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January 05, 2006

Comments

Ron O.

Will, the harm comes because women are often complimented so much on their looks and so little on thier character. Even if it is not sexual, or sexual with the best of intentions, focusing on appearance says "This is what I notice & value about you" Hear that too much and you might start to believe it about yourself as well.

A few more good compliments

"That's very interesting..."

"Good observation..."

"That took guts..."

"You are sweet..."

"This was a really nice dinner. Thanks for asking me out."

PS My wife asked me out on our first date & paid. After that we more-or-less traded treating each other.

Will

Happy Feminist:

There are certainly a number of areas when it is absolutely inappropriate: boss, prison guard, the person about to frisk you for weapons as you walk into a courthouse or into an airport.

Assuming that I am not a stalker or want anything from you, how are you harmed or demeaned by me saying "You look great in that outfit." as I walk by with my girlfriend.

Should you assume the worst or the best about my intentions?

Will

RonO:

I didnt say anything about not complimenting someone about more important attributes. That is why I said that you shouldnt date someone more focused on your looks than your mind.

However, why exclude compliments about appearance totally? Isnt that rather paternalistic and assumes that woman isnt smart enough to know the difference between demeaning her and complimenting her?

I try not to have hidden meanings in what I say.

Ron O.

I'm not saying that either. See the comment about the shoes above. And I agree with Happy Feminist & Hugo that it can be appropriate with your intimates.

However, you asked "In my mind, there is absolutely no harm on complimenting a person on how they look, unless I am doing it for some hidden (or not so hidden) agenda." And I say regardless of your agenda, society focuses too much on women's bodies. Appearance-based compliments to strangers and aquaintances, however well intentioned, re-inforce that idea. The cummulative effect is not good for many women.

In general, for me intent does not matter as much as affect.

Ron O.

Whoops, make that effect, not affect.

Will

RonO:

Your approach sounds very demeaning to women. You are protecting all women because you believe that it might have some detrimental effect on them.

Ron O.

Your interpretation sounds like you are intentionally misreading for the sake of argument. I'll repeat my first three sentences:

I like to compliment people where appropriate. I wouldn't compliment people on attributes they inherited, unless they were family or very close friends. Also, they need to be true and sincere.

It's not protecting. It's doing no harm.

The Happy Feminist

Will: No one is suggesting that a man should be pilloried for giving an innocuous compliment about a woman's appearance. But if you do so to someone with whom you are not intimate, it may come across as a bit presumptuous, regardless of your intention. That's all.

Why not take the safer course and give some of the compliments that Ron O. suggested. Why is it so important to you to comment on the appearance of women to whom you are not related or intimate?


alexander

"Are you trying to say that this hasn't ever happened to you, that no woman's ever taken you out on a date? Never? Not once?"

OK, this is typical, I brought up a legitimate point, and this was immediately used as an excuse to attack me personally. i.e., the implication is that I am a "loser" whom women do not find attractive. Therefore, what I am saying can be ignored or demeaned. At this point I am supposed to stand up and thump my chest and say "Women ask me out all the time." Right? I don't play that game.

Let me repeat my point: if women do not want men to compliment them then fine, we sensitive men will not compliment women. Will that make women happy?

Or will we see women start complaining that men no longer compliment them? Obviously, this is part of 50,000 years of male neglect of women.

Perhaps we will see new feminist inspired laws requiring men to compliment women or face lawsuits for "date neglect"?

Will

Happy Feminist:

Who is being presumptuous? The person (male or female) making the compliment? Or the person receiving the compliment who presumes a hidden agenda?

I guess it just strikes me as treating women like children. Don't get me wrong. I do not walk around telling women "Hey! You are really WEARING that skirt!!". But, I suspect that you wouldnt think twice about complimenting me about my tie if you saw me in court. Does that mean that you do not respect me or that you want to jump me in a side conference room?

I've had plenty of women that I do not know compliment me on a tie or a coat. Do they not respect me? Did they want to have sex with me? How could I have missed that??!!?!?

I think that this is a very interesting topic. I appreciate your perspective.

mythago

if women do not want men to compliment them

Gosh, where did you get that idea? I certainly want my (male) boss to tell me "Hey, great job on that opposition you wrote." I don't recall that anyone here has suggested a woman's husband must never, ever tell her he finds her beautiful. (Hugo said just the opposite, actually.)

I am losing my ability to remember the Latin names of the fallacies, but you're taking the subject of discussion--men complimenting women's physical appearance as though it were their most importantm and perhaps only worthwhile, feature--and reducing it to a ridiculous and simplistic argument: if you don't like an acquaintance telling you that you have pretty eyes, you must NEVER want ANY man to say anything nice about you EVER, you uptight fembot!

But, I suspect that you wouldnt think twice about complimenting me about my tie if you saw me in court.

1) Do you compliment male colleagues' ties?

2) A tie is not generally a piece of clothing that reflects the physical features of its wearer. "Nice tie, Bob" is not analogous to "Did you lose weight? You look fabulous!"

If you don't believe me, try telling opposing counsel in court that you think his new pinstripe slacks really flatter him.

The Happy Feminist

Thanks Will! I've been known to compliment people's ties in court (assuming they wear nice ties!) But I wouldn't say, "You have beautiful eyes," or "You look great in that suit," because that crosses the line from praising a person's taste to praising his or her physical attributes.

It can seem presumptuous because -- regardless of your intention -- it plays into the notion that the man has a right to assess my looks and to find them either wanting or not. It just plays into too many problems that women face in our culture, as Hugo has pointed out.

I should point out that in my youth, I got a lot of appearance-based compliments, and I didn't run around hmmphing to myself in disgust. But I was honestly a bit relieved when I grew older and got married because it was just draining to have so much focus -- even positive focus -- on my appearance. I vastly preferred compliments on my ideas or jokes or other attributes.

The Happy Feminist

Mythago, why didn't I say that? (Bangs head against desk)

will

mythago:

I compliment people on their ties all the time. I've also told many people that their suit looked great too.

"reflects the physical features of its wearer."

What is my message to you if I tell you that your outfit looks great? Or that you look great today? Am I hitting on you? Am I telling you that you have a great butt that I would like to grab?

will

"I vastly preferred compliments on my ideas or jokes or other attributes."

If you learned to tell better jokes, I would compliment you on those instead! (I kid!)

I agree with you completely.

I just believe that we should be careful about assuming insult or intention when well meaning people say things.

The Happy Feminist

Gotta run-- off to hubby's office holiday party (postponed from last month due to bad weather). Sorry I can't stick around!

ca

I find this amusing, because while I was never particularly sensitive about my looks, and never actually noticed whether people were complimenting me on them or not, I have always been extremely sensitive about my intelligence. Saying, "That was a brilliant thought!" or "But you're smart!" was a WAY better pickup line for me than "You look really nice!"

The other thing is that the vast majority of the "You look great today" lines I've gotten have come from other females. I have always been surrounded by physicists/mathematicians/engineers who don't usually notice... much of anything. On the other hand, for this demographic, actually wearing *nice* clothes is weird enough that it will garner comment, usually in a tone of great surprise and/or condolences, no matter what sex is afflicted with the fancy dress.

mythago

What is my message to you if I tell you that your outfit looks great?

Exactly the point. If I don't know you well, there IS no way for me to know if you just like my tailor, or if you are hitting on me--and that's because of the history and social norms by which men are supposed to compliment women's appearance, both because a) that's an acceptable way to hit on them and b) women's appearance is their most important feature, and one open to judging and commentary.

For example, yesterday I stopped by the office while I was all suited up from having gone to a deposition. A senior attorney passing by mentioned that I looked very professional. This is the kind of compliment he would make to a junior attorney of either sex--and, knowing this attorney, I wouldn't dream that he was hitting on me.

A comment from a stranger, or one that had to do with attractiveness, would be very different.

will

mythago:

I am opposing counsel in a case with you. We have had cases against each other before. We are acquantances. As we are alone in the conference room before a deposition, I saw "Great suit!" You are offended? Have I demeaned you? Do you think I am trying to get into your pants?

Can you not tell me that you like my suit without wanting to jump me right on the conference table? Must every comment be evaluated for possible sexual content? Personally, I do not think that way.

mythago

Actually, will, I would figure you were trying to soften me up so you could pull something over on me in court. ;)

will

Mythago:

excellent answer. Spoken like a true lawyer.

zuzu

What is my message to you if I tell you that your outfit looks great? Or that you look great today? Am I hitting on you? Am I telling you that you have a great butt that I would like to grab?

Let me get you to approach this from another perspective:

Years ago, my sister worked with a woman who was 400 pounds if she was an ounce, but was always beautifully dressed. This woman heard my sister, a tall and big girl, bemoaning the size on the tag in her clothes, one day in the bathroom. She told my sister something that inverts your question: "I can find something that has the 'right' size, and people will say, 'Look at that fat lady in the tight skirt.' Or I could wear something that fits me and looks good, and people will say, 'That's a beautiful skirt.'"

Make no mistake, this woman knew that she was as large as she was and that most people were not looking at her with desire. But if you make the effort to dress well, and someone compliments you on your effort, that feels like a validation of your efforts.

Another perspective: I've said that I am fat and conventionally pretty. I've been stopped by random strangers who've told me that I'm pretty/beautiful enough to have finally absorbed that (and to wonder what kind of attention I'd get if I were thin with the same face and even the half-assed fashion sense).

But I don't depend on the opinions of random strangers or even men I date to validate that, so it was a bit of shock this summer to be with a man who, in the midst of things, asked me, "Do I make you feel beautiful?"

I just froze, because I didn't know what to say. Was this guy suggesting that because he was, um, having relations with me that he was conferring beauty and therefore status on me? I didn't need *him* to tell me that, since I already knew it (even if it had taken me years to internalize it).

(I never saw him again.)

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Should you assume the worst or the best about my intentions?

Well, I can't exactly see that it's to my advantage to assume that no one ever thinks about having sex with me. I've tried working from that assumption, and it didn't take me anywhere good.

Not that I assume everyone's looking to immediately jump my bones, either.

In general, how welcome compliments about appearance are depends on a whole lot of factors: how well we know each other, how intimate a sort of compliment it is, whether the setting is professional or social, what the person's other body language is, etc.

sophonisba

OK, this is typical, I brought up a legitimate point, and this was immediately used as an excuse to attack me personally. i.e., the implication is that I am a "loser" whom women do not find attractive.

No no, you misunderstand. The implication is that if you are not physically attractive enough to attract others to do the work of asking you out - and if you're not, it's certainly no fault of yours; nobody gets to decide how sexy they are - you're just going to have to bite the bullet and do the asking yourself.

You know, like a woman would.

Let me repeat my point: if women do not want men to compliment them then fine, we sensitive men will not compliment women. Will that make women happy?

Yes.

will

"In general, how welcome compliments about appearance are depends on a whole lot of factors: how well we know each other, how intimate a sort of compliment it is, whether the setting is professional or social, what the person's other body language is, etc."

Lynn:

I agree with you completely.

zuzu:

I do not understand what you are trying to say.


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