My 13-year-old son attended a writing workshop last week. When I went to pick him up, and peeked into the classroom, I noticed that he was at a table full of girls around his age.
So, a bit later in the car, I teased him a little.
"I see you were sitting with all the cute girls."
I expected some sort of bashful reply, but heard this instead:
"That's kind of creepy."
"Creepy? Why?" I asked.
"A grown man shouldn't be calling teenage girls cute," he explained.
Yes, he has a point, I guess. Men have to be careful with their adjectives.
Women can say whatever they want about kids, especially girls: "Your daughter is so beautiful!" or "That blouse looks great on her."
No, men can't say those things for fear of it being misconstrued. Even with the most innocent of intentions, it's best not to make any aesthetic statements about children, whether you know them or not.
When my daughter was a toddler, a woman in the store said to me, "Your daughter is a beautiful little girl. She's going to be a real heart breaker some day," and I took it as a sincere compliment. Not long after that, a male clerk at a hardware store said pretty much the same thing, but it made me angry and suspicious. I didn't shop there for years after that.
So, not wanting to appear to be a dirty old man, I suppose I'll have to stay neutral on appearances. And not just for girls, but boys too. Even grown men and women.
In a perfect world, we would never favor one physical attribute over another. It would make no difference if you were tall or short, dark skinned or light, male or female. Instead, we would see what's on the inside and judge each other based on our character and values. I wish I lived in that perfect world.
I'm still not convinced that "cute" is a strong enough word to qualify as creepy. To me, "cute" is something that is charming or amusing. Such as, "That new OK GO video was cute, but I think they're running out of ideas." Or, "What a cute little kitten, but I really don't need another cat in the house."
Next time, I'll tell my son, "I see you were sitting with the smart girls," which I hope he does. Or, "I see you were sitting with the loud girls," because sometimes they can be.
Or maybe I just won't say anything at all.