"That is a stunning picture!!!" How to ruin your career using LinkedIn.

It’s a sleazy message. Not a compliment. There is a difference.

This week in the UK, a human rights barrister, Charlotte Proudman, sent a message to a senior barrister, Alexander Carter-Silk, to make a connection on LinkedIn.

Instead of accepting the approach with benign politeness, the senior barrister wrote back, “Charlotte, delighted to connect,” he wrote. “I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!!

“You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have seen. Always interest (sic) to understant (sic) people’s skills and how we might work together. Alex”

Image: Twitter @CRPoudman

Charlotte Proudman was unimpressed. She responded that she found the message offensive: “I am on linked-in for business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men.”

After explaining that when men focus on the appearance of women, they are effectively silencing them, she closed with, “Unacceptable and misogynistic behaviour. Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.”

Sounds like some helpful advice. If a woman contacts you to become a professional contact, don’t assume that she wants to hear about how prize-winningly beautiful you find her. That’s just sleazy.

Also: If you ever start a sentence “This is probably horrendously political incorrect, but”, there’s a very good chance that what you are about to say is VERY ill-advised, unprofessional and otherwise inappropriate. Alexander Carter-Silk was on notice that what he was going to say was inappropriate. But he went for it anyway.

Proudman posted their correspondence to social media and called out Carter-Silk over his remarks.

Quite a few women responded by offering examples of sleazy comments they’d received on LinkedIn. It’s apparently not an isolated incident.

Image: Twitter @CRProudman

Proudman started to receive messages telling her that her career was over. The human rights lawyer told the Daily Mail: ‘I have received messages saying: “You have ruined your career. You have bitten the hand that feeds you. There go your instructions from solicitors.”

A partner from one of the biggest law firms in London said that Charlotte will be blacklisted by solicitors. Franklin Sinclair, of Tuckers Solicitors, wrote on Twitter: “What an awful thing to do, what kind of world do we live in when a man can’t give a lady a compliment. getalife. Nomorebriefs4u.”

Sarah Vine, a conservative columnist for the Daily Mail, has taken up this cry and has written in defence of a man’s right to ‘give a lady a compliment’.

How does Vine think that Proudman should have responded? Well, she should have just thought he was a nice man: “…Most normal women would have thought: ‘What a nice man.’ Indeed, many of us would be delighted; compliments are few and far between these days.”

Columnist Sarah Vine (Image: Twitter @sarahvine)

After suggesting that Proudman was just creating a media storm to advance her career (she is apparently an “ambitious young barrister, hungry for success and impatient to get yourself noticed”), Vine went on to give her own examples of correspondence with nice men:

“A few weeks ago, for example, I received an email from a gentleman reader in response to something or other I’d written. Quite a long disquisition, as I recall, and rather serious. He made several good points. And then at the end of it, a P.S: please could he have a picture of me in my nightie.

Sadly I was unable to oblige (I’m more of a pyjama girl); but was I offended? Certainly not. Tickled pink, in fact. After all, what’s not to like about a harmless compliment?”

Correspondents take note: Vine likes to receive her correspondence with a side of sext requests.

Vine went on to sledge Proudman as being a “weak and pathetic” who had gone to some effort to make her professional headshot “enticing” to men. She also opted to deride her professionalism: “Isn’t she [Proudman] supposed to be some hot-shot feminist human rights lawyer? Well, go and defend some real victims of inequality, dear, instead of bleating on about some slighty off-colour message.”

Let’s be clear: Sarah Vine is a professional troll from the Mark Latham school of analysis and wit. Vine, like Latham, chose to target a woman who had the temerity to be honest about her experience, and substituted her own experience and reflected on how terribly oppressed men are.

Charlotte Proudman (Image: Twitter @CRProudman)

Because Vine is worried about how men will process the complex messages arising from this incident, let’s summarise our learnings for anyone who is confused:

1. Do not write sleazy messages to women on LinkedIn.

2. Do not write sleazy messages to women who haven’t asked you to do it.

3. Do not write sleazy messages.

Nothing ambiguous there.

The compliment is not under attack. If a woman says directly, like Sarah Vine has, that she likes being asked for raunchy pics and that she feels “tickled pink” when that happens, you can probably go for it.

But in all other cases, you can safely assume that women don’t want to receive your sleazy messages.

At the heart of this story is a woman who was trying to build professional networks and for her trouble, got a sleazy comment. She could have ignored it (like so many women have done before her), but she decided to draw a line. She decided to say, ‘That’s enough. No more.’ That is an appropriate response to getting unsolicited comments about your appearance. If you routinely comment on a stranger’s appearance in professional correspondence, that isn’t a surprising outcome.

This isn’t hard and it isn’t complex. There are no mixed messages or blurred lines.

A woman will tell you if she wants to receive your sleazy comments.

Until then, perhaps you should try just being professional?

Would you have been offended by Carter-Silk’s comments?