Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


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There are compliments and then there are compliments

***Edited to add:  This post is intended to bring awareness to the subtle sexist subtext(say that three times fast!) that permeates society.  It is not intended to slay or skewer anyone for having questions.  This issue is complex and confusing and we are all conditioned by our cultures and subcultures. 

In the last post Professor Taboo asked the following question:

Can women please list for us hetero men 10-20 appropriate ways to verbally (and non-verbally) compliment them intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically that THEY find acceptable and uplifting? Please do not leave any of the four areas out.
Thank you! 🙂

My initial reaction to the question was…angst.  How hard can it be to compliment people without being sexist?  How hard can it be to compliment a woman without it being sexual?

My initial reaction as probably reactionary because we had just been discussing how to treat “scantily clad” women in a bar.  And then I was asked if it was sexist to wolf-whistle at a woman in a short skirt.  So when the question was asked I was viewing it in that context.   As if he were asking, “Well, if we can’t wolf-whistle, and we can’t cat-call and we can’t tell you you’re hot, just what the hell can we say?”

Turns out that’s not so much what The Professor was asking.  I think many men do want to know what is and isn’t appropriate.  Sincerely.

Many things sprang to mind when I thought about what my answer to that question is.  I didn’t come up with 15 or 20 but here are a few that immediately entered my mind:

1.)  Wow!  That’s really your color.  It brings out your eyes.

2.)  You’ve got a great sense of humor!

3.)  You’re a very interesting person!

4.) You’re intelligent.

5.) Your smile is infectious.

6.)  You’re very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

7.)  I like your work ethic.

8.) You’re so easy to talk to.

9.)  You’re a good listener.

10.)  You make the world a better place.

Some of these require that you have an actual conversation before you begin complimenting.  Some of these can be conversation starters.  ALL of these apply to any gender.

Immediately following Professor Taboo’s question Swarn Gill left a couple of comments.  These are prime examples of how to compliment a person in a way that is uplifting and positive but which carry no hint at a hidden agenda:

You are an interesting person. I’d rather just sit down and have a conversation with you!

And:

You are a much better writer than I am which is both annoying and great a the same time, but somehow just reading what you have to say has me completely agreeing but also going off in all sorts of directions.

Both of these comments made me feel really good about myself.  It let me know that I have value and that I’m appreciated as a person.  Not as a person of the female persuasion but as a person regardless of my gender.

About the wolf-whistling and cat-calling.  Just. Don’t.

This may come as a surprise but most women do not dress to attract men.  [Most] women dress for other women.  It’s a daily competition and most women would rather be complimented on their dress by other women.  It just means more.

[Most] women also dress for their own comfort.  I’ve been known to wear a dress above the knee or shorts.  I live in South Georgia.  Otherwise known as hell in the summer time.  If I wear a tank top and shorts it isn’t to attract a man.  It’s because I’m freakin’ hot.  And I don’t mean the way I look.

Wolf-whistling and cat-calling – especially from someone I’ve never met- is intimidating.  It’s presumptuous.  You might think that I’m stretching it to say that it’s not that far a hop to rape but when a man does that it shows that he’s aggressive.  It feels more about power than it does about complimenting anyone.  If a man would wolf-whistle or cat-call a woman he’s never met what else might he do given the opportunity?

When giving any sort of compliment the foremost thing should be sincerity.  Don’t say things you don’t mean.  It’s patronizing.  Think about what message the other person is going to get.  Don’t be superficial about it.  Show the person that you’ve really taken the time to notice what is important to them.

The important thing is to treat people with respect.  This is how we can address the more subtle sexism and misogyny that permeates society.

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