Twice in the past week, some random man has commented to me out of nowhere something along the lines of, “You look beautiful.”

This is by no means the first time this has happened to me. I would imagine it has happened to most women, many times in their life.

It is not a catcall. It is the quiet version of the catcall. The “gentlemanly” version. The “nice guy” version. The kind that women should be grateful to receive. After all, the man isn’t being rude. He is offering up kind words, asking nothing in return. Compliments out of the blue are the most genuine kind, asking only to make the other person feel good.

So I was left wondering, why then does this still make me feel uncomfortable?

I thought hard if I have ever felt the need to comment on a male stranger’s appearance, to that man.

I thought hard if I have ever known other women to comment on a male stranger’s appearance, to that man.

I couldn’t come up with anything on either count. And I started wondering if, similar to catcalls, that is accepted social behavior only in one direction. And if so, why?

My friend M. pointed out that “brazen confidence is accepted and appreciated for guys…[whereas] that sexual “confidence” in women comes off as either desperate or slutty.”

I thought about that. But even more, I concluded a few things.

I don’t ever feel a need to push myself into an unknown man’s personal space. For any reason.

Nor am I sitting around waiting for comments on my appearance. My goal in dressing myself was not to receive compliments from people whose opinion I have no investment in.

And finally, are these compliments honestly given with no hope of something in return?

I do love compliments, of course. But genuine compliments come from a place of knowing a person. And when you don’t know me, those well-meaning compliments are, in fact, just a quiet catcall.

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