Men compliment women for two reasons. The first is that they mean it and need to say it. The second is that they need a tool to control her. A lasso to snare an ethereal creature living beyond their ecosystem. Have you ever heard the jokes about getting in with a gorgeous girl while she’s vulnerable for some reason – i.e., before her self-esteem improves? I have and it’s gross.

A shitty compliment works like a stun gun. The hunter halts their prey. Women are taught that validation from men is essential for their success long before they are even women. Ignoring any type of praise for their greatest commodity, their beauty is rude. Thus, we’re conditioned to respond to compliments without question. Saying thank you when what we really mean is I dont want to interact with you. Please dont make my life more difficult today. Please don’t come any closer to me. She doesn’t want to seem ungrateful for the compliment. She feels uncomfortable but he’s being nice, so she feels pressured to endure a conversation she doesn’t want. She’s eye-raped by the stranger standing in front of her until he eventually asks if she has a boyfriend. As if that has to be her passport to freedom to walking down the street undisturbed.

Nooooot allllll meeeeen, I hear some of you start to whine. Quite right, not all men. Just assholes. As usual, it’s really fucking obvious when a man is genuinely and respectfully wanting to connect with a woman. Or not. You don’t have to tell us Not all men or ask Can’t a man simply give a woman a compliment these days? Come on guys…you can feel the difference as easily as we can. Don’t play dumb. It’s as unbecoming as a sleazy wolf whistle.

For illustrative purposes, I’d like to share an example from each category from my vast treasure-trove of experience. Both involve complete strangers attempting to capture my attention and I assume, fuck me. Neither of these examples were successful for the instigator, but whilst one gave me a warm and happy feeling, the other made me grit my teeth in fury.

Example One. Shitty ‘compliment.’

It was difficult to narrow it down to this one. I could have picked the time a couple of months ago when a complete stranger repeatedly blocked the lift with his arm as I tried to return to my hotel room, informing me he wanted to eat my asshole. I could have picked the time at age 14 when a grown man approached, ‘complimented’ and propositioned me as I sat reading a book in a park. I could have picked the time in my early 20’s I was shamelessly looked up and down, ‘complimented’ then verbally assaulted by a much older man when I quietly asked to be left alone at a crowded bus stop. Not a single observer did anything to help. I could have picked from hundreds of examples, and there are hundreds more I’ve forgotten. But I picked this one.

I was walking hand in hand with my former (female) partner along the beach in Koh Samui. We’d had a romantic dinner, the mood was light and playful. I felt so happy to be with her in paradise. Two young men walking in the other direction intercepted us. They literally blocked our path. The instigator targeted me, his offsider her.

“Woah SEXY,” he practically yelled in my face. My heart sank. It had been such a beautiful evening.

“I don’t want to talk to you.” I replied calmly and evenly. He didn’t move so I physically pushed past him, not letting go of her hand.

Undeterred, they followed us.

“Come party with us, Sexy. Let’s go. Come on. You’re sexy.”

“I. DO. NOT. WANT. TO. TALK. TO. YOU.” I enunciated every word clearly and loudly.

“Why noooooooot?” He whined, still in my face.

“Because I don’t.” The tranquility of our night was broken. I remember feeling so frustrated that I had been forced to put on my armour. To be hard when I’d been so free. I repeated myself twice more.

He started to speak again and I yelled at him to fuck off. I was shaking. He was still standing there, staring at me, ready to open his mouth again. His wingman tugged on his arm like a child, finally suggesting they move on.

“Can’t get away from it anywhere,” my partner said softly. Her voice was flat.

Example two. Actual compliment.

It was a cold morning in Melbourne last year and I grumpily stood at an unattended pharmacy counter with an unwashed face, a coffee and a small pile of urgent essentials. A dude around my age stood next to me in line and as the minutes ticked by we organically turned to each other, raised our eyebrows in frustration and exchanged a few words and a smile.

Leaving the shopping centre and trudging up Lonsdale Street, a flurry of movement caused me to stop and look around. The guy had jogged to catch up to me and was a little out of breath.

“Hey, I’m sorry to just approach you like this. But I had to take the chance.”  It was a good start. I knew I would have to turn him down but his obvious sincerity made me want to give him my attention for a moment. He introduced himself, explained that he was travelling and was wondering if I might like to see a bit of the city with him as he had been immediately attracted to me. Upfront and non-invasive, I appreciated how he had humanised the situation. I replied gently that I was spoken for, but that someone as genuine as him would have no problem finding a lovely Australian girl to keep him company. We chatted briefly about his itinerary and I stepped forward to give him a friendly hug and kiss on the cheek. Positive reinforcement.

So, dear readers, you can see the stark contrast between these encounters. If you are a man reading this, consider how you have tried to catch the attention of women in the past. If you’ve used unintelligible noises, or generic ‘compliments’ and been frustrated with the results, try to imagine how uncomfortable that may have made the subject feel. Sometimes women are subjected to these encounters several times a day!  It’s not fun. It’s like running a gauntlet of intimidation. Choose your words better. Watch your tone. If you’re genuine, we can feel it and will respond to your bravery. If you’re being a pig and sizing us up like we’re a Big Mac…yeah, we can feel that too and we are revolted by it. Do better and you will be rewarded with pleasantries and perhaps even pussy.


— Photography by Emma Salmon – The Blacklight Sydney —