Is it a compliment or is it sexist? Flowchart for dummies.



At least that’s what the Daily Mailers are already calling it. (By the way when exactly did the suffix ‘gate’ become a way to belittle an argument from the status of ‘meaningful debate’ to ‘silly feminists over-reacting’?)

Of course I’m referring to this week’s events in the land of commonplace sexism that is the internet, (society, the world, need I go on?) When Charlotte Proudman, a female barrister in human rights law at the Chambers of Michael Mansfield QC, objected to being complimented on her profile picture on the professional CV hosting website LinkedIn, the anti-feminist brigade had offensively branded her a ‘feminazi’ probably before they’d even found her on Twitter.

You can read up on the story in this Guardian article but basically the jist is that Charlotte Proudman received a message from Alexander Carter-Silk, a fellow lawyer via LinkedIn, who told her:

“I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture…You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.”

Proudman, who specialises in violence against women and girls and is currently undertaking academic research into female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK, responded by telling Carter-Silk she found his message offensive, misogynistic and that she was on LinkedIn for professional purposes rather than “to be objectified by sexist men”. She then posted a screenshot of the exchange onto her Twitter account with the caption:

“How many women @LinkedIn are contacted re physical appearance rather than prof skills?”

Here’s the original tweet:

Since calling out this sexist remark Proudman has been vilified on a multitude of media outlets for outing this man as a sexist. The Daily Mail went for the ‘Look! She’s a hypocrite’ tact:

Notably Proudman’s ‘ogling’ of men took place on Facebook which, and I will split hairs, is notably a social network for friends, and not on a professional network such as LinkedIn. But, sure, let’s glaze right over that very important different.

While others went with these imaginative, scathing and typically selective headlines:

Oh no! She’s murdering chivalry! She’s massacring the medieval practice of men being courteous to women by chastising a man for objectifying her! Yes, that’s the same thing!

On Radio 1’s Newsbeat yesterday I heard one person interviewed comment that, ‘If she’s taken the time to choose the best picture of herself to go on the site then she can’t moan about it being commented on’ – Ahh, it would appear that the ‘she was asking for it’ defense is alive and strong. Alive, strong and idiotic as per usual. Of course she has uploaded a reasonably good profile picture to LinkedIn! Do you have any idea how pointless it is to set up a LinkedIn page with no picture? You may as well not bother. She is advertising herself to potential employers, not potential harassers.

Here’s another popular opinion on the matter:

Yes, perhaps if a woman had complimented Proudman’s LinkedIn picture she might have responded differently. Perhaps she wouldn’t have felt so belittled if a female peer had been more impressed by her looks than her PhD in her male-dominated profession. Perhaps. We don’t know that though as, in the real world, where real things happen, really, she received this ‘compliment’ from a cis-gendered, white, presumably middle-to-upper class male. So, unfortunately, due to his high up place on the privilege scale it’s quite belittling rather than innocently complimenting. This isn’t to say that members from the same social group as you are given a free pass to objectify or ‘compliment’ in an inappropriate manner: inappropriate is inappropriate and we should know that without having to be sat on the social media naughty step.

Very quickly as ‘Compliment gate’ unfolded yesterday I started to see many people jumping to Carter-Silk’s defense rather then Proudman’s and barracking her for the abuse that he was receiving for ‘innocently complimenting’ her. Yes, poor Al’s been publicly named and shamed, and probably received some online abuse, but that’s his fault, not Proudman’s. She was merely cataloging yet another instance of the everyday accepted sexism that many women receive on a weekly if not daily basis, globally, regardless of their race, class, or whether or not they’re packing a PhD in Law. To assert that she should ‘put up with it’ is to say that any of us should be allowed to make somebody feel socially uncomfortable and objectified with no consequence. In fact Carter-Silk is actually ‘allowed’ to make Proudman feel that way, nobody’s stopping him, his rights haven’t been revoked. But if he is allowed to ‘compliment’ her then Proudman is equally allowed to rebuff this if it offends her. She is allowed to stand up to it, just as any other woman would or should be. And yet, she has been shamed equally to Carter-Silk, if not more-so, by many media outlets and individuals for refusing to be passive or silent in the face of objectification – as many media outlets and individuals would prefer women to behave.

But of course, women don’t just receive these ‘compliments’ from strangers on LinkedIn, they can be gifted in the workplace, on the bus, repeatedly on various social media sites or they can even be bellowed unexpectedly down your ear, in the street, at night. No, that’s not inappropriate or intimidating at all is it…

So, I just thought I’d throw my two pennies in with my easy-to-understand flowchart about how and when to give compliments appropriately as, apparently, a lot of us still need some coaching on this one.


Hopefully that clears things up if there’s anyone reading who’s ever seriously used the phrase, ‘it’s political correctness gone mad.’ But, if you’re still not sure, here’s my advice: Use your common sense. If you feel like you have to pre-cursor a ‘compliment’ with “this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but…” as Alexander Carter-Silk did, then you’re probably right and you probably shouldn’t say it.

4 thoughts on “Is it a compliment or is it sexist? Flowchart for dummies.

    • It upsets me too! In regard to this specific incident as well as others where women are told that by their actions they were, ‘asking for it’. If a woman is literally ‘asking for it’, then that’s consent, and there’s no problem! But the phrase isn’t meant literally as women are never ‘asking’ to be objectified or abused. Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed!

      • I totally agree. I feel so powerless sometimes. I read a post some weeks ago about tips you could use if someone bothers you in the streets but honestly, I don’t like the idea of dribbling or screaming like I am crazy just to make the person leave. Moreover, we often say we need to educate teenage boys but I don’t get why we don’t speak about education when we talk about adult men. Sometimes I feel like people are deaf.

      • I’ve seen similar posts telling women to cut their hair short so it’s not easily grabbed or to wear clothes that won’t ‘attract attention’ – policing possible victims rather than perpetrators. I agree that this sort of education mustn’t be exclusive for young boys, but for all children, as well as adults who have grown up in an archaic society. It’s on everyone to fix the world, so everybody needs to educate themselves/be educated too 🙂

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