The Nature of “Compliments”

This past Tuesday our discussion in class centered around the piece “Betrayed by the Angel: What Happens When Violence Knocks and Politeness Answers?” by Debra Anne Davis. The obvious topic shown within this story, and what our discussion focused on, was how women are conditioned to be polite even in the presence of those doing harm to them. 

However, there was another part of the piece that stood out to me as a very significant topic all on it’s own, and that was when the author’s rapist told her “You were so good-looking, I just couldn’t resist.” This then prompts a small introspection from the author on the nature of compliments: “And for the first time in my life, I didn’t enjoy being complimented on my physical appearance.” and “Compliments mean nothing.”

This piece, whether intentionally or not, touched down on an occurrence that is all too bizarre and common for women to experience. The “compliments” that are shouted at us by men on the streets, or the men who do us harm– things like “Nice tits!” and “Hey, girl, you look sexy, I’d screw you!” or “You were just so good-looking”– do so much more than embarrass and shame us when we’re in public. Just like the girl in the blog post I’ve linked at the top of this shows, these “compliments” only serve to scar us mentally. What kind of messed up world do we live in, wherein girls like the one above are conditioned over time to expect to be harassed like this to feel like they are worthy? It’s almost like it has become some sort of twisted initiation into womanhood, or “sexy”hood. Even though we feel disgusted and indignant and shameful when these things are yelled at us, it slowly creeps into our minds that if we aren’t picked on by men to be harassed, then we might not be up to the standards of what’s “pretty” and “sexy”.

I myself have had this feeling of inadequacy. For a long time I had gone without experiencing the street harassment so many women tell stories of, and there was this little, niggling part of me that wondered constantly if maybe I was too ugly to receive such attentions. As asinine as that thought was, and as much as I sure as heck had no desire to ever actually face sexual harassment, I could not stifle these feelings. Then, when finally I did have an experience with street harassment and I was left feeling embarrassed and shaking with fear over what could have happened, I felt very much like what Debra wonders at the end of her thoughts on compliments:

“What good does such a compliment do me?”

And the answer is that it does not do anyone good. Not me, not any woman anywhere. The only person who somehow benefits from these so-called “compliments” are the men who shout them at you out the window of their car when you’re walking home alone at night.

Yet still it’s so easy to let “compliments” like these begin to dictate whether we think we’re good enough or not.

And that’s truly a shame.

Caelie Furches- Section 005

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