By Mahevash Shaikh
Don’t expect a woman to feel validated just because you gave her a compliment!
It is said that men compliment women more than women compliment men. But are compliments on something you have no control over–say your physical attributes–even compliments in the first place? And even if they are legit, what is the motivation behind them? After all, compliments are a form of flattery, right? But I digress.
Last month, a blogger called Feminista Jones exposed an interesting double standard. She claimed that men do not like it when a woman accepts their compliment without “frilly giggles and fake blushes”. Men vocalise their displeasure by either taking back their compliments, getting abusive, or both. Here’s a snapshot of her Tweet:
Why do you think that is? What’s wrong with being confident, you ask? Miss Jones thinks it’s probably because promptly accepting a compliment is not the “right” response, according to men! What men want is to see these women feel validated and then express joy and gratitude for being beautiful, smart, funny, etc.
Sadly, this type of male gatekeeping isn’t just restricted to the US as you will see from the quotes below. Let’s take a look at some harrowing experiences that Indian women have shared with us:
“This happened when I was in my final year of engineering. We had been assigned a particularly difficult program, and a few of us managed to do so before the two-hour mark. I happened to be one of those students. One of my classmates asked me how I did it. After I was done explaining it to him, he exclaimed: You are so smart! I tend to get uncomfortable with praise, so I replied with a small smile and a thanks. Then out of the blue, he declared: Okay, you are not as smart as you think you are. I gave him a look and coldly said: you are the one who said I am smart. Make up your mind already! Needless to say, he slunk away and we didn’t speak much after that.” –Lubna Shaikh, software engineer
“There’s this guy that I had been chatting with to help me promote my book, Busting Clichés. Things were professional until he decided to ‘compliment’ me on my appearance. Mid-discussion, he slipped in a ‘hey btw, you are quite cute.’ This bugged me to no extent as I had been nothing but professional and expected the same from him. So I curtly replied ‘yeah, I know.’ Next thing I see is this guy just changed the topic like nothing had happened. His behaviour too changed from polite to pretty rude.” –Yours Truly
“I recently changed my profile photo on Facebook. I soon started getting likes and the standard fare of appropriate and inappropriate comments. One person–he was just an acquaintance–left a cheeky ‘Nice view. Thanks for sharing ;)’ Now only I was in the photo and the background was nothing special, so I knew he was talking about me. I didn’t know how to react, so I just hit Like. Immediately, he replied saying ‘Just a Like? C’mon hottie, you can do better than that.’ I told him to stop talking like that as it was inappropriate. He then showed who he truly was. He left my page saying something along the lines of ‘you’re not all that special…I can find many like u, slut.’ –Anonymous barely legal teenager
Women are already aware of and grateful for the qualities they possess. They sure as hell don’t need a man’s validation. So if you’re going to compliment such a woman, keep it meaningful and real. Don’t expect her to fall at your feet for praising her!
Preferably, compliment her on something other than her looks. Apart from those who invest in some plastic surgery, a person’s appearance is something beyond their control. Therefore, remarking on it is more a comment than a compliment. Find something about her that she has influence over (her knowledge and skills, her hobbies perhaps?). Then go ahead and say it. It will most definitely get a better reception than the standard and bland ‘you are so beautiful’ lines. And yes, a lot of us do see them as pickup lines!
If you do want to compliment her appearance, make sure it’s not sexist. We live in a country where sexism is so normalised that sometimes even the most ‘woke’ guys partake in it without even being aware of it. Here’s a way to make sure you don’t become one of them: practice variations of what you intend to say to her by looking at your own reflection in the eye, and see how they make you feel. If that’s not your thing, consult an honest, no-nonsense female friend instead. If it sounds sexist to her, it most probably is.
It’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it. Insincerity is something that everybody picks up on, even if only on a subconscious level. If you are saying something just to please her, she will figure it out. So be genuine and say something only if you really mean it. Bonus: this way, she will remember and cherish your compliment for a long time.
In conclusion, all I want to say to the men reading this is: women are neither asking for nor looking for you to validate their brains, beauty, strengths and talents. If they accept your compliments, it does not make them rude or arrogant. All it means is that are self-aware and confident–qualities which actually make a person great company. And for the life of me, I do not get why that is a problem for anyone.
When was the last time you complimented a woman or received a genuine compliment? Share your experience in the comments below.
Image Credit: Nikhil Mudaliar
Mahevash Shaikh is the twenty-something author of Busting Clichés. She loves to write, draw and laugh (among other things). You can find her using words and pictures to express herself and redefine the word “normal” at http://www.mahevashmuses.com.