“Cute” Is Patronizing.


See? This is cute.

Listen folks, I may or may not have had a few glasses of champagne and this may or may not be a rant. Just so we’re kind of clear.

I loathe being referred to as “cute” and I absolutely abhor my writing being called “cute”. Why? Because “cute” is patronizing y’all. It’s patronizing as hell.  Sure, being called “cute” used to be a nice thing, but around age 14 it stops being nice and starts being repressive. At age 14, “cute” hits its own form of puberty and turns from light fluffiness to ugly patronizingness.

At least, 14 is when I first remember feeling like “cute” was no longer a desirable adjective to be called. “Cute” was what all the popular girls called you when they really meant, “not cool”.  “Cute” was what boys called you right before qualifying it with “ but not hot”. “Cute” was what your art teacher called your final project when she really meant, “derivative and without vision”.  “Cute” was what your English teacher called the poem you wrote in iambic pentameter when he really meant, “lovesick teens are the worst”. “Cute” is what your Mother called the homecoming dress you had previously loved and then promptly had to trash. Around the age of 14 “cute” stops being cute and morphs into degrading, minimizing, dismissive, and patronizing. “Cute” means “Cute…but….” Once you hit puberty and meander your way into adulthood, “cute” always has a “but” attached and it is that implied “but” that is so patronizing. “Cute” is less than, “cute” is not really good enough.

So, when someone, anyone, refers to my writing, which I’ve put assloads of effort and time into as “cute”, I tend to get a little pissy. Call me sensitive, call me insane, you won’t be the first or the last person to do so, but I know when I’m being patronized and dismissed as “less than” and I’m going to fight like hell against it. How am I going to fight against it? I’m going to drink champagne, write this blog post, and say “Screw you” to anyone who calls it “cute”. Puppies are cute. Babies are cute. So are Lisa Frank notebooks, Shirley Temple movies, kittens, stuffed animals, cupcakes, and penguins. Feel free to call all of those things cute. But don’t call my writing “cute” unless you are looking to start some stuff, because I will start some stuff. Ya dig?

58 thoughts on ““Cute” Is Patronizing.

  1. Holy smokes! I just wrote about how I was called “sexy” for the first time last week by an 80 yr old. Ha ha, I’ve always been called “cute” so I be become callous to its degradation, I suppose.

    • Listen, 80 year olds really know what they’re talking about, you know, because of all the experience, so you’re definitely sexy! 😉

  2. YES! Totally dig. My pet peeve is when I get the phrase “cute idea”, after writing a plan for a new program proposal at work. It’s one of the most dismissive, passive agressive, undermining backhanded compliments you can ever receive.

  3. Fellow member of the cute club here! Man do I share your pain! I do want to say, however, that as annoying as it is, I’ve come to terms with the cute crap. Here’s why: there are certain things that I can get away with saying on my blog when standing behind the cute curtain. Cute is non-threatening. Cute can get away with punching people in the face. So when we want to make a point, people are sometimes more open to hearing what we have to say instead of turning away and closing their ears. We have the power to resonate while flying under the radar. That can be a good thing! Anyway, cheers – I dig!

    • I must agree… To a point. I’ve had a lot of opportunities because I was considered “cute” aesthetically. It’s just enough to catch a man’s attention that you’re pretty but unthreatening enough to where wives and other females do not feel intimidated. But if someone calls my ideas, writings etc cute then Eff them. Cute?! Cute is that stupid grin you have on your face or that $5 haircut you got at Supercuts, my ideas should be revered not considered “cute”.

  4. That sure felt like a rant alright. But you do have every right. How dare they!
    To be honest, having spent most of my pre-30ies in Germany, I never really had that issue. “Cute” just doesn’t have a proper counterpart in German that means pretty/sweet and nice, but… at the same time. Plus, I don’t think I ever qualified as cute beyond age 6 or so. Definitely not past 14, in any case!

  5. I’m impressed you wrote this so well after a few glasses of champagne. The most you’d get out of me under equal conditions is a few mispelled adjectives and very few nouns to back ’em up. And forget the verbs. Who has time for verbs during a well-orchestrated rant? Well, apparently, you do 😀 (or was that smiley just too cute?)

  6. As usual, you Spinsters nail it. You’re dead right about ‘cute’, it’s patronizing and dismissive. Would you accept a friendly suggestion, though? Instead of getting miffed at comments like that, about it, you might just come back with… “Thanks for sharing. Your writing is….different.” (or substitute in ‘interesting’). And the pause, represented by the dots, is important.
    I enjoy your writing, ladies! Thank you. And you are most definitely not cute. You’re stunning.
    (PS if you want to give a glance sometime at my musings on the perils and pleasures of translation, there are several at http://interfluency.wordpress.com; the latest is on the habit of saying that one sports team that dominates another ‘owns’ the other team… how differently that’s expressed in Spanish… and why.) Gracias y saludos – thanks and best wishes – Pablo J. Davis

    • Thanks so much Pablo! I like your idea of coming back with something equally dismissive when people refer to me or my work as “cute”. Good call!

  7. Great post! I completely agree, I hate it when people call me cute. When they say “cute”, it usually translates to “has a great personality” – not pretty, or hot, or beautiful. Just cute. It’s like some kind of polite social etiquette for those times you can’t come up with a compliment.

  8. “Cute” was what all the popular girls called you when they really meant, “not cool”. Is that what that meant? I had held on to that “She’s sort of cute” comment by one of the popular cool girls with the perfect Farrah Fawcett hair for 37 years. I now have zero positive memories of high school.

    Great rant!

    • Sorry! But, if it makes you feel better, I bet that girls hair no longer looks anything like Farrah Fawcett’s and she’s probably a real grouch anyway.

  9. Oh heavens. I fucking hate cute, in any context. The blame for that probably lays with my guy friends from high school, however. One of their favorite idiotic maxims went like this: a cute girl will still be cute in the morning, while a pretty one never wakes up pretty.

    Okay, I’m sure it wasn’t phrased like that. I suck a teenage boy-isms, but the gist was still horrid and offensive, no matter how you parse it. It not only cast girls solely as bedpost notches, but also intimated that many of us rely on make up and “tricks” too much, so we should be attractive without working at it…but, you know, still attractive. Cute and pretty can both be such backhanded “compliments.” I hate that whole dichotomy.

    But, okay, more to the point. To call your writing cute? Bastards. No one is ever going to call a guy blogger’s writing cute. It’s so patronizing! (Especially in the way they phrased it, which was beyond condescending.) If you’re going to comment on someone’s writing, cute should never be used. Ugh.

  10. Mae you are sensitive. Mae you are insane. Mae you are pissy. Bitchin’ post. My daughter’s teen friends think I am cute for an old guy.

    • Thanks! And, if I were you, I wouldn’t pass up the chance to embarrass your daughter by yelling at her friends when they say you’re “cute”. 😉

  11. Feel you, girlfriend. When people say my blog is cute, I want to reply: “Did you mean awesome? completely addicting? fucking hilarious?!” Some people just don’t get it.

  12. I’m in a writing critique group and finally had to announce (with much the same voice-tone of pregnant woman tired of being asked personal question). “Don’t write cute as a critique. Underline what you like. Put a smiley or frowny face next to something. Better yet, give me some technical help…but do not write “Cute.”
    So, of course, now I get “Cute” all over my papers. I guess they think that’s cute.

  13. I love your post. As a short woman, I am often called “cute” – when all I want to be called is “sexy”, or “pretty”, or really almost anything else. Cute is for your eight year old sister, not me, thanks.

  14. Interesting! I think I was a little kid the last time someone called me cute. I think I’m just too tall for the word. If someone uses it to describe your work or your ideas though, that is definitely a slur, but the kind it’s hard to call someone on. Huh. I’ve never given this word thought before. Thanks!

  15. Perhaps the thing to do is to put on a cute pair of shoes, preferably pointy ones, and the next time someone calls you cute give them a good, swift kick. That will leave them with an uncomfortable association with the word “cute.”

    • Yes! I’m all about running a Pavlovian experiment on people who call my ideas “cute”, I bet after a few really painful experiences, they won’t think my ideas are “cute” anymore.

  16. I have to accept a charge of guilty. I was just at a conference and a female presenter was talking a mile a minute with many hand gestures. It was very informative and clever and the presentation, overall, kept the attention. I described it as “cute,” but I did not mean it in a dismissive way. I could think of no other word that properly encompassed the whole of the presentation. I’ll have to get out the thesaurus.

    I will, however, take your diatribe (it isn’t really) as a learning experience.

    Palo Gryca

  17. Great post! It’s funny because my blogging was also recently called “cute” in a very patronising way… I also work my ass off to produce funny and interesting pieces of writing. Being French, it’s even more work for me to write in English. So when my american cousin wrote on my facebook wall (she made her comment public the brrr!): “you’re so cute with you blog!” I also felt enraged.

    But sometimes it can really be a compliment. Most men I know would call a girl “cute” when they fall for her a little bit. Sadly, women who try to be funny are often referred to as “cute” as well. Like in “she’s making a joke, how cute.” It’s not cute, it’s FUNNY, okay?!

    • Totally! It’s all about the context- when people refer to my writing or my jokes as “cute” it drive me mental, however, when people refer to my outfit or look as “cute” I usually take it for a compliment unless they use a tone that indicated otherwise.

    • I use Dear, Honey, Love and Sweet as substitutes for a person’s name from time to time depending on my closeness to that person but never in a degrading way. When I use Cute (“That’s cute”) it’s either with a sense of condescension or when I’m talking to children.

      That’s my point of view though, as in, why I say them. I’d like to hear how women perceive these words.

  18. Oh, thank you! I’ve tried to explain this to my boyfriend, who once, and only once, called me cute… in, what I’m pretty sure, was a derogatory way. An argument erupted and now I’m no longer cute. But I’m not sure he ever “got it.” So I posted this on his Facebook. By the way, I just came across this blog and I love it. Love your strong, unique, witty voices. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Pingback: What? Not It! « spellcheckaholic

  20. Had to respond to this. I am cute. I have darned cute my whole life and it’s always TRULY bothered me; I had to try harder at work just to get a straight point across, in any way. Men have either “gooed at me” or dismissed me. But I have to tell you, I’ve met some real pigs who responded to my “cuteness” in ways that should only be called “thinly veiled violence.” Honestly. Real wackos. I’m older now, past 40, and have finally learned to say “screw people”. It’s a face. It’s a body shape. It’s the way God made me. The people who can’t handle it, are people who probably can’t handle lots of things. So I have come to embrace it – or what’s left of it LOL 😉 and have finally come to understand it for what it is: God given d*ckhead repellent. People will be more themselves around “cute” people because they see us as children. So, in that way, really cute people have a “window to the world” that others lack. They can feign it, but a lot of them are acting and that comes across. So embrace it. God put you in that frame for a reason. Don’t apologize or rant, just sigh gently and smile. If they are picking on you, they are leaving someone else alone.

    And yes, that was “cute.” Ha! Life is so darned screwball.. 🙂 Don’t let it embitter you. Nothing is worth that.

  21. Cute is a term that most of us have to deal with, male and female. Cute is what most of us are to everyone else. Why? It’s because most of the idea, efforts, creations are less than fabulous. It’s difficult to come up with the perfect idea every time. It’s impossible to always be that perfectly dress, groomed, physically “blessed” individual. Having been around for fifty eight years, I’m content with “cute” and take the way it was delivered (with gusto,hopefully) as the compliment.

  22. Word!

    Another “compliment” that bothers me is Pretty. I Swedish, we have a word that describe someone/something as pretty and cute , the so-called “söt”(it puts more emphasis on “pretty” than the english “cute” does). Very degrading.

  23. I’m a young woman who probably has a good ten more years to go of looking like I’m a teenager. I have a classically ‘cute’ face and build. I find the word petite nauseating and prefer flat-chested no-hips prepubescent boy, but that’s just my sense of humour.

    It frustrates me when guys refer to me as cute. My friends do it deliberately to piss me off, which I’m okay with because they manage to do it while still valuing me as a fully functioning human being. I’ve been on dates where the constant refrain is that I’m cute, the things I say are cute, my ideas on economics/politics/current affairs are cute – what the fuck? In these situations, I might say the same things as I would if I were an elderly male academic, and I bet you a million dollars that if I woke up that man tomorrow, all this cute bullshit would stop.

    I also pride myself on my vocabulary, and it irritates me no end that people have to resort to this most unoriginal and tired of terms to describe me.

  24. Great observation. I would be loathe to have my writing categorized as such. I don’t write fairytales so that’s crap. I’m going to be more sensitive to how I use the word. Cute shoes is acceptable right?

  25. I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing worse than when other people call my work “cute,” especially when I’ve worked so hard on it and put my everything into it. I’d much rather have people tell me they absolutely hate it. As artists and writers, we want to get a reaction out of people, not a petty, “Awww, that’s cute.” We want to move people, not have them fawn over our work as they would over a puppy. I’m with you man!

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