1) Doesn’t require social quid pro quo. I don’t have to tell him anything other than “thanks.” (And even “thanks” is not obligatory. It’s still a choice. No one is required to speak to a stranger.) I am not then demanded to smile (as that is a form of street harassment). I don’t owe him a compliment in return, or my time/attention/date/body/heart. It is simply a compliment.
2) Isn’t orchestrated through binary social constructs. I don’t want to hear that I am a “queen” not a “bitch,” a “lady,” not a “female.” I reject these binaries that seek to define women as two groups of opposing enemies within the confines of patriarchy. Further, I know that men who “compliment” this way seek to: isolate me from other women in order to control, establish male dominance by creating the illusion that women are inherent enemies and will easily move me to the opposing category if I don’t respond in a way that meets the prescribed sexist, patriarchal norms.
3) Is not loaded with an insult. This is the retreat of incredibly insecure men. They create a false dichotomy where I “could” be or am included in the negative side of the comment, then add a line that supposedly makes it a compliment. Or, they do the 2/3 move of two compliments, one insult. Boring. (I genuinely believe they get these 2 methods from television/film. [In fact, “Howard” on The Big Bang Theory tried this on “Penny.”] The other 3 I mention are much more engrained into the fabric of a patriarchal view of gender, versus just remnants of TV.)
Examples of #3 includes…
"Natural hair is usually ugly on Black women, but on you it is nice."
"Wow you look great today, nice hair and outfit but your makeup is terrible, only insecure women wear makeup."
The latter reveals projection as well. He hopes that I am as insecure as he is to even try that line.
And the absolute worst:
"I don’t usually respect women, but I respect you."
This hasn’t ever been said to me. No one has dared this one with me. But sadly, some women think that this is a compliment…and have said so. To me, this is a red flag for a domestically violent or murderous man. He’s letting me know…RUN!
4) Isn’t provided at the expense of another woman. I am not interested in being “prettier than,” “smarter than” or any other “more” than, when another woman is mentioned or women in general are mentioned. Again, this creates rigid binaries where women are only objects for comparison, not human beings.
Sure…most personal features are viewed on scales, not absolutes or arbitrarily. A person is only “thin” if someone else is “fat” or only “pretty” if someone else is “ugly.” This is how these labels work in our society and most are binary social constructs. However, if the very first compliment or one of the first compliments received are immediately orchestrated like this, I’m not interested.
A couple of weeks ago, a man said to me, "you’re very beautiful." I smiled and said “thanks.” That was it. We headed off into our separate directions and continued our days. I found that refreshing. No follow up comment. No expectation of social quid pro quo. No demand for a phone number. No asking for a date. No devolution into sexual comments or street harassment. Nothing. Perfect!
To date, my favorite compliment from a man was from one I was close to several years ago. During an in-depth conversation, he all of a sudden said, "I love the way your mind works." Even thinking about it now…I still smile.