But it’s a Compliment!

I noticed him looking at my legs. There weren’t many people in the train that evening, he was sitting across from me and I watched as his gaze went over my ankles, up to my knees, and further to my thighs and hips. Shameless, I thought. Then he looked me in the eye, a bit startled, smiled apologetically and quickly looked out the window. He blushed a bit, looked at me again and I grinned. We both looked away and I comfortably listened to my mp3 player until I reached my destination. I felt flattered.

Almost every woman experiences street harassment, but men often find it hard not to get defensive when women discuss this problem. “What, is it a crime to look at a woman now?” they’ll ask, “if you’re dressed in a sexy manner, aren’t you asking for the attention?”. They’ll tell us “but it’s a compliment!” and advice us not to be so sensitive. “We just find women pleasing to look at”.StopStreeHarassment

But I don’t think that’s it. Street harassment isn’t just a man finding a woman attractive and expressing that. A compliment is intended to make the other person feel good, if you really want to compliment someone and they express discomfort you back off. Street harassment is a man believing he has the right to look at a woman and talk to her whether she consents and feels comfortable or not. Often, street harassment is bullying, the intention is to make a woman feel unsafe or scared. It’s not a compliment.

It’s a dark, empty parking lot. A guy walks up to me. “Five euro’s if I can wet my fingers on your cunt!”. I pretend I heard nothing and walk faster.

“You look pretty”. I force a strained smile and look away. “Hey, I complimented you! You’re really pretty. What’s your name?”. I mumble a ‘sorry’ and start walking away. There aren’t many people around and I feel uncomfortable. “Why are you walking away? Hey! I complimented you! Come back here!”. I keep walking.

He catch him looking at my legs. He continues staring for so long it’s becoming rude. I try to make eye contact, but when he finally looks at me he gives me a “how you doin'” smile and says “hey”. I look away. He makes himself comfortable and examines my legs some more. I try to cover myself with my coat.

The guy in the first example acknowledged me as a person, was sensitive to my emotional response and didn’t feel entitled to my attention. It was a compliment, something he gave for free without expecting anything in return. The second guy intended to scare me, the third guy felt I owed him something and the third guy didn’t give a damn how I felt and just used me for his enjoyment. That’s not flattering. It’s intimidating, it made me feel unsafe and disrespected.

Don’t tell me to take it as a compliment.

7 thoughts on “But it’s a Compliment!

  1. Jordan

    So, it’s okay for a man to look at a woman if he isn’t being creepy or harassing her? As a man I don’t want to make a woman feel uncomfortable and although I’ve never harassed a woman, I must admit, sometimes it’s hard not to look.

  2. Roger

    I like that you included the first example. Mostly when I read such opinions they seem to imply that any man paying attention to a woman’s exterior is demeaning, insulting and probably a misogynist. I’ve come to detest that brand of Internet feminism over the past few years.

    So I agree, as a man is respectful and keeps her feelings in mind , it should be alright to admire her looks – within limits of course, no more than 90 seconds, guys!

    That said, there are some rules. A cat, they say, may look at a king, but a middle-aged man should not look appreciatively at a pretty young woman. 😉

  3. Roger

    “Why would you want to look at her if it makes her uncomfortable?”

    Surely that’s not a reply to Jordan saying “As a man I don’t want to make a woman feel uncomfortable”?

    If it’s a reply to my post, I thought I was clear that I also do not want to make someone (woman, man, child, or any other subcategory of homo sapiens) uncomfortable.

    In short, I can’t make sense of that last comment.

  4. Jordan

    Yeah, I don’t want to make a woman feel uncomfortable, it’s just that their are times when I see a pretty lady that I find it hard not to look at them. But to be clear, I don’t stare right at them for as long as I want, my looks only last for a fee seconds and if they notice I turn away embarrassed like the guy in your first story. I’m just trying to find out if their is a proper etiquette to such things that respects women.

  5. Marijke Post author

    If she’s not uncomfortable I don’t see a problem. Would you be okay with it if a gay man would look at you in the same way?

  6. Roger

    Heh, if a gay man looked at me the same way I’d be forced to wonder if the poor lad had serious eyesight problems. If hypothetically he didn’t, I’d be flattered. However that’s more a comment on how unusual it would be for me than on how others might reasonably react. 😉

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