real life

Is this a compliment or harassment?

 

By MELISSA WELLHAM

Apparently women find compliments offensive. All compliments.

And by compliments I mean “compliments”. And, just to be even clearer, by “compliments” I mean “wolf whistling on the street, or positive comments about appearance delivered in the workplace in inappropriate settings”.

Example 1: you’re walking down the street, wearing your daggiest trackies (c’mon, we all have them), and a stranger makes about a comment about how ‘fine your ass looks in that’. Really? In the daggy trackies? Okaaaay.

Example 2: when you walk past a group of men, and one or more of the group catcall you as you walk past. Dudes – has that ever actually worked for you?

Example 3: the most perplexing example of all, is the scenario in which a man drives past a woman in his car as she walks down the street, honks loudly while shouting, “I’d like to BLEEP you in your BLEEP” – and then just drives off. I mean, these men are clearly not even expecting to experience success. What’s the point? Aside from getting some satisfaction from startling and possibly scaring a woman walking alone.

Example 4: when you deliver an amazing presentation at work… and get complimented on your new haircut immediately afterwards. In a professional context. Being complimented on your haircut is nice – but there’s a time and a place. And that time and place is not when you have just been demonstrating what is inside your head, instead of on top of your head.

Comedian W. Kamau Bell covered this issue on his show Totally Biased, where he asked women on the street how much sexual harassment they might receive over the course of an average day. He also asked men whether they thought that catcalling women on the street was actually successful.

You will not believe what they said.

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Wolf whistling happened in the 90s (just look at those classic 90s get ups) – but it still happens today.

Somebody send the memo to Barack Obama. The Prez – he of usually such impeccable public behaviour – recently called Attorney General Kamala Harris as the “best looking” in her field.

Faux pas, Prez.

After Obama made these comments, the social media world erupted. Women were calling him out on his apparent sexism. Men were in turn calling women out for being “too uptight” and asking, “why can’t women just take a compliment?”

Perhaps it’s because this question implies that when a woman is being complimented on her appearance in the workplace, she should be appreciative that someone is taking the time to recognise her feminine wiles. She should feel thankful – not patronised or denigrated. Because the rhetoric behind this question is that when a woman gets wolf whistled on the street, she should feel flattered – not threatened or objectified.

That, (some) men, is why women can’t take your ‘compliment’. Because when you wolf whistle at her, at night, while she’s walking home alone, she doesn’t think, “Oh, how flattering, that stranger must think I look particularly lovely today!”

She thinks, “I don’t know that man. It’s late at night and I’m alone. And by wolf whistling at me, he is making it clear he views my body as a sexual object.”

Even if it’s daylight, and you’re walking down an empty street, this can be an uncomfortable scenario. Even if it’s night and you’re with a group of other people, you might feel afraid.

That’s why.

And just in case all of that has got you feeling a little down, here’s another hilarious video: Shit Men Say To Men Who Say Shit To Women On The Street.

Over to you – do you think wolf whistling is a compliment, or does it count as harassment? 

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