Is this response to an innocent message everything that's wrong with modern feminism?

Yesterday, a woman named Dina Rickman who works for GoFundMe in London posted a picture of what appeared to many people to be a fairly innocent “thought of the day” posted on a message board in a metro station. The message read, “When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It may take a second to say but for them it could last a lifetime.” Rickman suggested that message was an invitation to sexual harassment, paraphrasing it as “why not take time to sexually harass a stranger.” Here’s the tweet:

A few minutes later, Piers Morgan chimed in, labeling Rickman’s statement “everything that’s wrong about modern feminism.”

I’m not a Piers Morgan fan but I think he has a point. The message in question doesn’t say anything about talking to strangers about their appearance, much less sexually harassing them. So this does seem to fit the image of the humorless feminist who sees everything as problematic, whether it is or not. Rickman then tried to defend herself.

I’m not denying women get unsolicited attention on the tube, on the street, etc. If someone is being a creep or saying something crude, that’s a problem. We don’t need that. But isn’t there some room for a polite compliment? That’s sort of the point Mollie Hemmingway made in response to this:

But getting back to Rickman’s point #3, the sign says nothing about complimenting people on their appearance anyway. Seeing something “beautiful in someone” is not an invitation to comment on their shoes. Does anyone really think that kind of comment (“Nice shoes”) is the kind of thing that would stick with someone for a lifetime? If so, they have a very sad life. Rickman even admits up front that the intended meaning is innocent. She should probably have just stopped there.

Let’s stipulate that normalizing bad behavior is bad. But we’re right back to the fact that this sign does not say, “tell a stranger she looks damn sexy!” If it did, Rickman would definitely have a point. But since it doesn’t say that or anything like that, she’s really counting on other people taking this in a direction it wasn’t intended to go. Maybe there’s something else we should try not to normalize: Jumping to wild conclusions that men will act badly based on an anodyne thought.

As for Piers Morgan, he’s definitely punching down here given that he has 6.5 million followers. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong on the basic point. Sometimes an innocent “thought of the day” is just an innocent thought of the day and not a subliminal encouragement to sexual harassment.

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