His & Hers: A shifting definition of “reputation”

Photo of flowers in NYC.

Flowers have a reputation for being pretty.

Here’s what comes to mind when I think about reputation, first related to a woman, then related to a man:

  • Rizzo from Grease.
  • A nameless businessman.

Huh. Interesting.

Reputation + Woman

My first thoughts, as a woman, about women, is related to sexuality. Even though I’m a pretty modern lady. I’m even a feminist lady. I’m even someone who gets mighty mad when conversations turn judgmental about what choices a woman makes about her body. But still, I am a product of my culture.

In the novel I’ll be revising this weekend for hours on end, several of the characters are women of a certain reputation. As in, they have had many relationships, encounters, pregnancies, abortions. What will people think of these women? How will they care about them? What may make it easy to dismiss them?

It’s easy to say, Don’t care what people think! What does it matter? Screw ’em all. Except it does matter, because what people think about women influences the legislature they write and the ridiculous bills they pass.

Reputation + Man

Then when I think about the word reputation and man together, I just get a faceless suit who has built some sort of professional bio that people can recite when he walks by. Oh, Bob? He built that department through years of emails and meetings. I really respect him.

Inspired by The Daily Post.

22 thoughts on “His & Hers: A shifting definition of “reputation”

  1. Hi Lauren! Great post on calling out the double standard that “reputation” has for men and women. However, given the two choices, I’d rather be a woman “of a certain reputation” (that may be colorful and at least interesting, which people have an opinion of one way or another) than some faceless guy “with a reputation” (who is generic and potentially unmemorable). Either way, the “reputation” may not necessarily even describe accurately the one who has it, and is more often than not a reflection about the person who is willing to accept it instead of getting to know the person with the reputation and figuring out who they are for themselves.

    • Hi Marci!

      I absolutely agree on every count. A “reputation” is a sort of short-hand for thinking you know someone, when of course there is no substitute for actually knowing someone. And, it can get ridiculous. I remember in high school my mom was alarmed when I brought home a friend who wore black eyeliner. After my friend left, my mom gave me a talk about how people will associate me with whom I hang out with. I think because my friend wore eyeliner my mom assumed some stuff about who she was. It was nuts. I appreciate your comment, Marci.

  2. “There are worse things I could do than go with a boy…or two”
    I can sing this entire song word for word with gusto. Rizzo was my favorite.

    There was a commercial running around the Internet that perfectly illustrates the chasm between our society’s perception of characteristics in men and the same characteristics in women: http://www.upworthy.com/nailed-it-this-ad-calls-out-5-ridiculous-double-standards-women-face-in-less-than-60-seconds-2
    Sadly, it was for Pantene, a product pushing another stereotype: long, strong, shiny hair is the ideal womanly hair. But that’s another can of worms.

    • Yeah, Rizzo was wise beyond her years… I’m not surprised she was your fave, because she was so super cool… Can we have a Grease sing-a-long?

      I watched that commercial and enjoyed it, but then, like you (perhaps), felt conflicted about a beauty company leveraging sexist stereotypes for sales.

  3. I guess the word ‘reputation’ narrows the mind. It goes hand in hand with stereotypes and judgements. And it’s full of something fake and impersonal. However most of us still care about it. Especially now in the times of social networks, where everyone can create any reputation without showing the real face. Each person is so special, so manifold, that it’s just impossible to pretend to know him or her, saying something about the reputation. Especially when one don’t know the person well enough and the reasons for the particular behavior.

    • Jenny, you make a great point. If we feel like our reputation isn’t our own – that it’s not in our control – we feel powerless. That may be one reason why we do care what people think. We want to be understood, want to be seen how we want to be seen.

    • Yes, Airlia. I agree, if I understand you correctly, that we as a culture have a long way to go in terms of seeing one another as whole people, not merely reductions (or reputations, if you will).

      • Exactly, reputation is just another form of our prejudiced cultures. Its everywhere, books, movies, TV-shows. I don’t know if like me you like watching movies and shows from different nationalities, but all communities seem to share this misinterpretation of being careful and choosing the right people in our lives.
        I think we should learn not judge others too easily, either in a good or a bad way.

      • Yes, we do ourselves and other people a disservice by judging them rashly. Life is complicated, and most people have understandable reasons for doing what they do, when you get down to it.

  4. I like your thoughts and writing style 🙂

    Another thing I think about when it comes to women and reputations is that it’s almost impossible to be liked AND respected. While women often have to choose one or the other, men can generally get away with being both. Oh those interesting workplace dynamics 🙂

    Keep up the fun writing!

  5. The double standard has been around since, well, probably since time began. Reputation is one of many words that have different connotations when applied to gender, I suspect. I like your interpretation of the prompt, applying it to the women in your writing.

  6. I think the issue is that the word “reputation” is multi-faceted all on its own. When I hear reputation in general isolation, or even when generally attached to a person, gender-known, I don’t get the mental connotation of a woman that gets around, or a man who built the department by hard sweat.

    Instead, I think about it in the literal sense of “what people think of that person.” Only with additional information would my thoughts shade toward promiscuity, negative impressions, or the like. I suppose I’m an idealist in that sense.

    • D. Emery, yes, the word reputation is in itself not attached to anything. We could be talking about a restaurant or an advertising firm, too. Or a brand of clothes (this sock-maker has a reputation for keeping your toes really warm). I was free associating on the word and noticed where my thinking wandered… Thanks for sharing your thinking, too.

  7. Lauren,

    You bring up an inserting aspect of the word that hadn’t crossed my mind today. I agree with your thoughts. I would add that i believe as women it is our job to redefine the reputation of ourselves. After all no one else is going to do it for us as reputations and stereotypes (while highly generalized and normally untrue) serve their purpose in terms of maintaining the status quo.


    • This is one of THE questions in our culture now, and I try to be careful not to take on what ultimately may be the responsibilities of others. For example, is it the burden of a woman to convince a man she is equal if he believes otherwise? Or is he responsible for his own beliefs? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Harvey.

  8. When I was (much) younger, Mom would say, “What other people think is important,” and I would counter with, “those who love me won’t care, and I don’t care what others think.” With increased age I realize that our reputations are important in many ways, often because their messages reflect on others near and dear to us. I would not want the nameless “others” to think less of my parents or my children because I chose to act rashly. (Although my rash decisions these days most often involve wearing clothes that don’t go together, or eating too much dessert!) – Fawn

    • Yes, I’m all about too much dessert these days, too! This is a tough one – the question of how much to care. On the one hand, what others think usually has little to do with our lives, truly. Also, there is only so much we can do to convince another person otherwise, if they’ve already made a decision about who they think we are. Yet, if a culture starts to swing one way in terms of thinking of a group of people one way or another, a sort of collective judgment, then we are in trouble.

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