Why do strange men think they’re allowed to touch me?

One morning last week I was in line at Starbucks, preparing for the long work day ahead. As I stood in line, a man walked through the café, heading for the seating area in the back. He stopped when he reached me, placed a hand on my arm, leaned in close and said, “You’re so beautiful.” I gave him the filthiest look I could muster – now a reflex after over a year of dealing with New York City street harassment – and stepped up to the register to order my drink. The barista handed it over, and as I walked over to add milk and sugar, I could feel myself becoming angry. I stirred the milk and sugar in, a little more aggressively than was necessary, and some coffee splashed on the counter. Why do strange men think they’re allowed to touch me? I wondered to myself.

Why do strange men think I care about their opinion of my appearance? Do they think I’ll be flattered if they approach me out of the blue and offer their unsolicited opinion as I stand in line, listening to my iPod and minding my own business? Why didn’t I have some witty rejoinder – “and you’re invading my personal space” – ready in time, to make it clear that I wasn’t interested in his input? Most of all, why, why, do strange men think they’re allowed to touch me?

As it happened, I had been feeling good that morning. I had slept well and managed, despite my usual lack of style, to put together a nice outfit for work. I had spent the long subway ride watching the previous night’s Maddow on my iPod. I felt good. I felt beautiful, actually.

Being touched by a stranger and told that I was beautiful didn’t make me feel more beautiful; it made me feel unimportant. It made me feel like what I wanted – to go from home to work with a quick stop at Starbucks on the way, without being harassed – didn’t matter. What mattered most was that this man had an opinion about me, so I had to hear it whether I wanted to or not. He wanted to touch me, so I was going to be touched, by a stranger, whether I wanted it or not.

What he wanted was more important than what I wanted, because he is a man, and I am a woman. Did he consider that his words and his gesture, perhaps intended to compliment, might mean something totally different to me? If he did, that didn’t stop him. What he wanted was more important than what I wanted, perhaps because we live in a world where what men want is more important than what women want. That is why strange men think they’re allowed to touch me – and any other women they feel like touching. It’s that simple.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/ericjaffa/ Eric Jaffa

    A silent, dirty look apparently got him to go away.

    If you had said, “and you’re invading my personal space” then he might have stepped back, said “Sorry” and then continued talking to you.

  • http://feministing.com/members/natty/ Natalie

    I think it is also what men think that is more important than what women think. I might think I am the most beautiful, powerful, amazing woman on the planet but that means nothing until it is affirmed by the male perspective. And I believe that the man in Starbucks really thought you wanted to hear his opinion, because in our society he is the only one who gets to approve or disapprove of your appearance, how you feel just doesn’t matter.

    I really like what you said about this encounter making you feel unimportant, maybe that is partially the intention. If men continue to see women simply as beautiful or not, they can continue to keep women’s opinions muted and they can continue believing in their own inflated sense of importance. Truth is, that creep probably felt really good about himself, he probably thought he made your day.

  • http://feministing.com/members/alynn/ aLynn

    In conjunction with the fact that what men think is seen as more important that what women think is the idea that EVERY compliment EVER is a good thing. You are supposed to feel better about yourself not only because a man said something nice, but because someone said something nice to you at all… the fact that these advances are unwelcomed (and often threatening) is irrelevant. And you’re just a bitch if you don’t take them them with a flirty response.

  • http://feministing.com/members/ak47/ a

    Not only do many men seem to think that what they want is more important than what women want, but also that what they want IS what women want – or that, because they want it, women must want it too. I’m not articulating this very well, but I just read an essay by Catharine MacKinnon that (though there were things in the article I disagreed with) explained it more thoroughly.

    Have a lot more to say on street harassment, but it’s too long to distill right now. Thanks for sharing this.

  • rebeccajk42

    Thank you for writing this – you managed to express something that’s often pretty hard to put into words.

    As offensive as it is, sometimes it’s also hard to get angry. Maybe we feel that a snarky comment would be appropriate, but I’m also very concerned about being polite in public spaces (because I’d appreciate it if others were polite to me), and especially if this was an older man he probably truly had no clue that that was offensive. Is that an excuse? No, no way am I trying to excuse inappropriate behavior. But I also don’t want to lash out at someone who is trying to give a compliment. Were it someone you knew, it might be time to talk about why that is offensive, but if it’s just some random fleeting encounter, what does one do?

    It stinks too because either way (whether you react or not), you as the victim are left with so much anger that just simmers all day, and he has no clue. (No clue if you don’t react, but probably also no clue if you DO react, because without any context or an explanation he’d probably just be like “Wow, I tried to give this woman a compliment and she just snapped at me, she must be crabby!” or something.)

  • http://feministing.com/members/austinhippie/ ronda

    I have had the same sort of thing happen to me. I cut my hair very short last year, and strange men have actually tried to touch the bck of my head or neck. telling me how nice the haircut looks. like they are surprised a woman can look good with short hair. wow thanks. because i was really wanting the approval of strange men when i cut all my hair off.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kevin/ Asa

    If she was really, really dressed up, would it have been okay for a guy waiting in line behind her to say something she was wearing was interesting (without touching her) as a way to start a conversation? I’m a guy and I might ask another guy something like “that’s a nice suit, where did you get it?” or something like that. I would really be on my guard with a woman though, because I know women are dehumanized in ways like above, so I would feel uncomfortable commenting on a woman’s looks unless she was wearing something very unique. I’m also just learning about feminism, so when in doubt, I just stay quiet.

  • http://feministing.com/members/forthequeen/ mike

    they have the mentality that they can do whatever they want

    i’m sure that guy did that to countless women and 99% of them didn’t “Defend” themselves from him

    even that dirty look you gave him probably didn’t even register to him. he probably that u were just having a bad day lol

  • http://feministing.com/members/dampscribbler/ Kristina Knight

    I think I’d try saying the same thing as to any other inappropriate comment: “Why would you say that?”

    I highly suspect it never occurred to him that his comment (and his touch, ew) would be seen as anything but a compliment that would only make your day better. And I doubt that it ever occurred to him to wonder why a woman would feel good about a touch and a comment from a strange man, or why she might not. We’ve got a long way to go in America to train our boys and young men about responsible behavior toward others.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jackmojo/ Marc

    I totally recommend the “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME!” public shaming approach. myself.

    He’ll definitely think twice before touching someone uninvited then.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lostingenerica/ Christina

    Men thing they are entitled to touch you. Even standing in line at Starbucks, you are their property to judge, touch, and infantilize. And if you don’t like it, you must be on your period.

    Men are also entitled to call you “sweetie” or “honey” whenever they like. This is all paternalism to infantilize us.

    Maybe I’ll create some sort of hand-out to give to guys every time they do these things, so they can read for themselves the long explanation about why it’s offensive. I don’t have time to explain it every time. It happens too much, especially in the service industry.

    Also, the “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME” approach sounds hilariously fun!

  • http://feministing.com/members/kaelin/ Matt

    Creepy or not, men with any decency will take the hint when you give a clear “no.” To this one’s credit, he took the hint just from a dirty look. I think you could stand to increase the intensity and clarity of your response by verbalizing it (“don’t touch me”), but I think going as far as publicly shaming/humiliating him is best reserved for people who persist with this type of behavior.

    I don’t think it is a bad thing for people to *think* that someone is “attractive” provided they (1) divorce their judgment from any considerations of character/merit and (2) are extremely judicious in acknowledging it. In this example, he broke (2), big time. Without knowing his tone of voice and other clues, I would be inclined to go with the most reasonable explanation you offered for why he violated your personal space — he was oblivious to your point of view. He was probably so wrapped up in his feelings he didn’t seriously consider what impact the gesture would have on you. With an arm grab, though, it seems plausible that something more malicious went on, but I’m not really in a position to judge.

    This is something on a bit of a tangent, but at least in my experience, kids tend to receive a substantial amount of physical contact (beyond handshakes) from their family and relatives when they are younger, but it is generally not acceptable for them to engage in physical contact with the people around them as they grow older. I wonder on some level whether this sort of culture may be tempting men (after they have generally stopped receiving this physical contact) to seek out unwanted contact — women may be less likely to present a similar scene because (1) physical contact with their same-sex peers is more socially acceptable and may reduce inclination to engage in contact elsewhere, (2) women are conditioned to be somewhat fearful of men and the message the gesture sends, and (3) in the event a woman does touch a man, it is less socially acceptable for men to “make a scene” since a woman’s contact is generally regarded as less threatening.

    It’s not to excuse the incident, but age-specific contact, #1, and #3 are factors that I think are worth addressing to reduce unwanted contact by men. #2 is also worth addressing, but the reasons are rather different.

  • http://feministing.com/members/afteraugust/ Addie Brownlee

    Hey Kevin – it’s great that you’re trying to figure all this stuff out. It sounds like you’re trying to make conscious choices. I would say – yes – it is probably best not to say anything to a woman in line in front of you that has anything to do with her physical appearance or what she’s wearing.

    Also, women are often used to men complimenting something they’re wearing as veiled means to compliments their bodies.

    I always think that if you reverse the situation and something seems odd to you, then we understand that the original scenario is problematic – for instance – the idea of a “First Man” (a spouse whose sole identity is to be the “help-mate” of the president) was quite absurd to the US population which illuminates the absurdity of the idea of “First Lady”.

    In this scenario I would never walk up to an attractive man I had never met, take his elbow, pull him to me and tell him that he’s so handsome. Because I understand that no one gets to touch someone else or get intimate with someone else uninvited.

    You’re brave to ask questions.

    • http://feministing.com/members/kevin/ Kevin

      @Addie Thanks, that makes sense.

    • http://feministing.com/members/kamakula/ Kamakula

      This is a weird subject. Are there resources out there where one can learn what is appropriate and what is not. When is it ok to comment on someone’s looks? At some point, strangers will want or need to interact with each other. The solution of “when in doubt do nothing” is not good enough. Either there is a source of what constitutes acceptable behavior or people need to articulate to others what is acceptable to them.

      If we are against some group of set rules that delineate behavior between people, then we must accept that situations are fluid and take on a greater responsibility to educate others around us.

      In this case, I think a rule everyone can agree with is “No casual touching of strangers”. Tacking on one about commentary on looks is a bit more tricky. It proscribes a specific behavior that you may disagree with but others do not. And unlike the “no touching” one where it is easy to outline the situations where it is ok to break the rule – eg I’m the only doctor where stranger is undergoing a medical crisis, enumerating the conditions under which it is ok to violate the latter either requires a lot of space or a lot of time to really process the reason for the rule and determine a general set of behavior that can capture and explain to everyone what should and should not be done.

      I’m not trying to be a smartass here. This comment is because the intended audience is clearly the world at large and while certain things may be obvious to the author and seem to require no thought at all, for many, even those who are admittedly trying to do the right things, charting these waters can be tough and while the “when in doubt – do nothing” approach will work for people of certain personality, the vast majority don’t spend time analyzing behavior or things they do in everyday circumstances at the exact moment it is happening and so need more guidance if we want what we believe to be correct behavior to become more mainstream, instinctual, and commonplace.

  • http://feministing.com/members/hannahbaker/ Hannah Baker

    I posted this on my facebook page, thinking that I might get a few “likes” and similar stories, but instead I was immediately swamped with comments such as this one:

    “The author of that article sounds like a total cunt who can’t take a compliment. Like James said, women touch men and other women all the time…shit, people touch other people all the time. I’m not a people toucher unless I have to tap somebody on the shoulder to ask them a question but I wouldn’t get offended if somebody touched me, especially if it was to give me a compliment. Some people are comfortable with it, others are not. I’m not into dudes at all but I wouldn’t even get offended if a gay dude had done the same thing to me.
    To add this element of assumed sexism or superiority to something totally innocuous is just being unnecessarily bitchy and combative. I wonder if the stranger in question was attractive and how that could have potentially changed their take on the situation.
    I bet there’s at least one woman out there that had the exact same experience and now that person is her husband/wife (in Canada). ”

    Another said:
    ” I have seen women go up and touch other women to comment on their outfit. Would she have been as offended if a strange woman had walked up, grabbed her arm, and said “I love your outift it looks great”? Or does she only feel this way when men do it?”

    There is a sort of friendly, unknowing misogyny that I experience with men frequently. But it’s in the actions they perceive as innocuous that their fundamental belief in the superiority of their sex comes through. That’s what this article is about and it’s sad to me to see it also reflected in these comments from my friends.

    • http://feministing.com/members/alynn/ aLynn

      Facebook is a scary place to express how I actually feel about the world.

      As for wondering if it would the the same reaction if it was a woman touching her…I personally, don’t like any stranger touching me. But I AM more threatened/annoyed if it is a guy. I wish I didn’t have this bias, but this is the truth. It comes from the fear in me from a culture which implicitly condones street harassment and blames rape victims.

      • http://feministing.com/members/geekgirl/ Victoria

        “But it’s a complement! Waaaa” says the guy responding to my tweet/facebook on this.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mhayah/ Dedeker

    The compliment doesn’t bother me as much as the touching does.

    I’ve run into this situation myself numerous times–but primarily with older men. Men of my own generation seem to be at least a little more respectful of one’s personal space…or maybe they’re just more timid about invading it. Older men I’ve found are more likely to feel that it’s okay to touch me without consideration–a hand on the arm, or around the shoulder, or a lingering pat on the back. It’s most disturbing when it pops up in professional situations. I had an interview that I thought was going wonderfully turn sour (for me, anyway) when the much older, male interviewer escorted me out of the office…with his arm around my shoulder. I highly doubt he would have done this to any of his male interviewees.

    I wonder if some of them think that they can pass off inappropriate touching as just being fatherly and harmless??

  • http://feministing.com/members/phaedre/ Phaedre

    As a fat plain over 30 woman, I am invisible, undesirable, ignored. Funny how, if this incident happened to me, I would have been absolutely floored. For once, maybe, I would feel beautiful.

    • http://feministing.com/members/cooler/ Dan

      It’s presumably attractive people like the poster who are afforded the luxury of feeling so superior to others that a touch (a touch to get her attention since she was wearing her headphones) and a compliment (at the root of it, that’s all it was, a compliment) in a public space is at the pinnacle of offensive things that could happen in her perfect little world.

      i was in mexico shooting a wedding for a couple a month ago. on the day of the wedding, the bride (looking amazing) walked a good 15 minutes through the resort, receiving compliments left, right, and centre…was she upset and offended? no. she was confident in herself and friendly enough to smile, say thankyou, and engage these people in conversations…it’s not really the same thing, but it’s kind of related.

      if you’re out in public and you don’t want any attention, and you don’t want to talk or socialize with anyone…i don’t even know. but it’s people like the poster who are turning the world into a disconnected.

      • http://feministing.com/members/alynn/ aLynn

        You’ve totally missed the point. There is nothing about superiority in this.

        I’m NOT conventionally attractive (simply put…I’m fat) but on the rare (but not nonexistent) occasion that I am approached by a man in public regarding my looks, I don’t think “Oh, silly little ole ugly me should be so FLATTERED to have him talk to me like this, tee hee.”

        It, instead, has everything to do w/ the manner in which the exchange occurs. Oftentimes it’s no biggie. Other times it’s outright threatening and enraging and makes me wonder why men feel that I am public domain. It has nothing to do with wanting to be disconnected and everything to do with wanting to be treated with some basic dignity.

        And this sentence:

        “if you’re out in public and you don’t want any attention, and you don’t want to talk or socialize with anyone…i don’t even know”

        is a short step away from classic victim blaming.

  • http://feministing.com/members/pacifista/ Jane Adams

    If this is all it takes to make the writer of this post angry, what does she do when a real crisis develops? There are a lot of reasons to be angry with men, but I find this to be self centered and narcissistic. If he had touched her in a private place on her body and not her arm, it would be inaccusable, but boo hoo, someone touched her arm and told her she was beautiful.
    If you want to be angry with men, how about a less personal focus on their never ending cruelty toward their fellow humans (and animals) and war mongering. Now before someone responds that woman can be cruel, too and that men are often kind, I KNOW. But, men are responsible for most of the wars that develop and the killing of millions of innocent souls.
    If you want to spend some time feeling angry towards men, why not put your own vanity aside and see how their violent behavior has influenced culture after culture and has created misery since recorded history, and probably before.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mshookupdoc/ Denice

    I am so glad that this issue was brought out in the open! The last time I had a strange guy comment on my looks was a few months ago when I was in a taxi cab and the driver proceeded to hit on me while I was essentially “trapped” in the back seat. I was in a strange town and did not know my way around and therefore had to make conversation with him to identify where he was going. Along the drive he pointed out where he lived, what bars he partied at, and asked me where I was having dinner that night. Then he made several comments about my looks. Needless to say, I was in a very uncomfortable situation, but responded to him when I got out of the cab by saying “making comments like that can get you in trouble.” I then proceeded to call the cab company, inform the hotel I was staying at and told them all I had feared greatly for my safety and felt sexually harrassed by his inapproriate comments. The words ‘Sexually Harrassed” got an immediate response from the hotel and cab company who refunded my cab fare and fired the driver. Hopefully that will teach him a lesson in humility…but, I doubt it. And, I did not feel bad about the driver losing his job– not one bit.

    I have always hated it when random guys of all ages have made comments about my appearance or felt they could come into my personal space without prior permission from me. It has honestly NEVER been an ego boost or flattering to me to have some guy I don’t know demonstrate their “male privilege” to observe & objectify my appearance and then let me know they approve of it! “GEE…thanks you idiot. I didn’t feel beautiful or worthy until just now when you gave me your very much unwanted opinion.” When, I was younger (in my teens & twenties) I didn’t know how to react or respond to these supposed “compliments” by men. I was always very uncomfortable and rather shy at that time, so I either wouldn’t say anything or I would just say “thanks.” Unfortunately, I was raised to be very polite and to acknowledge compliments by other people instead of downplaying them. I imagine that many young women have been raised this way and it really is/was to our detriment. It took me many years of experience before I began standing up for myself. Perhaps if I had been taught early on how to handle unwanted verbal intrusions from men I would of felt empowered sooner rather than later.

    Now, when a guy makes comments on my looks, I look him right in the eyes and look right through him as if he isn’t there with absolutely no expression on my face and I walk away or ignore him completely. Unfortunately, I have found that engaging these types of guys in any kind of conversation (even if it is to put them in their place) just encourages more interaction with them and that is often what they are hoping for. It is definitely a Catch-22 on publicly calling out guys like this, but I can definitely see the value in it under the right circumstances.

    • http://feministing.com/members/thedelphiad/ Dom

      Good for you! I also complained when a cab driver did this to me. Didn’t leave my name, though, just told them exactly what happened and swore I would never use their company again. And I haven’t. Though now I also have a car.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mshookupdoc/ Denice

    P.S. on strange guys making comments on my appearance. I wanted to add that if it is a guy that I know and I have invited him into my space because their is mutual trust and respect between us; then sincere compliments are very welcome and encouraged!

  • http://feministing.com/members/charissa/ Charissa

    Hannah – I also posted this on my facebook, thinking I might get a few interesting comments from my fellow feminist friends. Instead, my sexist friends decided to write some really hurtful things. I ended up getting REALLY upset and I thought I would share some of the comments with you all, and maybe get some tips on how to respond to people like this in the future:

    “Wow this lady is the biggest bitch in the whole world. Guys cant even compliment women these days and they wonder why we are all asses? because no woman can fucking take a compliment…im writing a nasty letter to that bitch”

    “that was the most irrational, ridiculous, unnecessary piece of shit i’ve ever read. wow, from the title you would think she was fondled or something, but no, a man just touched her arm and complimented her. j***s c****t, next time i’m out a…nd about, i’m going to go up to a woman, put my hand on her shoulder and say ‘you’re so ugly’. how the hell is anyone supposed to know she’s a total bitch and doesn’t want anyone to talk to her? i doubt she would have written a whole blog complaining about it if an older woman had come up to her, touched her arm and said ‘you’re beautiful’. honestly, i didn’t even see how at the end she thought it would be okay to try and tie in sexism, because her whole argument was a complete waste of time and didn’t demonstrate how horrible men are, it only demonstrated how uptight she was, and it actually makes me think less of women now that i know there are women out there like that.”

    “And women should also respect a compliment and not subject that man into being a creeper because he complimented her, and no I would not mind if a man tapped my mother on the shoulder and told her she was pretty, depending on how they blew up the situation I would probably be upset that she was so rude to him. Now if the man had leaned in to the point of face to face or had grabbed her that is a completely different situation. And yes I have 5 sisters and a mother to which none would have acted in such an immature way.”

    All three comments were by men. One of them was my brother. I find this incredibly upsetting that they were not able to understand the point of the article.

  • http://feministing.com/members/gugenk/ Kayla R.

    I completely agree with that being a violation of personal space; and I have had a man take it one step further. I work in a day spa, and even though we are a high end spa and are advertised as such, we still get the occasional perv looking for something extra. One man actually exposed his penis to me in the waiting room. I am not a massage therapist, and have not been trained to deal with that situation. I have never felt more violated or powerless; which was a new and horrible feeling for me because I am usually a pretty assertive and confrontational individual. I completely understand where the feeling of unimportance is coming from in this article.

    Being attractive does not give people the right to force attention on you if you do not want it. I feel like having your head phones on in line and not initiating conversation gives out that vibe quite obviously. Slippery slope, people.

    • http://feministing.com/members/cooler/ Dan

      if i saw a girl i just absolutely fell in love with at first sight with head phones in, and her hood up, and reading a book….i’d definitely find some way to approach her and try my luck. i’d risk inconveniencing her for a chance to take her out on a date for sure.

      if she wasn’t having any of it, that’s cool…but i’d still have to try. that’s what it comes down to.

      • http://feministing.com/members/thedelphiad/ Dom

        Just because *YOU* fall in love doesn’t mean *SHE* would give a rat’s ass. And she doesn’t have to. I don’t care how many guys fell in love with me at first sight. If I was busy, or did not want anyone bothering me, they could all go to hell. And if some guy bothered me when I obviously did not want anyone invading my space, he would get an earful of very loud invective and would have even LESS of a chance. Every woman on this board feels the same. What did you expect??? WHY ARE YOU MALE TROLLS EVEN HERE? We’re giving you the message loud and clear and you persist in not hearing it. You’re obviously not learning. Go away.

        • http://feministing.com/members/crickets/ Seth

          what should he do, meekly accept that unless he’s introduced by a third party he is incapable of initiating a conversation with a woman without offending her? I agree that an arm over the shoulder or grabbing the elbow is too much, but is a tap on the shoulder ok if you are trying to get someones attention? what about making eye contact?

          I agreed with the spirit of the original article, but some of the comments have left me with second thoughts.

          everyone has to meet somehow. if someone asks you if you’re interested in getting to know one another, that is not harrasment. if you aren’t interesed, it’s not neccesary to berate the poor guy, we aren’t psychic.

          as for ‘male trolls’… isn’t it a positive thing that we’re trying to read about women’s issues from a feminist perspective? I havn’t seen any blatantly non-constructive comments yet.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mshookupdoc/ Denice

    Kayla R., I completly agree with you. Too many times I have been friendly with guys who have entered my space and/or complimented me and 99% of the time it has ended up with the guy somehow misinterpreting my willingness to have a simple conversation as “she wants me.” I once was just idly talking to the owner of mechanic shop while I was waiting for my car to be fixed. We discussed things about our kids mostly. Very benign conversation (notice how I already feel like I need to defend myself, lest somehow thinks “she lead him on.”) I do not know how this married guy owner of the mechanic shop got the idea that he could call me on my cell phone and ask me out to lunch, but that is exactly what he did! I was very insulted and told him so. I also told him that he lost my business and that I would not be back. After that he had the nerve to text me a few times…not to apologize, but to see if I would change my mind! JERK. I actually feel sad that there seems to be such a big gap of misunderstanding surrounding open communicaton with the opposite sex. I enjoy casually chatting with all kinds of people, but I have learned the hard way that I have to be careful about it with some guys.

    • http://feministing.com/members/gugenk/ Kayla R.

      That is almost exactly what happened to me! I was talking very politely with him, and then I glance up from my computer and he had pulled it out. I spent the rest of the day FURIOUS.

  • http://feministing.com/members/geekgirl/ Victoria

    Try this on your jerky facebook friends….
    Imagine a guy coming up to your sister or daugther and saying
    “Hey, you make me hard, and I don’t care if you wanted to know. Now say thank you.”

  • devoted_toucan

    I definitely agree about the personal space issue and the fact that touching a stranger is inappropriate (unless in a different country/place and it’s an accepted cultural thing), but (at the risk of apparently being a misogynist or sexist…female) I think some of you are going too far about the actual comment. Bloody heck, a man exposing genitals in a work setting (or elsewhere, obviously) is a tad different from giving a compliment. (I’m not with the other extreme opinions that it means Chloe is uptight or feels superior, either.) It’s wonderful that she was feeling beautiful before then that day, but a lot of people don’t go about feeling as if they look good. Many people enjoy compliments – something that (I imagine) only reaffirms the behaviour of such men. And I’m sure that many also don’t enjoy it, but we don’t have signs stating whether we love or hate it. Plus, if we are haters, do we really express why when it happens? From the comments here, it sounds like the general thing to do is to give an angry look, which doesn’t explain why we’re offended – ‘n’, yes, evidently (unfortunately) an explanation is needed, especially when we do have some people who enjoy the compliments. So, maybe some of you think that if there are lovers and haters (and since it’s not obvious what someone is), it shouldn’t be done at all – just in case the person doesn’t like it…but would we even be here had our great grandparents, grandparents, parents hadn’t approached one another and tried to make a connection (most likely through a compliment)? Wouldn’t a lot less people fall in love now, or even just have a good relationship, if no one approached someone who was a stranger the first time the couple met? I know that if I were single and ever had the guts to tell a stranger that I thought she was beautiful, I’d do it not because I thought she couldn’t possibly know/feel this herself, but because I genuinely meant it and wanted to try and make a connection with her in the hopes of starting a beautiful relationship. Is it different if it’s a guy making a comment? Perhaps, but it would be wrong to assume that every male who compliments a woman is a slimeball. Of course, it does depend on the way they do it, but (aside from the invasion of personal space) a man telling you that they feel that you’re beautiful (and then leaving it once you don’t respond)…are they really so bad as to warrant most of the comments here? How are you folks expecting anyone to get into a relationship if we can’t even do that these days? (Yeah, yeah, we don’t HAVE to be in a relationship, and many are happy not being, but a lot of us do like it!) On another note, I have heard of women doing this as well (to friends, both female and male), so it’s not exclusively (as I interpreted Chloe to imply) a thing done only by males because, “what men want is more important than what women want”.

    • http://feministing.com/members/crickets/ Seth

      thank you, people have to initiate contact somehow… and in some ways it can be both a fine line and a world apart from harassment.

      I’m also not sure many women neccesarily appreciate how hard it can be for a guy to work up the courage to say anything to a woman. sure, there are plenty of fast-and-loose flirters out there, but there are also those who psyched themselves up all week just to try to say something to you at the bar, or park, or wherever.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jwill/ JWill

    Interesting post. There are two separable issues here:

    1) The stranger touching you issue
    2) The stranger complimenting your physical appearance issue

    Yeah, seriously guys, cut #1 out. Weird…

    But not everyone agrees that physical compliments, even by strangers, are always creepy. Now sure, in the context of undesired physical contact, always creepy. But compliments on physical appearance are one of many ways of breaking the ice between strangers. For some people they are creepy and inappropriate; for others they are not. They can be a sign that someone notices something special about you that you value too. And not every man who says such things thinks that it is the only thing that matters about the woman; nor even that it is the most important thing; nor that their compliments are the only validating experiences in women’s lives.

    I can imagine a possible world where strangers never go up and talk to strangers. Or one where, if they do, they never break the ice with a compliment. Or if they do, it never has anything do do with physical appearance. Some people would vastly prefer to live in one of those three worlds, than live in our current one. But not everyone! That’s what makes this issue really tough!

    Perhaps it is naive and idealistic, but perhaps it can be one of those issues that are settled in a “democratic” way. People who like it will respond back with friendliness. Those who do not can scowl. These behaviors will reinforce and increase, or punish and decrease, the behavior. And it’s proportion in society will come to reflect some balance of how people feel about it.

    Now, I know in reality that won’t work. There are all sorts of structural reasons why the people who don’t like it are probably at a disadvantage. And why even if they outnumbered those who disliked it outnumbered those who like it 4:1, the behavior would stick around. So something more than “let the social market do it’s business” is probably necessary here. But “everyone should stop” seems harsh. Are there middle ground alternatives that don’t punish those who like that type of social interaction and introduction?

  • honeybee

    The problem stems from different people have different levels of comfort with these sorts of things. Fact is alot of women don’t mind or even enjoy getting compliments if they are given nicely and are not overly vulgar. As far as the touching goes, the devil is in the details. Obviously many forms of touching are inappropriate, however if it just a touch on the arm I do not think most people mind this. In fact of recent years I’ve heard a rash of complaints from women in real life and the internet at how frustrated they are that guys never approach them anymore and are so afraid of them.

    Which leaves a gray area. If different people have different standards what is the right way to address? Is it fair to disallow all touching and compliments when some want this? To say all public forms of communication or compliments that *might* be taken as a sexual advance are unallowed when so many women are striving for this exact attention?

    In the end I think you must be reasonable. It is not unreasonable to be offended by the touching or compliments but I think it IS unreasonable to lash out or get overly angry at it. You are within your rights to rebuff this sort of thing but not to lose your shit or get overly offended IMO. But again it’s all about the details. Alot of guys cross the line. But alot don’t.

    • http://feministing.com/members/thedelphiad/ Dom

      What you don’t understand is the level of entitlement implicit in the touch. This level of male privilege and entitlement is saying “you are my personal whore, because society told me this was okay, so I can do whatever I want”. This is where the anger comes from. How many 101 explanations do we have to churn out before all those dumbasses out there get the point? It’s annoying.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lindsayrose/ Lindsay

    Everyone has different boundaries regarding what kind of touch they’re comfortable with. Personally, this situation would not have offended me, but everyone is different.

    On the other hand, a creeper at a bar last weekend was getting really nasty, and when I got upset his response was to put his arm around me. I shrugged away and told him in no uncertain terms not to touch me. His reaction? He draped himself across me even more.

    And that’s when I lost it. Needless to say, things were not pretty from there on out. When a woman — no, when anyone — says not to touch them, you listen.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kovalai/ Brian

    [rant] Uhg. These guys… They need to learn to think then type. Or better yet just don’t say anything and learn to listen. What are they thinking? Listen, there’s a roomful of women telling you how it is. It is an invasion of personal space to walk up and touch someone because you have INVADED (read: moved into uninvited) their PERSONAL SPACE (read: PERSONAL space). Saying you’re just trying to get their attention is bullshit. I tap someone on the shoulder and stand a reasonable distance. Grabbing someone’s arm is a THREAT. You have not only moved into their space but denied them the ability to leave. ~headdesk~ [/rant]

    Right, sorry. That really bothered me. Thanks for the article. “Do not randomly touch people” *should* be a wallbanger, but what’s really caught my brain and sent me for a loop is the discussion of when and where and if a compliment sans bad touch is acceptable. My first thought was that I really like compliments, and generally feel like people like to receive compliments, but then I realized that the one or two “compliments” I’m most likely to receive tend to be more upsetting than not.

    But anyways. I wouldn’t go running across a room or bother someone wearing headphones or reading but if there was a beautiful woman in line next to me I would probably say something like ‘you’re really beautiful.” I might or might not wait for a response, and for me this would just be an innocent compliment because I thought it was true. Using Addie’s criteria this would be fine, I wouldn’t mind or find it inappropriate if a woman let me know she thought I was beautiful/handsome/whatever. But that really don’t take into account the privilege issue. The idea that someone might become uncomfortable because of the whole “I said something nice now you owe me” sort of thinking I’m familiar with and would try to avoid, but the idea that it might actually be insulting… boggles.

    Not sure how to move forward with that. Similarly I’m pretty likely to compliment someone on a nice jacket or boots or earrings or something because I like pretty things, and I never really felt like that sort of thing was particularly aggressive? I don’t know if that’s because I was raised in a rather heteroabnormal environment? Or am I totally off base here?

  • http://feministing.com/members/brasshearts/ Caitlin Ryan

    I personally encounter people invading my personal space in this exact same way on a very regular basis. sometimes its also women, but mostly men. I have pretty major tattoo work done, and i am approached by strange men so often that my dude and i have a running “joke” tally of how many people will come up and talk to me about them at any given show (we go to alot of concerts). i have actually had my arm grabbed while i was walking past someone so that i had to stop so he could see them.

    i am not naive, i am well aware that people will look at my tattoos, i look at other peoples, its human nature. HOWEVER i do find grabbing my arm, twisting it and turning it so you can look at them a serious violation of personal space. i also require a little more personal space that most individuals as well and this really bothers me. i dont see guys grabbing random guys to look at their tattoos, or to tell them they look good, or have pretty eyes.

    also, it has a serious stench of unoriginality. i know my tattoos are awesome. i also think im beautiful. i do have pretty eyes. im far more likely to talk to you if you engage me mentally vs commenting on my looks.