“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” host John Oliver covered International Women’s Day in 2016 and made an interesting remark after showing a clip of then-Fox News host Greta van Susteren thanking American men for being better than the Taliban. Oliver commented, “There may be no more fitting tribute to the state of women internationally than someone giving men credit for doing basically nothing.” Oliver’s remark points out the outlandish irony in a woman celebrating International Women’s Day by celebrating the fact that some men are refraining from imposing absurd restrictions on and murdering women simply because they are women. Cheers, fellow women; apparently the best way to recognize women is to thank men for not murdering us. This celebration of men’s decency is nothing new, but it absolutely should cease to be a trend. Somehow, when a man, usually via social media, graciously allows a woman to exist in her body as she so chooses, he becomes some sort of revolutionary role model for men across the country and, occasionally, the world. Why do we herald these men as heroes of the modern era, brave warriors supporting women, simply for posting on Instagram that their significant other is beautiful, regardless of her size/curves/physical traits?
To dissect this fad, we need to examine its roots: that the idea that a man can love or appreciate a woman despite physical “flaws” is somehow a novel concept. Of course, this is absurd. Women don’t owe their partners physical perfection or beauty, and saying that you love someone despite physical imperfections makes the insinuation that although they are lacking in some way, you are brave and kind enough to stay with them despite those aesthetic shortcomings. What a revolutionary statement; “I love you, even though you’re not physically good enough for me.” Somehow, I doubt that will ever be a Hallmark card. There is no trophy for loving your significant other, and you shouldn’t be looking for external praise for accepting your partner’s body as it is. Yes, society and evolution have conditioned us to value more highly people who are societally aesthetically appealing, but that’s not an excuse for you to seek some sort of emotional compensation for loving your partner, even though their body isn’t societally perfect.
On a more broad scale, let’s all stop gushing over men when they act like decent human beings. Yes, we want to thank them for, say, holding a door when they approach one before you or offering to share a few French fries from their plate, but the idea that women especially should be praising men for not being horrible is ridiculous. I shouldn’t feel apologetic when setting boundaries with a partner for what I will and won’t do with them, and I shouldn’t feel relieved and thankful when they don’t ignore a lack of consent to something. I shouldn’t feel grateful when a man doesn’t send me a nude picture or demand one from me, and I shouldn’t be impressed by a man who tells me upfront that he values and prioritizes consent. These should be givens in every situation. Respecting boundaries and consent need to be mandatory parts of everyday life. Telling your partner they look beautiful shouldn’t come with an asterisk or an implied, “despite your [specific physical attribute].” Basic instances of decency ought to be normal and regular enough that we don’t feel the need or obligation to celebrate them. Until then, I suppose, congratulations to all of the men who are better than members of the Taliban or who accept their partners’ bodies or who are just generally not horrible, for being decent human beings. And no, we still don’t owe you anything besides a “thank you” for your decent behavior.
Main image courtesy of Unsplash.