangeable hive-beasts.
    posted by Sara C. at 12:22 PM on September 15, 2010 [39 favorites]

    I usually cringe with advice on talking to "women", as if we all like/don't like the same things, but I think this one is pretty universal - comments that in any way imply that our actions are a result of hormones are infuriating.
    posted by peachfuzz at 12:22 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    My Mom/Your Mom, was right about you
    posted by kanemano at 12:22 PM on September 15, 2010

    Re. "You look tired": a woman said that to me the other day when I wasn't tired. Unpleasant coming from either a man or a woman.

    Re. "You look great as usual": I had this recently from a couple of different people I hadn't seen in six months - during which time I lost twenty pounds. Tricky!
    posted by Dragonness at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2010

    "You're overreacting."
    posted by desjardins at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2010 [43 favorites]

    "How does your husband feel about you not changing you name?"

    Again, if we know each other we can talk about this. But I have been called Mrs. [Mr. Oflinkey's Last Name]. I have gently corrected people if it is an issue (introductions, paperwork), and I have been outright asked this by people who really have no right to ask.
    posted by oflinkey at 12:26 PM on September 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

    "I'm in my late 20s, and I just found out that you shouldn't (or should be very careful) pointing out to a female that she looks tired."

    That has nothing to do with gender. I'm a guy. If you tell me I look tired, I'm going to take it as an insult unless you and I were hanging out the night before until some obscene hour. And, even then, it still isn't a nice thing to say.

    Think about what it really means when you say "You look tired." What, specifically, gives you the impression that someone looks tired? How can pointing that out be anything other than negative?

    I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet men say things like "You look tired" to women because they're trying to make small talk but have nothing to say. When you have nothing to say, it's best to say nothing unless you're one of those people who truly have the gift for small talk.
    posted by 2oh1 at 12:26 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    "Getting that for your boyfriend/husband?" or any similar assumption where video games, cars, and any other traditionally "masculine" pursuits are concerned. Also "What does your boyfriend/husband think?" about decisions that really don't need the approval of a significant other, or strangers just have no right to ask.

    Aside from assumptions about traditional gender roles, there's lots of daily interactions where people just assume a woman over a certain age is married/involved with someone. Men are more "allowed" to be single.

    Another one: "You're too pretty to ____" This can be lots of things: do some kind of dirty task, go into an intellectual field, be upset about something, etc. Can be closely linked to "you're overreacting".

    And probably less gender-related, and more parenting: it blows my mind how many people think it's ok for them to walk up to a stranger's baby and start touching it, playing with it, etc. But I'm sure moms have a bigger backlash to deal with if they express that such behavior is Not Cool.
    posted by Wossname at 12:28 PM on September 15, 2010 [24 favorites]

    Oh, and the Miss/Ma'am/whatever minefield is a cultural thing. In the south, when I was growing up, we were taught to address all women higher on the social hierarchy (elders, teachers, customers if you're in a service position) as Ma'am. Regardless of their actual age - it simply indicates a position of status.

    On the other hand, here in the northeast, ma'am should apparently be reserved for the elderly - basically anyone under 80 will flip out and act like you just asked which nursing home they stay in.
    posted by Sara C. at 12:28 PM on September 15, 2010 [11 favorites]

    You should not be commenting on someone's appearance (hair, clothes, jewelry, etc.) at all unless you have a close relationship with that person.

    Can't say I agree. "Nice shirt/haircut/bracelet" is fine for coworkers and casual acquaintances as a neutral compliment and/or small talk. Sure, the truly clueless can turn this into a blunder ("That shirt really shows off your curves!"), but that doesn't mean these are all bad.
    posted by ripley_ at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2010 [17 favorites]

    @jennyesq what would you prefer?

    It seems like, most of the time, sir/ma'am/miss is extraneous anyway and could be omitted (i.e. "What would you like to order?" vs. "What would you like to order, ma'am?"). I'm probably alone in this, but I'd even prefer "you" to "ma'am."

    ... I guess I should never live in the South.
    posted by jennyesq at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2010

    "Of course you'll get the scholarship/job/grant, it's much easier for women now" (can't be your accomplishments), "Give us the women's perspective on this" (there's only one, apparently), "I'll never understand women, what do women want?" (women are different from normal people), "What did you do to get that? Bat your eyelashes?" (you must have used your womanly powers of seduction to get something).
    posted by meijusa at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2010 [37 favorites]

    I'm in my late 20s, and I just found out that you shouldn't (or should be very careful) pointing out to a female that she looks tired.

    This is a completely silly statement that fails to recognize that woman are not a single group and that one's relationship with others varies.

    For instance, if I told my wife she looked tired, she would not be offended, in fact it might even be considered caring, because I'm actively noticing how she's doing. Same as if I said it to my mom or daughter.

    If I say it to a particular female coworker, it would not be a problem, because we've worked together for years and are friends. If anything it might be conversation point ie. "Yeah, I know was up late with the dogs or watching tv or movie or something" Hell, if I jokingly said "What are you on your period?!" it would more than likely produce laughter because of her particular personality. If I said to another female coworker, it might not be taken well, because she's new and we don't know each other well. So it goes.

    Context and relationships matter, very much. Thinking there's some sort of blanket statements that all women respond to in the same manner is the height of sexism, in my opinion.
    posted by nomadicink at 12:31 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    "You look perfectly fine."

    It's the 'perfectly' that'll kill ya.
    posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:32 PM on September 15, 2010

    You should not be commenting on someone's appearance (hair, clothes, jewelry, etc.) at all unless you have a close relationship with that person.

    Or unless they bring it up first

    Them: I just got a haircut
    Me: (who wouldn't have noticed if they had shaved their head) Oh, hey, it looks nice
    posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:32 PM on September 15, 2010

    Don't suggest that a woman with red hair is a "fiery redhead" or otherwise make weird comments about her hair color. Don't make comments that make it sound like you assume a woman is financially depending on her male partner in a relationship. Don't call a non-white woman "exotic looking." If you are talking to a couple, don't direct all of the comments to the man and ignore the woman entirely. Don't make any weird sexual comments or otherwise be a creep.
    posted by burnmp3s at 12:32 PM on September 15, 2010 [19 favorites]

    Mod note: few comments removed - folks, can you do your tired mod a favor and maybe not start debating each of these points? question is by-definition focused on one gender and of all you want to do is argue about gender stereotyping, maybe go to metatalk or send someone a private email? thank you.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2010

    "...when you have kids..."

    As if this is something all women want, or are expected to eventually do.
    posted by raztaj at 12:34 PM on September 15, 2010 [52 favorites]

    Somewhere suggested "you look especially nice today" and I think that's all right.

    Seconding Sara C, also "interchangeable hive-beasts" is the funniest thing I've read all day.
    posted by troika at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Ma'am, miss, hon, etc., are regional, and their appropriateness will vary accordingly, so IMHO you don't need to worry too much about that. But you can always leave it off to be safe.

    In general, when you're talking to one woman, going on about how pretty/hot/wonderful some other woman is gets really annoying really fast. Especially if you're on a date.
    posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    This goes double for a work environment, but don't call them "gals", "girls", or "ladies." They're women.
    posted by anderjen at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

    I assume your question is about stuff it isn't safe to say unless you know that woman well enough to know otherwise, right?

    I can tell you something it's never safe to say to me:

    "Calm down."
    posted by tel3path at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2010 [43 favorites]

    I've randomly said that to girls throughout the years

    Some women find being referred to as "girls" somewhat maddening. Others don't mind it. If you're trying to err on the side of not bothering people, referring to anyone older than a teenager as a woman or a young woman is a good call.

    Some other words have baggage attached to them. Words like "hysterical," "pussy" [as in "don't be such a pussy"] and "feminazi" [even if you're making a joke, it's a pretty rude/dismissive thing to use on conversation even if your point is talking about a militant feminist]. Using the word "rape" to describe something that was dehumanizing but not, you know, rape can bother people ["Oh man, Delta airlines really raped me on this ticket..."] as can making casual rape jokes. It doesn't really sound like this is something you'd be unlikely to perceive but you never know.

    And some people are just touchy. That is, some people are easily offended and you'll have to do your best to be considerate even though you may think that their concerns are overblown or not rational to you. Everyone has to decide where they fall on that spectrum. I've always been on the "oops, sorry, didn't mean to upset you" camp, but other people feel differently and there will certainly be people like that around you.
    posted by jessamyn at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [28 favorites]

    "Well, you know, men are the largest minority group there is."

    I've heard this quip twice now during important business meetings, both times nearly everyone else present was either female or some kind of ethnic/sexual minority and had been significantly disadvantaged because of their status.
    posted by Wossname at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [12 favorites]

    There are going to be copious exceptions to any of what you're told here, of course. Women aren't monolithic, women are not a hive mind. Here are things which tend to be more true than not.

    Don't mansplain. Assume a woman is possessed of enough agency and intelligence to be able to know things without your intervention. You may not even realize it when you're doing it. Hell, you may not even be doing it - a lot of guys don't. But a lot do. Just try to be aware of it.

    Also - and again, this is not universal, but it's a source of conflict in a lot of the hetero couples I've known and it may be helpful to know - if a woman is complaining about her day or her job or her whatever...just listen. Listen and be as sympathetic as you can manage. Hug her, if you have that kind of relationship. But don't try to offer solutions to her problems - that's not why she came to you. She came to you for support and a shoulder to cry on and all that sort of thing. She's an adult (unless she isn't, in which case ignore this) and she probably already has a plan. It's ingrained in men to try to be that protector and solve all her problems but she's very capable of doing it herself and to be given advice when you just wanted an ear feels like you're being treated like a child.

    Lots of women take as given that a bitch session is nothing more than a chance to let off steam, and lots of men take as given that a presentation of problems is a request for solutions. When she wants help, she'll ask you for help. It's not the end of the world, just a difference in communication styles that comes up a lot, and it drives a lot of women crazy.
    posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:40 PM on September 15, 2010 [10 favorites]

    Side note to mokeydraws - my hair is naturally pin-straight and very fine. When I on occasion take the time to blow-dry & curl my hair I inevitably get flabbergasted compliments which make me feel as if most of the time I look like a cretin. Curly Girls and Flat Pats apparently have the same (opposite) problem.
    posted by pammeke at 12:41 PM on September 15, 2010

    Real ones I've gotten:
    "You know, you'd look attractive if you had green eyes."
    "You must wear the pants in the family."
    "Is that your real hair color?"
    "Do you get hit on by a lot of guys with a thing for redheads?"
    posted by Gucky at 12:43 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    How about in general not commenting on women's appearances unless they are in fact good friends?
    posted by bluedaisy at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    "Wow. That's some great arm hair. Totally HOT."
    I find it hard to believe ANYONE thinks commenting on a girl's hairy arms is acceptable. But it's happened to me twice. And when I've talked to my male friends, somehow they do not think this is a creepy comment. I am here to tell you it is. Don't do it. It's totally not cool.*

    * Unless of course you are asked for your opinion. In which case, the only correct answers fall betweeen "totally hot" and "I'm cool with it."
    posted by Ys at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    It seems like, most of the time, sir/ma'am/miss is extraneous anyway and could be omitted (i.e. "What would you like to order?" vs. "What would you like to order, ma'am?"). I'm probably alone in this, but I'd even prefer "you" to "ma'am."

    I've only ever really used it, post-south (though I was never good at it back then, either), when I worked in retail and needed to get the attention of a customer whose name I did not know. Usually for something super-important, like they had just left their wallet at the cash register.

    It's less rude than "Hey you!", right?
    posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    "...when you have kids..."

    related, if it comes up that she doesn't want kids:

    "Oh, you'll change your mind, most women do."

    Also +1 for "smile!" I have a naturally sort of angry looking face if I'm not talking or engaged with someone in conversation. I was once having a great day, feeling on top of the world, and I got into an elevator. A guy already on the elevator said, "hey, smile! Whatever it is can't be that bad!"

    That one comment nearly ruined my day.
    posted by AlisonM at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2010 [13 favorites]

    You should not be commenting on someone's appearance (hair, clothes, jewelry, etc.) at all unless you have a close relationship with that person.

    I don't really agree with this. I don't mind when a stranger tells me I have a cute purse or they like my necklace. Things that are more central to my person (weight, features, hair) are probably not OK for strangers. And with established relationships, even things like "you look tired" aren't verboten--it just depends on who you're talking to. The best advice I can give you is to read the reaction to things you say and process it. If you get a fakey smile or exasperated stare, don't keep pushing the issue.

    Different people are sensitive to different things. Include women in your definition of people.
    posted by almostmanda at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    I'm in my late 20s, and I just found out that you shouldn't (or should be very careful) pointing out to a female that she looks tired.

    I'm not sure there is a laundry list of not so specific "don't go zones" I wouldn't be offended if someone pointed out I looked tired, if anything I'd appreciate they were actually paying attention, or care.

    That being said, I'd say under no circumstances should you say anything in relation to her weight, or other things that fall under the guidelines of appearance whether its positive, or negative. Some women might appreciate the compliments, otoh you can never tell. And, I think context has a lot to do with it, some stranger yelled out recently he liked my glasses on the street. I saw no harm, or foul there. But, some stranger way back when said something about my weight, not cool.

    @jennyesq what would you prefer?

    Not jennyesq, but it bothers me too. I'd say neither is appropriate since if you use either you're commenting on her age, or relationship status.
    posted by squeak at 12:49 PM on September 15, 2010

    I don't want to discuss women's issues just because I am a woman. I don't want to share what I think of political changes of my reproductive and other rights, or talk about how disadvantaged women are in X 3rd world country, just after I have met you or at work. Awkward geeks sometimes go this way with conversations. You should only have conversations like that with people that you know fairly well or if it is situation-appropriate. It is like me asking a guy I just met what he thinks of Viagra, awkward!

    Don't tell me about your mother and all the other women you know but that I don't - you don't have to tell me about each of them for no apparent reason. Knowing that you know some other women doesn't make me like you more.

    Don't tell me about every nice thing you ever did for a woman, argh!

    Don't tell me about every mean thing a woman ever did to you, equally argh!

    Don't keep mentioning my name at every opportunity as if you're really proud I shared it with you, you don't need to end or start every sentence with it. I have noticed some men at work only do this to women, not other men.

    Don't keep telling other people that I said things unless it is appropriate, it just makes you sound like a deranged stalker, for example "X said she likes the weather today" then "X said she likes rain" then "X grew up in a country with lots of rain" etc. It is just totally unnecessary, don't be a fanboy. Often done by people who never tell you anything a man told them.

    Also, if someone once told you that all women like it when you get all emotional and share your secrets with them, they lied. If I am not your friend then it is not appropriate and makes me very uncomfortable. If you cannot imagine sharing it with a male coworker, don't share it with a female one.

    Other things that suck that aren't really about "saying" but are about conversations and interactions: don't hug women if you don't hug men, don't stare at body parts, don't touch women if you don't touch men (like on the shoulder), and don't walk into male restrooms while one of the conversation participants is a woman.
    posted by meepmeow at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

    Don't refer to any one of us as "a female". Ever.
    posted by lydhre at 12:56 PM on September 15, 2010 [44 favorites]

    "Hey, where's your sense of humour? It was just a joke!" (typically following some sexist statement)
    posted by meijusa at 12:58 PM on September 15, 2010 [16 favorites]

    An obvious one, but really, I have to quote it as the ultimate thing to NEVER say to a woman (or anyone of any gender, for that matter),

    "I just got out of prison and I need to talk to someone, so it might as well be you"

    (overheard at a bus stop in Seattle. With game like that he must be a devil with the ladies...)
    posted by yeloson at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    If you know a woman is a stay at home mom, don't ask her if she works or what she does for a living.

    As a single mom at the playground, I'd get pretty peeved if someone asked me if I worked. Yeah, I was singlehandedly raising three kids. I considered it to be a fair amount of work.
    posted by dzaz at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    OK, here is my list of things that, if anyone - regardless of gender - says them to me (as a woman), I will in fact become angry about, and will make me judge you to be less of a person if you say them, even out of ignorance.

    1) It must be that time of the month.
    2) Anything about when I am going to have children.
    3) Any comment about the fact I don't wear makeup or jewelry.
    4) Any comment about the fact my husband and I have different last names.
    5) Any comment about when/if/how I'm going to have a wedding/get married.
    6) Anything that indicates I am doing something that isn't lady-like.
    7) Any comment about the fact I wear pants/boots/shirts that are mens not womens.
    8) Any unasked for advice about hair/makeup/clothing/etc.
    9) Anyone who mansplains things to me, regardless of gender.
    10) Anyone who assumes I don't know anything about a topic because I am a woman.
    11) Being impressed that I change my own oil/airfilters/etc because I am a woman.
    12) ZOMG a girl who plays video games.
    13) If the phrase "Are you single" comes up in our first conversation.
    14) Saying that any of my academic achievements have been because of my gender.
    15) Saying that I'm lucky because of my gender.
    16) Saying that I'm lucky because of my race and gender.
    17) Saying I should go hang out with the other "Girls" at a party/gathering/in the office.
    18) Assuming I am a gossipy office hen because I am female.
    19) Any unasked for comment about my weight/appearance/status.
    20) Assuming I will get along with your wife/gf/significant female other simply because they are the same gender as me.
    21) Any comment that assumes I'm heterosexual because I have a husband.
    posted by strixus at 1:00 PM on September 15, 2010 [31 favorites]

    Mod note: comment removed - seriously, wisecracks need to go to email or you need to take some time off, thanks
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    A lot of these came as surprises to me. I guess I may be particularly clueless to subtext or rather bone-headed--or maybe it's a cultural thing. The only thing that has ever really pissed me off is when a middle-aged consultant I was working with on a project suggested that I participate in a wet t-shirt contest. Everything else (comments about weight, looking tired, miss, ma'am, requests to smile, etc.) doesn't bother me.
    posted by superquail at 1:14 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    When you tell someone they look tired you can be perceived as saying that they don't look attractive, or that they look old. This goes for both men and women.

    I agree with everyone who hates "ma'am." I'm from the East and currently live in the Southwest. I get "ma'amed" constantly and it makes me feel like a frumpy little fireplug. I know it's regional, because when I go back home, I get called "miss," and so does my 70-year-old mom!

    Definitely agree with comments about pregnancy. Even if you know a woman is pregnant, don't comment.

    I don't like my age or perceived age being commented on. I hate being asked my age. I hate, even more, being pestered over and over to reveal my age when I've made it clear I don't want to (which has happened twice recently). If I do reveal my age, people invariably express shock over how young I look. Don't go there. At all. It just comes off like, "wow, you're some kind of freak!" or, "wow, you're really an old hag, but you look like a girl!"

    If a woman is unusually short or tall, don't comment. I address comments about my height with "wow, that was original. I've never heard that before!" delivered in a withering tone.

    I also agree with comments that presuppose I want kids someday. And it's downright rude to ask a person why they don't have kids, with or without the word "yet."

    Possibly the worst thing a guy I had just met recently said to me was "are you her mom?" when he was speaking of a girlfriend standing next to me. She's younger than I am, but I didn't think I looked old enough to be her freakin' mother!
    posted by xenophile at 1:15 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    You are totally welcome to arbitrarily order me to smile. Please be advised that if I then look directly at you, smiling brightly, it is because I am imagining your death or public humiliation. Have a nice day!

    Similarly, it is wise when intending to inform strangers that 'it's not that bad' or 'it may never happen', to consider the possibility that it is in fact that bad, or that it has indeed happened.
    posted by Lebannen at 1:17 PM on September 15, 2010 [12 favorites]

    Don't ever, ever talk about how quickly I'm in and out of the bathroom, or the fact that I'm pretty quick in there makes you wonder if I'm actually a woman.

    You can extrapolate this one to "Never comment on the amount of time that another person spends in the bathroom."

    I still can't believe I got that one.

    Don't tell me what you think my breast size is. Don't ask me what my breast size is. Don't hug me and then, "You're a C cup, right?"

    Please don't say something like, "You know, most women are so uptight/boring/snotty/etc., but you're so much fun!" It's not a compliment.

    Don't end any compliment with "for a woman." I just got "You carry yourself with such confidence, for a woman." What?
    posted by punchtothehead at 1:18 PM on September 15, 2010 [14 favorites]

    Please be advised that if I then look directly at you, smiling brightly, it is because I am imagining your death or public humiliation. Have a nice day!

    This will help me so much the next time I am told to smile.

    You can be hypersensitive to appearance-based remarks without being a huffy drama queen. I just have low self-esteem. I don't make a fuss or hate the person who says it, so-called Very Nice Person! It just reminds me that I'm not one of the beautiful people on the outside. But it's sure not on the same level as some other actually offensive things, granted. I certainly wouldn't bother complaining about it. But this is a question about such things.
    posted by theredpen at 1:23 PM on September 15, 2010

    You are totally welcome to arbitrarily order me to smile. Please be advised that if I then look directly at you, smiling brightly, it is because I am imagining your death or public humiliation. Have a nice day!

    Similarly, it is wise when intending to inform strangers that 'it's not that bad' or 'it may never happen', to consider the possibility that it is in fact that bad, or that it has indeed happened.

    This is #1 on my list, including the Deadhead who kept hassling me with "Hey it's not so bad" after I found out that I was being cheated on. Oh and the drunk at the party who kept telling me that a pretty face like mine should smile. This would be my first public appearance a week after my father had died.

    Also I had a mansplainer at my last job who constantly felt like he needed to tell me how to do my job, in between asking total noob questions about the technology he supposedly knew so much more about than I did.
    posted by gov_moonbeam at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    My hair is purple.

    I am aware of this. I occasionally match my clothing to my hair when I am wearing it in an unnatural color. When I do this, I constantly get comments like "Your hair is purple!" and "Your tights match your hair!" from strangers on the street. This isn't offensive, but it is something I quietly judge people for.

    Also, seconding the "Girl that plays videogames!!11" thing. I am so sick of that.
    posted by NoraReed at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

    +1 for never referring to a bunch or co-workers to happen to be female as "ladies", "girls", or any other term calling attention to their gender.

    (When my students tell me I look tired, I teach them that it's better to say, "you seem tired." I know it still isn't really appropriate to comment on, but it sure is better than calling attention to someone's appearance.)
    posted by ms.v. at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    My most recent favorite: referring to a difference of opinion between two women professionals as a "cat fight."
    posted by small_ruminant at 1:46 PM on September 15, 2010 [12 favorites]

    Nthing the comments asking me to smile. Seriously, I'm only going to smile when I want to and you calling that out to me makes me much less likely to smile. If I then turn my head and ignore you, I HATE having you continue to call after me saying oh the girl on the left is still being mean! Go on, smile! Gah.
    Any comments on breast size are inappropriate unless we are actually making out. How will I possibly know that I have big boobs if you don't tell me?
    And finally: if I am single and of the gender that is attractive to you (and vice-versa), complaints about how hard it is to get a date (why am I so unattractive? why do no women even look at me? what do those guys have that I don't, that makes women fall all over them? etc.) will not go over well if you have never asked me on a date and you know that I am single.
    posted by peacheater at 1:56 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    I feel safe (because Miss Manners agrees with me) in saying that the only proper response to "I'm pregnant!" is "Congratulations!" or some variation thereof that shows excitement/pleasure ("Omg, that's so exciting!" "When are you due?" "How wonderful!" "You must be so excited!")

    The proper response is not, as I was asked SEVERAL TIMES, "Before I congratulate you -- was it planned?" (My response, with a withering look: "I'm 30, married, and know how birth control works -- what do you think?")

    And I agree with above redheads that if you have a "thing" about red hair, this is definitely not something you should bring up before at least the third date, when I have a chance to see that you are normal. You should definitely not mention it when hitting on me at a bar and leading with, "I have always wanted to sleep with a redhead so I could hit the trifecta!" (of hair colors, apparently.) I don't mind dumb comments about my hair, I've been hearing them all my life, but if your goal is to convince me you are dating material, you need to hold off on the hair-related creepiness until I have decided you are not creepy. That is all.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:04 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    I don't know about other women, but I kind of cringe when I'm referred to s "ma'am." "Miss" isn't great either, but "ma'am" sounds downright matronly.

    This flips with age I think. While for a youngish 15-29 year old unmarried women this seems to be aging, it's still a sign of respect. I'd say that this is one of those rules folks will forever getting wrong and the best thing to do is simply not be offended by it. Better "Ma'am" than "Chick" or "Dudette." I can only speak for myself, but now past 30 and married, I am indeed a "Ma'am" and feel no problem with people calling me it. The only thing I really really hate and think is derogatory is "Missy." I believe it to be a term one assumes addressing a perceived inferior (infantilizing females) and degrading. I say this not caring if it is part of local vernacular or not, it's demeaning.
    posted by eatdonuts at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Do not ask a woman if her children have the same father. (This has happened to me.)
    posted by not that girl at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    I think my favorite non-obvious one, though, is when someone makes an achievement, and the designation "woman-" or "female-" is stacked in front. This is fine when there is a gender distinction in reality (eg, golferes ARE divided up in divisions by gender, so there is a top woman-golfer). But it seems like it gets inappropriately applied at times. Why do we need to know that thus-and-such poet was a great WOMAN poet? Was she great or not? Or was she only great in the woman's category? Grrrr. That sort of thing.
    posted by Ys at 2:24 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Mod note: few more comments removed - folks, can you do your tired mod a favor and maybe not start debating each of these points? question is by-definition focused on one gender and of all you want to do is argue about gender stereotyping, maybe go to metatalk or send someone a private email? thank you.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:27 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Bisexuals exist.

    Also on the list: "chill out" from anyone who isn't remotely entitled to tell me what to do or give me advice about how to behave.
    posted by the young rope-rider at 2:27 PM on September 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

    Don't make your first response to something they're upset about, "it's not that bad." If you're manning up about something you've done, don't respond to my shock or anger with, "I knew you'd react like this!"

    And this isn't always directlyto me, but I see red when people call men girls as a form of insults. Common with sports. "Get it together ladies!" etc. I hear that and it's not cute, it's not funny, it's not clever, it's just a shortcut to me knowing what a jerk the speaker is.
    posted by lemniskate at 2:29 PM on September 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

    Don't tell a woman who has a direct manner that she's "just like a guy".

    Don't tell a woman who might be expressing strong opinions that she "seems bitter" or "angry", unless you would tell a guy the exact same thing in the exact same circumstance.

    Don't say "why don't you tell us how you really feel!" after a woman has made a direct, firm statement unless, again, you would do the same thing to a guy.

    Chances are you would not say those things to men, so please do not say them to women.
    posted by micawber at 2:32 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    If you've carded me, and it turns out I'm in my mid-40s, please do not say, "Wow!"
    posted by JanetLand at 2:35 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    This may be just me, or it may be universal and non-gendered, or somewhere in between: please don't comment on what I'm eating, or how much/little of it, particularly if you are assuming or implying that I am dieting, should be dieting, or lucky not to have to diet. ("That looks good" or "where'd you get that sandwich?" is generally okay.)

    Don't talk to me about my workout, either, unless you are my personal trainer or I am in immediate and obvious danger of hurting myself. Even if you just want to tell me I'm doing a great job, it's weird, because I feel like I'm being watched.

    And please, if you ask someone to dance or go on a date and they decline, don't say anything more than "okay, have a good night." (I'd advise you not even apologize, because it sounds pathetic, but possibly other people would appreciate a "sorry to bother you," who knows.)
    posted by Metroid Baby at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    ...when you have kids..."

    related, if it comes up that she doesn't want kids:

    "Oh, you'll change your mind, most women do."

    Yes. really. This. Remember not all people can have children, so this will either piss someone off or really upset them. I believe also there are ways of not treating pregnant women - touching the bump, or acting as though she's just an incubator with no other personality.

    Referring to women as 'girls' in a professional context.

    Assuming all women are obsessed with food/weight. A co-worker once actually said to me 'So, are you on a diet then?'

    Anything about periods/hormones. I've spent more of my life having them than not having them, so I don;t appreciate being told I'm irrational or unable to cope.

    You probably don't need to be told this unless you are an asshole, but - anything about which she is completely aware. Height, hair colour, bra size, arse size, etc.

    Assuming women are very different emotional creatures purely because of their gender.
    posted by mippy at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    If you are a woman and haul or lift any object requiring the use of both hands regardless of whether it's so easy it could be managed by even a child, I estimate that if at least 4 men see you do it, you will receive at least one "clever" comment about how strong or independent you must be or don't you need help, etc. So don't do that (not that you can't offer to help those who are actually having trouble).
    posted by zizania at 2:42 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    If a woman is describing her experience of being on the receiving end of sexism or misogyny, do not under any circumstances say something like "well, they probably didn't mean it that way" or "are you sure they were trying to be offensive? Maybe they were just clumsy" or "gee, I've never seen that happen" (which implies "so you must be imagining it").

    Of course, this doesn't apply only to women. It's also good practice if a person is describing being on the receiving end of racism, or being on the receiving end of anti-trans bigotry, or being on the receiving end of homophobia or gay-bashing, or... If you're not a member of the group in question, it's almost always a very bad idea to tell a member of the group that they are incorrect in how they are describing their own experience.

    Don't make jokes about "I'm probably going to get killed by you feminists for saying this" if you're saying something you think they won't like or will want to get into an in-depth discussion of. It's tedious and derailing.

    Everything else I can think of comes down to "don't say X to anybody", not "to a woman". Don't assume I care what you think I should do with my hair, or my clothes, or anything else. Don't demand my attention if I'm clearly not giving it to you (reading a book, listening to headphones, etc.). Don't say "I think what you really mean is..." Basic issues of assuming the other person is an autonomous being worthy of respect.
    posted by Lexica at 2:45 PM on September 15, 2010 [15 favorites]

    This is very non-obvious but....please don't comment on/call out my weight, even in a complimentary way, unless we are flirting with each other or good friends. Twice this week I've had older men I've spoken to in a professional context say to me (while discussing food or eating lunch) some variation on "how do you stay so thin," "you're so thin", etc. (This can also come up in thermostat discussions.) It's not hurtful, obviously, but it is uncomfortable--in a professional context with someone I don't know well, I'd rather not have my body appraised or called attention to, even in a complimentary way. It feels weird.
    posted by availablelight at 3:01 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    For the most part, any comments about the physical nature my pregnancy were unwelcome: How much have you gained? Is it difficult to sleep like that? Wow, you're walking funny! You look HUGE! You don't look big at all! Apart from "When are you due?" I think everything is too personal.
    posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: @lemniskate That's a real good one. I always always try to help people cope with something by re-describing the situation in mitigating terms. I can see how that's construed often as, "your experience isn't valid."
    posted by pauldonato at 3:14 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    "Well, you know women are..."
    posted by joeyjoejoejr at 3:16 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I really, really hate being called honey, sweetie, dear, or any variations thereof (diner waitresses and/or Baltimore residents can have a pass on "hon") - especially by men (unless we are dating, but don't assume all girls like this even in a dating context). I encountered this all the time when I was a receptionist, and I thought it was pretty insulting.

    Nthing the advice to never assume someone is pregnant. I got this while wearing one of the dreaded empire waist dresses mentioned above, and it remains one of my more humiliating memories.
    posted by naoko at 3:21 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    It may not only be who you are saying looks tired, but how you are saying it: tone, context, body language, facial expression. . .all these things factor in as well. But yes, if you don't know the person well, do not greet them with negative comments on their appearance.

    I agree with those above, not really gender specific things i don't want to hear. . . I mean does anyone want to deal with comments about their genitals, and what nots, while walking down the street?

    However, recently in a meeting, a male colleague, in reference to items that are expensive and attractive but of low quality, said "like some girls i've known" hawhawhaw, elbowing his male neighbor at the table and everything. . . which i found very offputting and unproffessional.

    Most likely you would be better off discerning particular personality types, if you want to attempt to predict their reactions, rather than basing your behavior on what they've got in their pants.
    posted by abirdinthehand at 3:21 PM on September 15, 2010

    naoko, I think the male equivalent of this is 'mate'. I think both genders find over-familiarity a bit offputting - I hate people shortening my name to a nickname I am never, ever known by - but it comes with a side-order of patronising at times when directed at women. That's not to say 'love' is always bad, but there is a time and a place.
    posted by mippy at 3:26 PM on September 15, 2010

    If I'm talking about dressing up for Event X, don't comment on how you'd like to see me "all cleaned up. ". I wasn't dirty to begin with.
    posted by spinifex23 at 3:37 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    You can say anything to women that you would say to any other human being. There are things you shouldn't say to individuals depending on that individual. Learn how to talk to people and you will learn how to talk to women.
    posted by frobozz at 3:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Here's one reason you shouldn't tell someone they look tired: I have inherited dark circles under my eyes. I have them every day. My aunt has them. My grandmother has them. Makeup doesn't cover them. Random things like allergies make them worse. They do make me look tired, even when I am not. Even when I'm going at full tilt, someone is bound to stop me and say, "You look tired." Can you imagine having a facial feature that people constantly comment on? If it was a unibrow, folks would probably leave me alone.
    posted by Knowyournuts at 3:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

    Knowyournuts: "If it was a unibrow, folks would probably leave me alone."

    I wish. I have a unibrow and I get goony cracks all the time.

    That aside, unless you've made arrangements prior, don't feel like you need to stick up for a woman in an argument or other situation. I know it's speaking very broadly, but women can speak up for themselves and stick up for themselves just fine (see ED: white-knighting) and unless they specifically ask for your help fending someone off, they can manage pretty well on their own.
    posted by boo_radley at 3:49 PM on September 15, 2010

    Context and conveyance change a lot of things, and everyone is different (and can be in a different place from day to day). Sometimes people might feel a bit better with an actual inquiry to their well-being, if you're in a position to help in some way. Sometimes having someone notice that you look like you've had a shitty day and you want to talk about it is helpful, but this is most often true with friends or at least someone you've met before, and not a stranger.

    Simply saying "you look tired" to someone who has had a long day, or perhaps always has bags under their eyes, only points out their position or less-than-positive appearance. You could try saying "You look tired, good thing you get off in 30 minutes," but it'll probably backfire because they might have other things to do at home, or another shift somewhere else.

    If someone looks tired, you could try to compliment them on something that is going well for them, or something they did that helped you or they did well, even though they seem worn out. But at the same time, don't be a frikkin' ray of sunshine with everyone, unless that is your natural demeanor. Be polite, courteous, and thankful, and moreso to people who look like they hate their lives at that very moment (but in a genuine way - again, avoid overdoing it, as it may come off as insincere), and don't be offended if someone takes something the wrong way. Learn from social blunders, and go on with life.
    posted by filthy light thief at 4:00 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Immediately after finding out I'm married, and before asking what I do: "What does your husband do?"
    posted by desjardins at 4:04 PM on September 15, 2010 [11 favorites]

    Flip side to the white knight - don't apologize for someone who acted in a way you thought was out-of-line or over-the-top, unless they are youngin's under your care. The "offender" will see your comments as belittling their viewpoints and actions, and the offended person will discount the "offender" as being overly dramatic or sensitive. Let people fight their own quarrels on all sides.
    posted by filthy light thief at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2010

    When your woman friend/lover/sister etc. is relating an account of (for example) being threatened and harassed on the street late at night by a group of scary, intoxicated men, avoid asking "But did anything actually happen?"

    (I reckon this applies to both male and female listeners)
    posted by analog at 4:11 PM on September 15, 2010 [16 favorites]

    I don't see anything wrong with telling a woman her hair looks great when it's a totally different style from before. It makes me feel like I did something right, and changing styles is sometimes scary. But! I often hear, "It looked great before too, but I like the change!" afterwards, which sounds overly cautious to me, but I know they mean well.
    posted by katillathehun at 4:24 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Overprotective comments about safety really bother me. Unless she is unfamiliar with the area, don't caution her about walking alone. She's an adult and can make decisions about her own safety.
    posted by desjardins at 4:25 PM on September 15, 2010 [11 favorites]

    It's not only men who do this, but: Do not touch the pregnant belly unless you have express permission. Just because there is a baby inside, that does not mean it is public property.
    posted by lullaby at 4:28 PM on September 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

    It bugs me when people say to me, "Boy, your hair is really getting long." I'm never sure how to respond. My first thought is to say "thank you" but then I realize it's not necessarily a compliment. For all I know, the person thinks it looks like hell and is hinting that I need to get it cut.

    I guess any sort of personal observation such as that should really incorporate a compliment so the person is not stuck wondering what to say in return.
    posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:50 PM on September 15, 2010

    Don't call me love or darling.
    Don't come over all concerned about my safety unless I am not familiar with the area and thus can't assess risks myself.
    Don't expect me to react in a certain way because of my gender/age/job or whatever.
    posted by koahiatamadl at 4:55 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I just want to comment on the 'You've lost weight!' thing.

    I recently moved back to this city after being away for 6 months. While I was away I lost a little weight. I wasn't really overweight before and I wasn't trying to lose weight -- it just happened because I wasn't very happy at the time and eating rarely occurred to me as something I might like to do that day.

    So I was a little surprised that when I got back, every single person (bar one, a fellow American -- go figure) said something along the lines of, 'Wow, you've lost loads of weight!' 'OMG, you're so skinny now!' &c. &c. I felt like the best answers to this were either 'Thanks, guess I was just a total fatty before' or some explanation of how it actually sucks being sad and not really able to take joy in food. But I just went with 'Oh, thanks, haha.. yeah..' and lots of blushing.

    So, yeah, I feel like unless you know the person has been working out or dieting or whatever, specifically TRYING to lose weight, just please don't comment on her weight. If you don't know what's going on, just leave it -- weight is very personal for a lot of people.
    posted by Put the kettle on at 5:01 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    If you see a middle-aged woman with young children, please don't say anything about her grandchildren. Trust me, you are going to make more friends asking a grandmother about her children than you are asking a mother about her grandchildren.
    posted by h00py at 5:12 PM on September 15, 2010 [11 favorites]

    Never ask an middle aged woman her age. In some cultures especially Eastern cultures, it can be disrespectful.
    posted by antgly at 5:22 PM on September 15, 2010

    "You should shave your underarms. It's really unsightly, unhygienic and uncivilised not to," from a total stranger at a New Year's Eve party.

    Followed by "Will you go out with me?" a minute or two later. (Instant mental response: No! You've already proven that you are a rude jerk.)

    True story.

    "You look 12. Will you go out with me?" same guy, to my friend (who was 18 or 19, but looked much younger) a few hours later.

    Had we ever seen that guy again... ...we would have quietly taken aside any and all women in the vicinity and told them what he was like.
    posted by Year of meteors at 5:29 PM on September 15, 2010

    From a male: hey, we have the same size hands.
    posted by spacefire at 5:35 PM on September 15, 2010

    i am a woman. the "oh, you're so skinny! you should eat some chocolate!" comments have all come from other women. never from men.
    posted by janepanic at 5:35 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    As mentioned above, don't call anyone over 18 a girl.

    It comes across as condescending/patronising, sexist, and devaluing of the work skills of the women in question.

    I've had male bosses/coworkers who referred to women in their 50s as girls... it made me feel angry, and dislike the boss/coworker every time.

    After all, you wouldn't refer to a group of male staff in their 40s or 50s as "the boys", would you?

    "The boys will do that task," "The boys will sort you out," "The boys have been busy working on project X Y and Z."
    posted by Year of meteors at 5:38 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Do not refer to women as girls or gals. Especially at work. Most of the time, gender-neutral language works better. The "girls in the office" are colleagues, front desk staff, co-workers.

    A person's private life is just that, so comments about whether a person has PMS are inappropriate.

    Using cutie, sweetie, honey, etc., is subtly demeaning unless you are a fantastic waitstaff at a diner.

    For most of these comments, imagine saying it to a male. Does it sound stupid, rude, etc? Some people are sensitive about age, some aren't. Some people are sensitive about weight, etc.

    Read Miss Manners. She's serious about etiquette and a feminist, a knockout combination.
    posted by theora55 at 5:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I had short (2-3inches long) hair for 8 years and would be Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of riches if I had $1 for everytime a male asked "Have you ever thought about growing your hair out?" I'm not talking just men I dated, it was MOST men I came into contact with. I would stare them straight in the eye and say, "No, why?" An uncomfortable silence usually ensued!

    Now that I have long hair, do NOT say to me "Please don't ever cut it short". So many acquaintances have said this to me and I find it flabbergasting.

    Don't make comments about how over/under-emotional a woman may be - in my experience, crying = crybaby and not reacting = hard and cold. Accept that everyone reacts to things differently.

    Don't start telling me your "player" stories (which I'm usually open to listening to), then censor yourself because "that part of your story shouldn't be heard by ladies". Annoying.

    Don't ever say a reaction is "typical of a woman".

    Do not discount a feeling of fear of safety when a woman is recounting a terrifying story. I think someone said this very well before me!

    Do not express your feeling of being "grossed out" by "feminine stuff" such as periods, pregnancy issues, bodily functions. Especially if you're the kind of guy who thinks burps and farts are kind of funny with your guy friends!
    posted by shazzam! at 5:42 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    I agree with a lot of the above and have one of my own. Not sure if you're including things you probably shouldn't say to your girlfriend, but one time my boyfriend-at-the-time said to me, "I'm so glad you're hot." So, naturally, I asked him, "Why, what if I wasn't hot?" His response: "We'd be friends."

    I'm pretty sure he thought I'd take it as a compliment, but no, I did not.
    posted by wondermouse at 5:50 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    I have a few. I am a woman, but probably not all women would be upset/offended/disappointed by the following statements. All of the following have happened to me.

    If I am in your store to buy a chainsaw and tell you that I'd like some help comparing between models, please do not tell me that "a chainsaw will be such a great gift for your husband!" I have no husband, and I use a chainsaw. You will not get the sale and I will tell your supervisor why.

    I am thin. Yes. I get it. Tall-ish and thin. Please do not ask me how much I weigh. Not if you have just met me, not if I am in your store buying clothing, and not if we are out to dinner in a large (or small) group of friends. Just don't ask. Also, don't ask what size clothes I wear unless I am buying them from you, or we are discussing a gift of clothing that you are planning to give me. Do not ask me any questions about my breasts - unless we are having sexy time and you want to know if I want you to squeeze harder/less/whatever. If you have seen my naked breasts up close and in person, really there are only 2 possible appropriate comments for you make, "they are perfect," or "I'm sorry." (this should be obvious - if we're having sexy time and you're seeing my breasts because I want you to, then, yay. If you have seen my breasts either accidentally or in some skeevy way, apologize, and get the heck out of dodge. If you are being skeevy, "they are perfect is a terrible thing to say, and I will call the cops.)

    Lastly, don't tell me you can't help yourself. If we are dancing together socially and I tell you that I'd prefer not to dance so close, don't blame it on my smoking hot body. (See above: don't tell me to calm down. Just back off a little bit.) If I catch you staring at my body in an inappropriate way, don't try to convince me that you have no self control. I know better, and I know that you are simply choosing not to exercise self control. Pretending that you can't demeans both of us. I'm not a mythical figure, and you are not an infant.
    posted by bilabial at 5:52 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    "So when is the REAL tech support/maintenance/you name it getting here?"

    Because apparently women can't do those kinds of things? Or perhaps I am just imaginary.
    posted by Addlepated at 6:06 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

    Don't call me a thing, as in "a tiny little thing like you...." I am not a thing. You wouldn't call a man a thing; don't do it to me. Especially not if you are my doctor.
    posted by clavicle at 6:08 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Don't comment on anyone's weight ever, even if you know they're attempting to alter it in some way - unless they bring it up first.

    I did not keep the fact that I had gastric bypass surgery a secret in my office, but I sort of wish I had because I am sick to DEATH of people randomly coming up to me and commenting on my weight loss and asking how much I've lost and saying "how good I look". Although I'm sure I'd get the same comments even if I had kept the surgery a secret.

    I didn't lose weight for you, thanks.
    posted by elsietheeel at 6:13 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Apologies on my sharpish and now rightfully deleted comment earlier. I just worry about all women being swept under the same, some strangely extreme and maybe contradicting brushes being expressed. In itself, this thread is a neat rendering of what some rather seemingly innocuous comments between sexes and personal conceptions evoke. However the green is no place for reactionary beatings and I was wrong to verbally react. Reading this thread clearly illustrates the ever turbulent waters all humans must navigate with interpersonal relations and observations. I think in the end pauldonato it must come down to sensitivity and familiarity with the person you're interacting with. Male or female we all have our sore spots and I think as long as you've polite intentions, that in itself definitely must stand for something.
    posted by eatdonuts at 6:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I'm not fond of "Here, let me do that for you."

    Context: Unfamiliar men 'helping' me to do an activity I had been successfully performing before said man came along; carrying a box, for example, or sawing off a tree branch. And then continuing to push after a polite "No, thank you, I'm managing just fine."
    posted by Andrhia at 6:58 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

    This is more of a "first date etiquette" thing, but -- telling a woman "you're everything I've been looking for in a woman" after knowing her for only ninety minutes is deepy, deeply creepy. And yes, I really did have someone tell me that.

    Dave Barry had a fun take on the "pregnancy" thing -- "You should never assume a woman is pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her that very moment."
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 PM on September 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

    Oh, just thought of one: When discussing anything under the umbrella of "shit women have to deal with that men don't" (harassment, workplace sexism, "smile", rape, etc), please don't respond with something about how "it can't be that bad" or ask if women actually have to deal with that as much as they say.
    posted by NoraReed at 8:12 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Nthing the 'smile' thing. No.

    If the woman you're speaking to is a person of colour, please don't make any comments on how 'exotic' she looks, or make any comments drawn from gender-based stereotypes of that particular ethnicity - a question I've had several dudes ask is (paraphrasing to spare the green the crudity of actual phrasing) if it was true if Asian girls were tight. Saying things like that are not endearing, funny, clever, or anything new. It is rude, disgusting, and brands you as that 'mouth-breathing goatfucker' everyone despises.

    Also, never say 'that's because you're a woman'.

    Generally speaking, if you know the woman really, really well and you're close friends, chances are you'll already have a good back-and-forth going, where both of you can snark at each other and it doesn't matter. I have male friends who comment on my workout routine, but I don't mind, because I often comment on theirs and we constantly compare/contrast exercise regimens. For someone else, that might not be welcomed. It depends on how comfortable you are with her and how well you know her tolerance level.
    posted by zennish at 8:27 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Fun question! To repeat many people above (strixus had some great ones for example)... and these are whether said by a man or a woman:

    - Anything to imply I'm good with computers/technology/games/whatever only because I "picked it up" from my husband/boyfriend/brother/dad. Especially since I'm the one with the science degree. GRARRR!
    - Asking or teasing about when I'm going to have children (unless you know I want them enthusiastically). Asked this too dang often.
    - Asking if I lost weight. I once had friend say "You were gaining weight for a while but it's good to see you lost it... Your butt was getting bigger for a while." *forehead smack* Yes she's still a friend :) Say I look great instead.
    - Definitely don't ask if I'm pregnant (if you didn't get that already, hehe).

    - Implying that I'm short (unless I made a joke about it earlier in conversation), or calling me "little." I get this a lot ("Hey it's Little Sarah") even though I'm average height for a woman and it gets wearing after a while.
    - Anything about me not being strong enough to do something
    - Implying that only one aspect of my life is my entire life, or it defines me, or that I fit into a stereotype (e.g. I live in suburbs so I must be a boring housewife, soccer mom, etc.)
    - Assuming that I prefer to hang out only with the other women at a social gathering.
    - Comments about me not wearing makeup or missing shaving/waxing my legs (if I don't know you very well) e.g. avoid "You don't wear much makeup, do you?"
    - Assuming that pink is my favourite colour and that I like babies and cute stuffed animals because I'm female. (Pink is one of my least favourite colours.) E.g. do not get me a pink toolkit, get me a proper toolkit.
    - "You look tired" or "Are you feeling ok?" isn't too bad... but avoid "You look so pale" or "You have huge dark circles (under your eyes)" "That colour/shirt/clothing item doesn't look good on you" or "You look sick".
    posted by SarahbytheSea at 9:07 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Nthing not calling a woman by an endearment unless you are a member of her family, her friend or her SO.

    I don't mind "ma'am". As far as I'm concerned it's the only polite way to address a woman one doesn't know. I've heard "Lady" used several times with a touch of contempt.

    When I was in the Carolinas last year (I'm from Los Angeles), I was able to get by most places with "please" "Thank you" "excuse me" "I would like"....but one waitress at a barbecue place in Lexington, NC refused to acknowledge me until I called her "ma'am".
    posted by brujita at 10:29 PM on September 15, 2010

    Just as a disclaimer, I'm using a general "you" below; I don't actually think the OP is guilty of anything of these things, it's just the broad nature of the question.

    Sorry for the caps, but I'm about to go crazy about this continually happening to me: NEVER GET SOMEONE'S ATTENTION, MALE OR FEMALE, BY CLAIMING YOU KNOW THEM FROM SOMEWHERE WHEN YOU KNOW DAMN WELL YOU DON'T. It is manipulative, intrusive, clumsy, and enraging (because it assumes your target is gullible enough to fall for it, it's inherently insulting). I have this happen at least once a week and I'm about to haul off and punch the next asshole who tries it in the face. If you try it anyway and they say no and try to disengage from you, then take a hint and leave them alone, don't try to keep going with it. (And no, it's not that I look especially like anyone, because every single one of these interactions leads to the guy trying to get my phone number within three sentences.)

    Similarly, I hate hate HATE it when someone asks "is this seat taken?" as a prelude to trying to flirt with me, because it's manipulative: I can't know that they don't seriously just want to sit, especially when seating is scarce, so I'm forced into a position where I either have to be rude and inconvenience them AND lie, or talk to them when I don't want to. If they sit down and start trying to scam on me, I immediately loathe them. No one likes being treated as the objective of someone's selfish game instead of as a human being, and I'm not going to have interest in someone who's strategizing their way through the conversation to reach some goal instead of caring what I have to say. (And before anyone asks: yes, about a third or so of the time people really do just want to sit, so it's not naive -- as in, come on, everyone knows what people mean when they ask that -- to feel the question is manipulative. I get this question at food courts and coffee shops; I don't go to bars or clubs where it would be more reasonable to assume it's a pick-up line.)

    As a general rule, just don't use lies or insincerity as conversation openers, or prolongers. If you have to trick people into talking to you, that's the bigger issue you need to deal with before you concentrate on picking up women.

    On a similar note, if you're not in a place where people conventionally go with the expectation of being flirted with, be cautious about flirting. It makes me very angry when I'm just trying to wait for the bus, or get some tea, or walk down the street, and some guy decides he's going to intrude on my time and attention in a way he would never intrude on a man's. It makes me much angrier if I'm obviously busy and they persist.

    If you try to pick up a woman and she mentions her boyfriend or husband, then excuse yourself and quit wasting both of your time. Do not say that "he doesn't need to know," because you're implying that she would actually like to have sex with you when she obviously doesn't -- because otherwise she wouldn't have brought up her SO -- and you're implying that she is the kind of person who would knowingly hurt their SO and you're implying that she's easy enough to do all that without putting any consideration into it. It makes you look clueless and self-absorbed, then desperate because you can't just let it go, plus you've just insulted her. You didn't have a chance to begin with and you're just digging the hole deeper, basically, plus contributing to the culture that leads women to react in a seemingly rude or angry manner when men hit on them.

    I hate being told to smile.

    I hate being fetishized because I play video games. Never call me a "gamer girl," because there are no "gamer guys," just gamers. "Gamer" itself doesn't really bother me. Some women call themselves "gamer girls" and that's fine for them, but not everyone wants to be included under that title, especially because it sounds inane to some people (including me) and carries a lot of baggage.

    It grates when people assume I'm heterosexual because I have a husband. I am bisexual. I don't hold this against people really because it's not an unreasonable assumption, but in the spirit of the thread, it's something to consider if you haven't thought about it before.

    If a woman is bisexual or lesbian, don't make some stupid comment about wanting to watch her with another woman. Things like that are why we have laws against murder.

    Yeah, never assume a woman is going to have kids, and if you do and they deny it, never say they're going to change their mind. That goes for men too, even, and both men and women are guilty of saying this. It's extremely condescending. It makes me tense up to hear a presumptuous "when you have kids," but I try not to hold it against anyone unless I tell them I don't intend to and they follow it up with disbelief or something judgmental; if someone is accepting I actually gain some respect for them. Like a lot of stuff on this list, I can manage to hold in my rage or irritation by reminding myself they aren't really thinking much about how they come across. Not saying that means it's a good idea to say it, mind you, because certain things are hotter buttons for some people and it's still a trial regardless.

    The adjective "cute," when describing a woman to her face, easily carries demeaning and infantilizing connotations, so use it with caution.

    Never suggest that a woman ought to change her appearance in any way that you would find more pleasing. If she wears masculine clothes or has a masculine haircut or doesn't wear make-up or jewelry, she's doing that on purpose. It's never anyone else's responsibility to look attractive for you, really, male or female. (There are few exceptions to this, but in case it needs to be said: obviously if you're her boss and she shows up wearing tattered clothes and covered in filth or something egregiously unprofessional, then you can say something.)

    Don't call women things like "ball-buster" even if you mean it as a compliment. It's not an immutable rule because some women take pride in being called things like that, but you have to be really, really sure -- sure to the extent that she's not just taking it in stride when others call her those things, or if she calls herself those things, you need to be sure it doesn't make a difference to her if it comes from someone else. It's difficult to ever be that sure.

    I don't actually mind if someone says I look tired, but yeah, it's easier to just avoid it since it makes some people edgy. I would actually rather someone tell me I look tired than attractive.

    I do not like when someone comments on my physical features unless they're a friend and I know they have no ulterior motives. I don't mind if someone comments on what I'm wearing so long as they don't extend that into a comment on my physical features; from time to time people will respectfully ask to take a picture of me because they like my clothes, for example, but there's a big difference between, "You look sharp!" or "Nice hat!" versus "Your ass in bangin' in those pants, baby!" I don't personally mind if someone says I look like I've lost weight, but it's one of those things that's best avoided just because it's a button for a lot of people; I also have some sympathy because it used to bother me, and I'm not quite sure why it doesn't anymore.

    Don't assume women want to talk about dieting or exercise, and never make a comment that assumes she's on a diet or otherwise watching her weight. If she brings it up like she wants to talk about it, then fine. This is actually more of a problem coming from other women, since guys tend to purposely avoid those topics around women for fear of seeming insulting.

    Nthing "calm down" and "chill out" and its variations. Not because it's never warranted, but because it's far too often addressed to women who aren't deserving of it. For real, I've seen completely stoic, rational women get told to "calm down" when the guy in question was the one panicking; for some people, this seems to be the fallback response whenever they feel threatened by an argument put forth by a woman, especially if she makes watertight, unemotional arguments and they're unaccustomed to women who are like that. Point is, women have good reason to be frustrated and feel like it's being used in a dismissive sexist way because it often is -- and the history of it builds up to the extent that even the few times a woman is actually being oversensitive and combative and probably does need to calm down -- because this happens to EVERYONE sometimes -- it's difficult to hear it and not think it's being used in a sexist way and get even more frustrated; after all, it's hard to be objective when one is upset. So even if you know you're not using it in a sexist way and someone is legit overreacting, just don't say it because phrases like that trigger a bunch of negative things that will be counterproductive to their chilling out.

    And really, "calm down" and "chill out" are phrases that tend to escalate things rather than smooth them over -- regardless of the genders involved, and regardless of whether anyone was freaking out to begin with. Everyone knows it just makes crazy people angrier -- but especially if someone is completely calm, being told to calm down will irritate the shit out of them, both because it's insulting AND it frustrates them to know that you're irrational and cannot be dealt with reasonably. Similarly, NO ONE is "cute" when they're angry unless you want to die. The best response I've found to deal with someone who's worked up is to proceed as if you assume the best from them and make no comment on their behavior; if you stay calm and take them in good faith despite their outburst and don't insult them, they'll calm down too. At least most of the time -- and when they don't, it's not like telling them to calm down would have helped.

    Don't throw around words like "bitch" or "cunt" or make rape jokes unless you know, REALLY know, the person in particular doesn't mind it. Inappropriate humor from friends I've known for years isn't hurtful to me, for example, but I'm wary of anything that sounds misogynistic from people I'm not very close to because too often people have turned out to be seriously misogynistic. People have different comfort levels, so it's just best to be cautious. "Bitch" doesn't bother me at all, for example, and "cunt" barely bothers me coming from most people because it's uncommon that I hear a real misogynistic intent behind it -- I'm younger and most people in my generation seem to use it in the same throw-away manner you'd say "asshole," but older people more often seem to mean it in a nastier way -- but some people are very bothered by those things and not unreasonably. There's never a situation in which you really MUST say bitch or cunt or make a rape joke to someone you don't know very well, so it's not a huge deal in practice.

    That's all I've got right now, though I know there's more I'm forgetting at the moment...
    posted by Nattie at 11:20 PM on September 15, 2010 [16 favorites]

    More than a grain of truth from the Onion.
    posted by brujita at 12:30 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

    1) Whatever you have to say, say it to my face and not my breasts.

    2) Don't tell me what important life decision I'll 'change my mind about!' I guarantee I've given the matter more thought than anyone else and the consequences will be mine.

    3) "How old were you when you had your child, twelve?!" I suppose it's nice that you think I look younger than my age, but you just called me a victim, my ex a pedophile and my daughter the product of statutory rape. Nice!

    4) The words "...for your age" don't belong at the end of a compliment.

    Good question. It's enlightening/infuriating to be reminded again of how commonplace these experiences are.
    posted by Space Kitty at 1:32 AM on September 16, 2010

    I dislike being told that I'm "feisty" in the context of an argument. This word is not applied to men. The only other times I hear the word are when people talk about a spirited horse they want to tame. I'm not a horse! The implied patronization and sexualization are unwelcome.

    I would much rather someone call me "passionate," or say that I argue well.
    posted by pluot at 5:33 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Before explaining something technical or mechanical to anyone, ask the person to describe the situation, or ask them (in a straightforward, non-leading manner) "how much experience do you have with XYZ?" so that you can gage their level of comprehension and tailor your explanation accordingly.

    tl;dr: Don't make gender-based assumptions. That guy might not know an allen wrench from Woody Allen and that woman might be rebuilding a '72 Beetle.
    posted by applemeat at 6:45 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Seconding the "you're too pretty to [be a biochemist]". Ugh, WTF? I've never known how to reply to that other than to just walk away.
    posted by halogen at 6:45 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I can tell you something it's never safe to say to me:

    "Calm down."

    FOR SRS.

    The worst was when Mr.Sonika said this to me when I was car-sick and on the verge of hurling. When we got out of said car, I snapped at him and asked him "Has that EVER gone well for you?" and he had to admit, that no, it hadn't. He was, in his way, trying to be supportive, but what it reads as is "you're overreacting." Just say something actually supportive (even "hang in there" is better, IMHO) instead.

    If I don't know you, and you pass me on the street and you think I'm attractive, you may make eye contact and smile. The second you open your mouth and say ANYTHING in that circumstance, I am mentally speeding up to get as far away from you as I can. Most men don't get how honestly *threatening* this is. Likewise, even if we're friends, don't tell me to smile.

    I'm not saying to "treat me like one of the guys," but in general: if you wouldn't say it to a man, don't say it to a woman.

    I'm lucky in that my pregnancy has been relatively private - I'm not showing yet - and the men I've told have been very supportive and wonderful. But yes, the only acceptable comments are "Congratulations!" and, if she is telling you about it, "When are you due?" is ok. Questions about the gender of the baby are normal, but it can be tough to explain if you don't *want* to find out and also, if she's only in her first trimester, she obviously doesn't *know* yet. That's not really offensive, to me, but it is good to keep in mind so you don't come off as clueless.
    posted by sonika at 7:32 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

    I have a relative who likes to describe everything in business jargon, and he made the mistake of talking about a particular elderly woman's worth to her husband in terms of "stock". He couldn't understand why she was offended by that comment, when in his mind it was a compliment. I explained to him that he should never talk about a woman as if she were chattel to be bought and sold as a man pleases. There's a long and ugly history of exactly that happening.

    Also, you should never make any comment that implies women set out to "catch" men, or if there's an income disparity with a couple that the woman must be a golddigger or "wear the pants in the family".
    posted by Soliloquy at 8:37 AM on September 16, 2010

    " Young lady" is how one addresses a child who is misbehaving, not a grown-up.
    posted by brujita at 9:59 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Also, you should never make any comment that implies women set out to "catch" men

    THIS. I was having a conversation with a guy I met on OKCupid and at one point he said, "Why did you have a breast reduction if you're trying to find a man?"

    Well, I would hope that a man would find my brain more interesting than my breasts.

    Any comment along the lines of: "You'll never get a man dressed like that/looking like that/acting like that/etc." is completely unacceptable.

    If a man isn't interested in who I am as a whole, then fuck him.
    posted by elsietheeel at 9:59 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Don't ask me if my daughter has a boyfriend. She's gay.
    Do not refer to me as divorced. It's been 10 years, can't I just be single now?
    Don't tell me to relax.
    If I take off my jacket, don't ask me if I'm having a hot flash. (NOT ALL WOMEN HAVE NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE WITH MENOPAUSE.)
    Do not bash your ex-wife to me, holy mackeral.
    Don't talk about anyone's sexuality, bathroom habits, gastric issues, hygiene, or body parts (including yours and mine) to me unless we are very close (and then, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, come sit right next to me!)
    posted by thinkpiece at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

    Mod note: Few comments removed. If you are not addressing the OP please go to email or metatalk
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2010

    If you're ever tempted to start an enjoyable, abstract, spontaneous conversation about child molestation and/or rape, especially about how it's mostly imaginary or the victim's fault, keep in mind that one in six women have been raped; that one in four women were sexual molested as children. And a lot of the rest of us have had woodgy experiences. Forcing me to TELL you what has happened to me before I can get out of the conversation, and then explaining to me that I still weirdly overreacted, is SHIT. (Yes, personal experience.)

    (Like many things in this thread, that's not necessarily gender-specific. But I've only been one sex in this lifetime.)

    Don't try to pick up women in locations that aren't pick-up spots. I got on the subway to get from point A to point B, not to find a date. And by the way . . . when this would happen to me, was when I was sixteen. I may have looked 22, but I was a sheltered teenager and found it scary and confusing, not flattering.

    Ten-gazillionthing don't tell me to smile. Actually, the only time in my life a stranger told me to smile was the day my aunt died. I still want to punch him in the nuts.

    Nthing "Don't assume I'm heterosexual because I have a husband". That's not so much "don't do this awful thing" as "do a good thing"; I think it's a reasonable assumption, but it sort of sucks to be invisible.

    And I'm sort of getting tired of being asked if it's an advantage (or a disadvantage) to be a woman in science. Newsflash: my field is female dominated. My lab is predominantly female. Being female is the norm.
    posted by endless_forms at 2:55 PM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

    What are some not-obvious things you can't/shouldn't say to women?

    Anything this side of "there is a piano about to fall on your head" is a potential problem.*

    All interactions are a matter of context. Once your words leave your mouth their intent is subject to interpretation and their literal meaning may or may not obtain. The exact same thing that annoys one person will please another. Your words can and will be interpreted - positively, negatively or neutrally - depending on the circumstance.

    *Even that could be a problem.
    posted by vapidave at 3:19 PM on September 16, 2010

    "are you crying?"

    "you sound like you are about to cry"

    "you did an awesome job at xyz (at work). my only suggestion would be to smile more"

    "you can't/won't/don't understand (because you are a woman)"

    "you are good at it, (because) women are generally good at it"

    "where is your husband" or "did you come here with your husband" (without checking with someone else whether I have one or not)

    "do you have a boyfriend" or "howcome a pretty girl like you doesn't have a boyfriend"
    (from people not eligible to be boyfriends- way older, married etc... dont ask this to a 20 yr old if you are 60 but if you have a crush on someone you know, by all means, go for it)

    "all women are (this/that)" (worst one, imho)

    "howcome you don't yearn to have kids. its biology."

    "you should have kids. if you wait longer till you are older, you'll have trouble at childbirth"

    "what are your future plans? any plans to get married?"

    "what size are you?"

    "how old are you?"

    final tip- everyone's got just one pair of eyes. On the face, not the chest.
    posted by xm at 3:27 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

    Don't refer to any one of us as "a female".

    I want to try and explain a bit about this one. For me, this is something that was drilled into us in the (US) Army; from what I've seen the other services do the same. Saying "men" or "women" when you have to distinguish by sex gets you looks, so everyone defaults to "male" and "female".

    *I* understand it's uncouth in non-military contexts and I've mostly broken myself of the habit, but people (both men and women) who were in the service, along with those who were raised by military parents, or have military friends, or whatever, might have picked it up and not clicked that it's weird in the civilian world.
    posted by Evilspork at 4:02 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

    (not that that explains everyone who uses "female", but hopefully a good chunk of offenders)
    posted by Evilspork at 4:11 PM on September 16, 2010

    98% of the time, never, ever ask a new SO how many people they've slept with before. The conversation:

    1. Does not matter.
    2. Does not end well.

    2% of the time, it ends just fine. Bonus fact: you won't know if you hit that 2% for quite, quite some time after that chat.
    posted by talldean at 4:20 PM on September 16, 2010

    Alright, I feel kinda bad for the OP, because I'm about to muddy the waters a bit...

    People have been speaking out about "don't treat the subway/supermarket/library/bookstore/etc. as a pickup spot," be honest, I personally WOULDN'T mind it.

    That is, I wouldn't mind it if I was in a frame of mind for it, or if flirting with someone naturally grew out of a conversation.

    Really, what it's about is about picking up on the nonverbal cues a woman is sending. If a woman -- or, for that matter, a man -- has head down in a book, looks concerned about something, or otherwise looks like there's a lot going on with them in their heads, then...they are probably not going to be in the frame of mind for a flirty chat. If you exchange a few words with someone, or if you still try to strike up a conversation and they just give you one and two-word answers, or they're focused on something else and they turn their attention right back to whatever they're focused on after you talk to them, then...they're definitely not in the mood for a flirty chat. And -- trying to persist in talking to someone who isn't in the mood for a flirty chat is really annoying.

    And then there are the cases where someone may just be in the mood for a plain old chat, but not a flirty one. Here's an example that happened to me -- some younger guy on the subway struck up a conversation with me about something; he'd just randomly run into someone he knew from grade school on the subway, and he was just really excited about the coincidence and just turned to me and blurted out the story. I thought it was cute, and I shared a similar coincidence with him. And then we just started talking about coincidences in general, and I was enjoying myself because of the whole "isn't life funny sometimes" thing is intellectually interesting. But that didn't mean I wanted to flirt -- and that's why, when he patted my knee while talking to me, that's when I shut down the conversation. A woman who's talking about something random with you may just feel chatty, but chatty doesn't always mean flirty.

    However, sometimes if you're having a really good chat with someone, and she maybe taps YOU on the arm while she's talking...that may be flirting. Still a good idea to treat cautiously, though -- rather than jumping straight to "so, let's get off this subway and get dinner now", maybe just a simple handshake and introduce yourself, and say, "so, this was an enjoying conversation, may I give you my card?"

    Sorry to muddy the waters, but I just saw a lot of people completely ruling out the non-bar-as-potential-meeting-place, and I'm not a bar person, so y'all were ruling out my only options. It's more of a "tread with caution" rather than a "no-fly" zone.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 PM on September 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

    I have a new one! Don't tell a random stranger that her food purchase is unhealthy. I got this one a day or two ago, while putting a half gallon of 2% milk in my cart. The gentleman was genuinely concerned. He should have kept it to himself. This can be extrapolated to the general: don't hand out unsolicited advice to people you don't know in situations where anything beyond "excuse me" is probably too much.
    posted by SMPA at 6:23 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

    MetaTalk thread.
    posted by nomadicink at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2010

    If I don't know you or we just met, don't ask me if I have a boyfriend. If I awkwardly say no, DO NOT ASK ME WHY I DON'T. Especially don't say, "Why not, a pretty girl like you?" I can't even express how uncomfortable that makes me.
    posted by insectosaurus at 7:41 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

    This flips with age I think. While for a youngish 15-29 year old unmarried women this seems to be aging, it's still a sign of respect. I'd say that this is one of those rules folks will forever getting wrong and the best thing to do is simply not be offended by it.

    The question isn't how not to be offended by it, but how to avoid offending others and/or not assuming things about the person which might put them in an uncomfortable situation where they have to correct you. When I hand the cashier a discount card they always thank Mrs. N. even though there are no rings on my fingers, I don't share that last name and, I'm not married to them. People presume a whole hellva lot based on little, or no information and, for the most part I don't think much of it. But, I'm in a long term relationship, but not married and, I use my maiden name. I'm not a ma'am I'm a Ms.
    posted by squeak at 8:43 AM on September 17, 2010

    Mod note: this is in metatalk. Any answer that is not in the form of "here is something that answers the OPs question" should go there.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:20 AM on September 17, 2010

    Don't ask me questions about what women like/prefer/think about X. Women comprise 51% of the US population, and we're not all psychically connected. Furthermore, if I deign to respond to your already-somewhat-insulting question, and my response does not fit into your preconceived idea of what the answer should be, don't tell me that I'm an outlier, or somehow ill-equipped to call myself a "real woman."

    Don't call me "cute." I'm not six anymore.

    I am not a very stereotypically feminine woman, but sometimes I do do "girly" things like window-shopping or reading Cosmo or drinking fruity cocktails. Don't make fun of me. It makes me feel like you only like me because I "act like a man," and that any deviation from masculine behavior is something to be ashamed of. Well, maybe reading Cosmo is something to be ashamed of, but not because it's girly.
    posted by coppermoss at 11:12 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

    If I don't know you or we just met, don't ask me if I have a boyfriend. If I awkwardly say no, DO NOT ASK ME WHY I DON'T. Especially don't say, "Why not, a pretty girl like you?" I can't even express how uncomfortable that makes me.
    Nthing this to an insane degree. Except, in my case, it was asked repeatedly over a few years by my mother. After I moved away, to a military base, it became, "Do you have a boyfriend yet?" implying that I should have been looking at my fellow military members as prospects.

    Also Nthing the smile thing. It's even worse when you're told to do so by a customer, because now I have to sell you something instead of killing you with my eyes, or by chief in passing (correcting him here would have been like telling off a wrathful deity).

    Adding also that if you've seen me before, with my natural hair color, and now see that I've dyed it, don't make overly obvious comments. And if it does look bad, from a coworker standpoint, gently, -gently-, imply that you, for example, "Like the color, but it seems a little intense - perhaps flourescent." I would have taken that well. Not "Oh. My. God. Were you burned at the stake in a past life?"
    posted by DisreputableDog at 5:19 PM on September 17, 2010

    If you are talking to a couple, don't direct all of the comments to the man and ignore the woman entirely.

    When I was in South America, I deferred to my girlfriend to give the order a couple of times and I noticed that waiter would keep talking to me even as she was answering him. After two times, I realized that in that culture, the waiter was being polite, and it's my job to order. And anyway, she is no business of his. I realize how foreign this would be to people who have spent most of their lives in a Western culture.

    The important point of my story is the recognition that cultural mores are arbitrated by the individual. You'll have to decide for yourself what makes sense to you based on your experience. If you want more information about what you should and shouldn't be doing, I suggest being attentive to the reactions of women and your goals of expression. Finding the right synthesis when these conflict is part of the moral responsibility of the individual.
    posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:15 PM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

    Don't comment on a woman's age, even if you think for sure you know what it is...

    Because you might be wrong.

    True story: There was a lady in my Masters class who mentioned that she had gotten her Bachelors ten years ago. Sometime later I asked her if she had done something else before that and that was why she had gotten it quite late. (I thought she was about 40). Unfortunately, she was only 33... awkwardness ensued.
    posted by fallsauce at 9:46 PM on September 17, 2010

    Seconding the "you're too pretty to [be a biochemist]". Ugh, WTF? I've never known how to reply to that other than to just walk away.

    Yeah, hate it when that happens.

    Some things that bug me are...

    "You're a woman who likes [metal/rock/etc]? Awesome!"

    "What are you talking about?" "Guy talk." Arghowurhoweu. Okay to be fair this hasn't happened to me since high school, but it was pretty infuriating.

    Don't order for me.

    If you're a close friend or SO and I confide in you about some potentially-sexually-harassing thing a guy did, don't trivialize it or brush it off as no big deal. Terribly insensitive.

    On the flip side, I dislike it when someone of either gender expresses dissaproval at me for some stereotypically female behaviour. "Why do you [cook/clean/etc] for your SO? That's so [sexist/stereotypical/outdated/etc]. Why would you want to be a housewife?"
    posted by biochemist at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: Thank you for your feedback. I learned a tremendous amount of simple, concrete, not-obvious things that I wouldn't have learned or imagined otherwise. I've learned that I am totally unacquainted with how it feels to:
    • be lumped into a group and therefore treated as a novelty ("'scuse me, can I get your quaint male opinion on this?")
    • be pestered so much about staying single and childless (if anything, people are envying my bachelordom)
    • have so much pressure on me about my looks or my weight
    • have society cry out for a 24/7 smile from me
    • be sexually harassed (not once have I ever been sexually harassed)
    • have my feelings invalidated or brushed off as silly, petty, or weak (actually, I have, but methinks women get it more)
    • be told to act unlike my gender ("you need to really put on your lipstick and miniskirt and woman-it-up")
    In the few days since I started this thread, I already find myself getting along better with women.
    posted by pauldonato at 10:12 AM on September 18, 2010 [13 favorites]

    seconding peacheater/Space Kitty/bilabial/sculpin:

    Please do not refer to breasts, nor stare at them during a conversation. Also, please do not slyly glance at them, lest you become *that* man.
    posted by onegoodthing at 2:55 AM on September 20, 2010

    This one is a bit vague and falls into (like everything else, really) treating people like individuals, but possibly worth mentioning because a guidance councilor harassed me about this during my youth, so maybe it's just that big a stereotype: women, too, can be introverts. Avoid saying anything suggesting that they should have more extroverted feelings because they are female. Don't assume we all want to be, or should be, more social than the average man, or that it's unhealthy not to be.

    Another thing worth mentioning is being more careful about physical communication. I have been backed into corners before by annoyed men who probably didn't mean anything by this beyond basic intimidation and would have done it to guys too, but "probably didn't mean anything" loses against the small chance I'm wrong. I cut contact in a hurry with people like this; it's a different set of alarm bells.
    posted by vienaragis at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2010

    And never ask "Why you're so sensitive?" after making rude comments or jokes she finds insulting.
    posted by InterestedInKnowing at 4:28 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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