Part of the backlash of the Brock Turner rape case was responses from men declaring they won’t commit rape. Thanks guys, but that is about as useful as me saying I won’t levitate since I had no intentions to do so in the first place. Then there are the blogs and comments about the good men attempting to enlighten the not good men about the realities on everyday sexism. I applaud your efforts, but that is a brick wall you are talking to. Besides, you are going about it all wrong.
One of the commonly used arguments for harassing women is that the perpetrator is only trying to give a woman a compliment. I have seen many content pieces where these good men are stating that they don’t want to compliment anyone anymore because women have so many men approach them and behave rudely. That banner is being taken up by the not good men as a claim of victimization. “Oh, now we can’t even compliment a woman anymore?” Read that with the correct tone of whining, disbelief, and hyperbole. You know the one.
I would like to point out that the issue isn’t that women don’t like getting compliments, but rather how too many people have forgotten what a compliment is. So we are all on the same page, Webster’s definition of the word Compliment is as follows:
- an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration; especially : an admiring remark
- formal and respectful recognition : honor
Looking at that we can derive that the not good men that catcall and harass women under the guise of compliment have the admiration part down. Usually for a body part that is sexualized. They have seemed to ignore the part about esteem, respect, and honor. If you wouldn’t walk into a family gathering and tell grandma she has “a nice ass, no wonder grandpa wanted to tap that shit. But bitch, you should smile more,” then you probably don’t want to say that to a stranger. Note the part of the definition that states a compliment is formal and respectful. It’s important.
Want to know how to give a good complement? Watch how women compliment each other. Example:
Hey, that is a great top. I just love the color.
Oh, thank you. It’s new.
It’s very flattering. And it looks really comfortable.
Yes, it is. The material isn’t clingy at all.
Well, it looks great!
Have a nice day
You do the same.
Take a moment to compare that to the following:
Hi baby, how you doing today?
You need to smile more honey, you look so much nicer when you smile.
Don’t you want to give me a smile?
Silence and looking away
Bitch, don’t let it go to your head. You’re not that hot. You should be grateful I gave you a compliment.
Can we see the difference here? OK, I know you are thinking that is fairly extreme. You would be incorrect, but let’s examine the two scenarios.
The first one focused on an object, the wearer’s top. There was an expression that identified an admiration for it and why, the color. It was met favorably so then the conversation continued to point out other positive attributes of the item. Notice they were still talking about the top. The top looked flattering, not that it flattered any specific part of the wearer’s anatomy. Then the compliment was stated again and they wished each other well and went about their individual business.
Notice that there was no implied quid pro quo in that dialog. It was positive comment given with the intent of making the other party feel nice. The giver got nothing in return. It was polite, respectful, and there were no strings attached.
Now the second example started off with diminutive pet names that should only be used by people who have a certain level of familiarity. Right off the bat that will put someone on the defensive. Then there was a command issues. You need to smile more. This was then met with refusal to acknowledge. The command was then changed to a pleading request and a second rejection. This was then met with hostility. The entire exchange was a type of gas lighting designed to get something for the person giving the compliment as opposed to showing respect or admiration for the person receiving the compliment.
Still confused? OK, there are many subtle clues you can look for to see if your compliment is being well received or crossing over into harassment territory. Did the person answer you with a pleasant and friendly tone? If so then you can proceed. If not, perhaps your opening should be more general and to the point. For example, I like your sunglasses. Are they not responding and/or looking away? Do they have a strange expression on their face? Are they turning their body away from you or trying to create space? Are their eyes moving quickly around the room as if they are attempting to determine the fastest exit plan? Answering No to all of these means you are doing it correctly. Answering yes means you fucked up.
And should you respond with venom when you have crossed over into the creepy guy zone? No. You should acknowledge that you have made them uncomfortable. An example “Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you, my apologies.” That’s it. That’s the end. Don’t try to justify or clarify. You’re sorry and you will now demonstrate that respect by silently moving on with your life and no longer bothering the other person.