Maisie Williams Is Right, We Need To Stop Describing Women As 'Cute'
The Debrief: Calling someone cute implies that they are somehow smaller, weaker and lower down the pecking order than you
Maisie Williams is at it again. And, by ‘at it’ we mean being completely brilliant and saying exactly what she thinks. In an interview with The Telegraph she said ‘I’ve been told by a lot of people that I should keep my mouth shut. But that just fuels me to do the complete opposite.’ Preach, Maisie.
Among many of the great things she discussed in the interview was the way we just can’t resist labelling women. Especially if, like her, they’re 'petite' (I prefer the term 'short' but there's nothing cute about being 'short' is there) with big round eyes. Maisie told of how fed up she is with inevitably being called ‘cute’ wherever she goes and explained why it is, ultimately, a reductive and patronising way of referring to young women. What exactly does a small woman have in common with a ‘cute’ dog/cat/pair of shoes?
‘The way we describe boys is “Oh you’re so strong, you’re so good at sport’. With girls we say “oh you’re so pretty, you’re so adorable” – and it does limit you’, she said.
‘I remember being told I was cute and feeling it was really patronising – what if I wanted to get muddy and play with the boys? I felt like I was boxed in by this one word.’
Maisie is totally right. The definition of cute is ‘attractive in a pretty or endearing way’, it’s a comment on someone’s external appearance. Calling someone ‘cute’ only addresses how they appear to be on the outside, it’s an objectifying term.
For women, the way we are perceived, unfortunately, is everything. Cute puppies rolling around in toilet roll, cute. Kittens hiding under baseball caps which means they look like turtles, cute. Tiny horses who are so small they make you want to squeeze all the life out of them, cute. Adult women? Nothing like baby animals, really, not so cute.
Referring to people as cute, as Maisie points out, reinforces gender hierarchies and power dynamics. It also infantilises them. Labelling someone as cute implies that they are somehow smaller, weaker and lower down the pecking order than you. In the same way as labelling someone as ‘good’ implies that they are not ‘bad’ the word ‘cute’ necessarily implies it’s opposite: boys are ‘strong’, not ‘cute’. Girls are ‘cute’, not ‘strong’.
‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me’, though, right? It’s only language. No. This stuff matters, it affects our jobs and our relationships; Professor Judith Baxter, a sociolinguist at Aston University, has written entire books on the subject and found that the way women are referred to affects how we are perceived in the workplace and could even go some way to explaining the number of women, or rather lack thereof, in company boardrooms.
As well as staring in Game of Thrones Maisie is currently an ambassador for Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, she speaks often about gender equality. This prompts The Telegraph to wonder if she’s ‘the next [Emma] Watson?’
Her answer? She doesn’t want to be labelled like that either, ‘I want to be the next Maisie…’ she told them. Maisie Williams isn’t cute and she isn’t the ‘next Emma Watson’ she’s doing her thing. As she put it herself, ‘you’re allowed to be the most important person in your story’ and you can make sure that story’s told the way you want it to be.
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