How to compliment a woman without sexualising her
It may come as a surprise to some people, but not all women wish to be reminded that they are starring in a Red Light Special inside every man’s head. This is not to say some women do not appreciate a well worded compliment from time to time. However, to assume that all women measure their self worth on whether or not they are seen as sex objects (or pretty, or hot, etc.) is insulting at best, disgusting and even threatening at worst. The media tells us differently, but it’s a fact: many of us would rather have some of our other positive qualities recognised.
Believe it or not, it is possible to give a woman a compliment without being sleazy. Perhaps I’m being an old fashioned “women’s libber” but I think some men could use a bit of instruction when it comes to this.
Why do I think this? My attention was drawn recently to a tweet by an attendee of TAM Australia who said that, with all the beautiful intelligent women around, it was “like the Playboy mansion.”
I know this was not ok, because the person who showed it to me was mentioned by name and she was disgusted. It was patronising. It was lewd. It was insulting for this man to imply that intelligent, skeptical women’s presence was along the same lines as the “booth babes” hired to attract the nerds in attendance at Comicon: An object to be ogled and to fulfill his puerile fantasy.
One could argue that it was their intelligence that made them sexy, and how could it be insulting to be told you are intelligent and therefore sexy? The insult is in the assumption that every woman desires to be desired sexually. It makes some women EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE knowing that some guy they hardly know would rather see them in scant, sequined, bunny costume. To them, it’s akin to Miggs in Silence of the Lambs shrieking at Clarice as she passes his cell. Sure, it’s not as extreme, but the sentiment is the same. “Because you are a woman, ESPECIALLY because you’re the rare and exotic Smart Woman, my only thought is what you’d be like spreadeagled on my bed.”
And that is kind of gross.
Besides, how many times have people used old Playboy photos of Jenny McCarthy in skeptical talks as a way to subtly discredit her? If people in the skeptical movement are so quick to dismiss someone for their past as a centrefold, then why would it be safe to assume that someone will take such a comparison as a compliment?
What this misguided fan could have said is, “It’s great to be at a convention where the women are more than just eye candy.” Or perhaps, “I’m pleased to see the women in this movement represented by such strong figures as…”
When complimenting a woman, there is nothing wrong with complimenting her appearance, but choose your words wisely. “Elegant,” “radiant” and “lovely” are good. Words such as “sexy” “hot” “tasty” are not so good. Unless you already have established a flirtation, or if the woman styles herself as “sexy,” then stick to words you’d use to describe your sister or mother. Better yet, compliment a woman based on personality traits or accomplishments, rather than her appearance.
“She’s done so much to promote science education, I’m in awe of her.”
“I’m just thrilled to have met her, she’s so funny. Such a delight to be around.”
And guess what? That makes a gal feel good without making her wonder if she’s safe sitting next to you at the bar.
I can almost already hear some dude saying, “But if someone calls me sexy I would take it as a compliment.” That is not the same. It’s not just because you’re a guy – though guys aren’t constantly being reminded that your only value is your sexual attractiveness, as women are. “If a woman told me I was hot, it would make me feel good.” “I love going to gay bars, I like being the centre of attention.” (Really? How about a prison shower?) It’s all well and good to say that you like being objectified, admittedly some women like it too, but it is not logical or fair to assume from the outset that everyone feels the same way you do, especially people you don’t know.
It’s not a double standard, because I think that women shouldn’t make this assumption about men, either. We women do it all the time too, and while it doesn’t carry with it the same sort of threat, it is not always welcome and we ought to recognise that as well. Especially when we women are in a position of power.
The point is, everybody likes compliment, but not everyone judges their worth by how many people want to see them naked.