By Savanah Mandeville
It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon when I met the hipster preacher at the empty church.
I was writing a magazine profile about him as part of a “successful professionals under 30” feature. I don’t remember the details, but I believe he’d been instrumental in starting this millennial church – a church with funky mod furniture and a coffee shop in the lobby – and I had an appointment with him to take his photo. He looked exactly how I imagined, like a displaced member of Mumford and Sons.
We shook hands, and he immediately started asking questions.
“Are you freelance?”
“Do you do photography on the side?”
“How much do you charge?”
“Do you do videography as well?”
He told me that his church’s videographers made really good money. I was confused – was he offering me a job? I gave him my spiel about how I’m an employee of the magazine but I work remotely and independently, like a freelancer. I do occasionally do side work and told him what I charge.
“You don’t charge enough,” he said bluntly. “Our photographers at the church charge more.”
Again…was he offering me a job? Why was he asking me these questions?
“You need to get into videography. That’s where the money is.”
His eyes flicked down to my four-year-old Canon Rebel.
“And you need to get a nicer camera.”
I could feel my face burning. He’d struck a nerve. I’d always felt a bit of imposter syndrome in my role as a photographer. I’d studied journalism in college, but out in the working world I’d been thrown into the deep end of photography, struggling to stay afloat on a life raft of online courses and a few handy YouTube videos. I’d bought my camera with graduation money – the cheapest DSLR Best Buy had to offer. Granted, by the time this conversation with the hipster preacher took place, I was an expert at shooting in manual mode, a Photoshop wizard, had a decent collection of lenses, had amassed a huge repertoire of published photography, and had been hired by some pretty high-profile clients for side work – all with my Canon Rebel. I thought I had, after years of “fake it ‘til you make it,” finally earned the title professional photographer.
His comments shot a bullet through my newfound confidence.
I nervously took his photos, feeling deeply judged by him while doing so, and got the fuck out of there.
I called my best friend and told her about the exchange, grumbling that I needed to get a new camera and probably take an online course in videography.
“Oh god,” she scoffed. “No you don’t. He was acting like that because he thinks you’re hot.”
I was skeptical, but when I got home and saw a Facebook request from him, I figured she might be right.
Mhm. What I’d gotten was a heaping plate of mainsplaining with a side of negging.
If you don’t know what negging is, it’s basically that thing where a little boy on the playground bullies a little girl because he likes her – but it’s called ‘negging’ when a grown man does it.
According to Urban Dictionary, negging is:
“Low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances.”
Some definitions of negging describe it as similar to a backhanded compliment, but I personally haven’t experienced this kind of negging. Tbh, I’ve never met a guy with enough subtlety to pull it off. An example of subtle negging would be saying something like, “You’re really beautiful, I bet you’re super high maintenance.”
I first heard the word “negging” on an episode of the ‘Guys We Fucked’ podcast when one of the hosts told a story about detecting negging from a guy at the bar. I suddenly, with alarming clarity, had a word to describe a bevy of situations where some dude had been disarmingly rude to me, unprovoked and for no apparent reason. It was suddenly clear they were being rude because they were somehow threatened by me or resented me because there was no way they were ever going to get with me.
One that immediately came to mind was a time I was sitting at the bar at Blackthorn, chatting with a friend, minding my own business, when the guy working behind the bar (who will remain nameless, but I will say his name rhymes with Dodger) out of nowhere, pointed at me and shouted, “That girl’s ears stick out!!!” The whole bar went silent and everyone stared at me.
It was so out of left field and so rude I didn’t know what to say. I just smiled awkwardly and went back to talking to my friend. What I wish I would have said was, “That’s really nice coming from someone who looks like they literally just climbed out of a garbage can. Fuck off.”
Why would someone do something like that?
It’s like he had been observing me, waiting for a reaction, waiting for me to pay attention to him – like a child at the zoo tapping the glass, trying to wake a sleeping snake. All I can conclude is that my mere existence threatened him so much he had to attack me. So that’s why, in the grander scheme of things, ignoring him was probably was the best approach because a reaction was what he wanted, but God it would’ve been nice to embarrass him right back.
I could tell stories like this all day – like the time a guy I knew of but had never spoken to private messaged me to tell me that my taste in art sucked or the guy trying to hit on me at a party who told me I listen to ‘typical girl music’ – but if you’re a woman reading this, you probably don’t need me to elaborate. You’ve likely been on the receiving end of your own fair share of negging and know exactly what I’m talking about.
My advice would be this – learn to recognize negging a mile away and swerve those guys. They are projecting their own insecurities and you can just brush their rude, negative comments right off your shoulder. You are not being vain or full of yourself by recognizing that a guy is being a dick because he thinks you’re pretty or intimidating. No one has the right to judge the way you look or dress or how you do your job or what music you listen to – least of all some insecure guy you barely know. Furthermore, negging is a red flag for emotional abuse in a relationship, so putting up with it in the beginning can set the tone for the relationship, showing a guy that he can get away with belitting his girlfriend constantly to keep her self-esteem low.
And to any straight guys reading this: the women in your life are not competing in your own private beauty pageant for which you’re the judge. Keep your comments to yourself.
Ladies, don’t be afraid to call it like you see it. You’ll save yourself a lot of internal shower arguments going over comebacks you wish you would’ve said.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite inspirational quotes:
“Do no harm, but take no shit.”