The Art of Creep-Free Compliments

17 Nov

I am quite fascinated by the video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman”. It is fascinating to me because it is so far from my reality. Is that seriously what this woman experiences every time she leaves her house? That does not even make sense in my brain. I’m not trying to deny that it’s her reality; just stating that it is way beyond the scope of anything I’ve personally experienced.

In my 39 years, I’ve been verbally “harassed” once by a man (and I use the quotation marks because in my singular example, it was too ridiculous a statement to compare it to the harassment that is apparently so rampant for other women). When I was in highschool, I had to go get something from my locker in the middle of gymnastics practice. The halls were nearly empty except for a small cluster of guys, and when I walked past them, one of them said, “Mmm-mmm…her legs go ALL the way to the floor.” I don’t know what that means. It wasn’t offensive, nor was it complimentary. It just seemed like a really weird thing to say. Did that boy know a bunch of people walking around several inches above the floor because their legs didn’t reach that far?!?!

That was my one and only experience. Yay for me; I’ve been “harassed”. Seems like something Amy Farrah Fowler would also get excited about.

Back to my fascination with the whole “10 Hours” thing. It’s like winter camping. It does not sound like my idea of a good time and I don’t intend to try it just to prove that I don’t like it. But I am curious about the people who intentionally participate in such activities. This experiment is interesting to me, but it prompts more questions than it answers.

How would the outcome change if she was wearing baggy clothes? I am not for one second suggesting that women deserve to be harassed or abused because of what they are wearing. I do think there is a lot of room for improvement in the area of how we as women present ourselves, but this video isn’t about modesty (and neither is this blog post). She did choose a fairly middle-of-the-road outfit as far as today’s standards of conservative dress go. On the other hand, I would be curious to see the experiment repeated with her body more concealed. Would men notice her beautiful face if their attention wasn’t first drawn to her curves? What would the footage reveal if the woman had a beautiful face, but no curves? Or lots of curves but a less attractive face?

And maybe it’s not completely about what she looks like. I understand that the experiment was meant to show that she’s not soliciting this attention by acting flirtatiously, and that the attention continued even though it was clear she wasn’t interested. I’m wondering, though, if her aloof demeanour is part of the allure. How would the results differ if she was smiling and talking with a friend as she walked?

I also wonder, if the camera could catch a broader picture, how many other women walk by those same men and don’t elicit the same reaction. Is this particular woman’s experience one in five? One in twenty? One in fifty? I think she’s right to speak out about her experience, but I want to know what percentage she really represents.

I can’t answer any of those questions, but discussing it and developing awareness and promoting empowerment and demanding gender accountability are all good things. So that’s why I’m writing. To keep the discussion going. (That, plus I like to write about things that fascinate me, so there!)

There is, however, one question that has arisen from the discussion surrounding this video that I would like to address.

A lot of the men who have responded to the video have stated that they wish they could compliment a woman without it being labelled harassment. How can they do that?

Let’s be clear on one point: the things said in this video are not compliments. So if you’re trying to justify that kind of treatment of women, forget it. Go directly to jail, do not collect $200.

But is there room in our culture for a man to say something nice (even something that does NOT have any sort of sexual connotation) to a stranger? Can a man say, “That colour looks great on you” or “I like your glasses” to a woman he doesn’t know?

Sadly, I think even the most compliment-starved woman would probably find that a bit creepy. Our world has moved beyond that and we can’t go back.

So how can you compliment a woman without getting sued or slapped? Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: strangers are off-limits. I think there’s plenty of room for you to be a nice guy, but you need to do that within the framework of a previously established relationship. Did your co-worker get a haircut? Then go ahead and say, “Hey, your hair is different. It looks nice.” If your friend’s wife brings food to your party, please do proclaim “Hot dish coming through! And she’s carrying a casserole!” because that line will never, ever get old. When your girlfriend’s friend borrows your girlfriend’s dress, it’s okay to tell her, “You look great and your taste is exquisite.”

You can be nice without being a creep.

What if you want to compliment a stranger? First, don’t. Second, work on establishing a relationship (and you can’t do that by hollering and grunting from the street corner). Engage in conversation that isn’t about her looks. Then, once she’s not a stranger anymore – when you’ve established and proven that she is safe with you – then you can compliment her.

There you have it, gentlemen. You can give creep-free compliments. And I hereby permit you to practice frequently.

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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Beauty


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