On Valentine's Day, a Toronto teen who attends a Catholic school distributed a letter about "inner beauty" to female classmates against the administration's wishes. Now, the student's been suspended and he wants his name cleared, claiming he was just trying to be a nice guy. Writing girls letters telling them how they should act is not being a "nice guy," it's being another guy telling girls how they should act in a world full of guys telling girls how to act. And despite arguably good intentions, letters like this are not helping.
Seventeen-year-old senior Paul Gamille printed 136 copies of his proclamation of What Guys Actually Find Attractive, one for each girl in his class, and handed them out during lunch on Valentine's Day. In the letter, Gamille referred to himself as "a man of dignity" who promised to share with girls "the qualities that really matter in a woman, and what really makes a woman attractive." From there, it goes into Ignatius J. Reilly territory pretty quickly. But while the first paragraph sets up some lofty expectations for itself, it's the second paragraph where the letter gets problematic. He writes,
The people this message concerns are the young women of this school, and of the world. In particular, it concerns the silent ones, the intelligent ones, the ones that don't talk about people behind their backs, the ones that guys don't flock to in droves, the ones that don't dress in revealing clothing, the ones who would love to be in love, and the ones that are continually disappointed in their appearance because the only thing they have to compare themselves to are the women that have been put on pedestals by our society. This message also concerns those of you who may consider yourselves the so called "opposite" to the demographic I just described. The ones who do dress in revealing clothing, and the ones who try to fit in with the crowd.
Hoo boy. I can tell where this is going.
Sure enough, in the next paragraph, he lets all the ladies know that they're all beautiful, just the way they are, and they don't have to take their clothes off or wear makeup or follow fashions in order to get Nice Guys like him to like them. Of course. Just be your natural, nerdy selves, because that's how ladies are naturally, right? Modest?
School officials suspended Gamille for two days after the incident, saying they didn't approve the letter's broadcast based on the judgmental language in the second paragraph.
Gamille is not the first to assume that the only reason that a girl would dress provocatively, wear makeup, or follow fashion is to attract men, or that the natural, comfortable state of a good lady is a buttoned up one. He's also not the first to assume that, as a man, he has insight into what all "good" men are thinking, and that "good" men prefer "good" women; that is, women who are true to their natural, buttoned up, quiet glasses wearing Rachel Leigh Cook pre-Freddie Prinze Jr. makeover receiving selves.
I blame this phenomenon on that scene from Love Actually when the guy who would later go on to star in The Walking Dead tells his best friend's wife (played by Kiera Knightly) that he is in love with her using home made tagboard signs. And also that fucking Bruno Mars song.
I realize the irony in writing something wherein I tell men to stop telling women to do things, but boys, please stop trying to make girls feel better by writing them letters telling them that you find them beautiful just the way they are and expecting it to blow their damn minds. That sort of stunt is not a generous gesture; it's a backdoor brag, an attempt to draw attention to how amazing and special you are for seeing in them what no one else sees. Further, assuming that your personal approval would make a girl feel better about herself is perpetuating the damaging notion that girls should base their senses of self-worth primarily on what boys think of them. And, at the end of the day, a boy's call for an end to girls dressing provocatively to attract boys still a boy telling girls what to do and how to act. A letter like this with truly altruistic aim would remind girls that they should do things that make them feel good about themselves and just ignore what other people think rather than draw attention to what the author thinks of all of them, each and every one of them. Even though Gamille may not have realized that's what he was doing with his letter, a lecture on inner beauty from a boy is the last thing girls need.