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Turn Down (Compliments) For What, Street Harassment Edition

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The new Detroit Airport is surprisingly beautiful. My only complaint is that I was subjected to “The View” there this week while waiting for my flight to board. It was so painful listening to “Republican” Nicolle Wallace tell viewers she didn’t care how they voted, just that they voted. And the show highlight was Taylor Swift’s appearance, where the ladies of “The View” said that what made her special was that she “marches to the beat of her own drummer.” Her own highly produced, computerized, forgettable drummer.

So imagine my surprise when they were all kind of “meh” about that viral video showing the lowlights of an actress’ 10-hour walk through the boroughs of Manhattan. I was kind of “meh” about that viral video, too! I mean, I absolutely hate street harassment but I define it not as “interaction with men on the street” but as “aggressive pressure or intimidation on the street.” While there were certainly a few things that counted as the latter in the video, a lot of it was more along the lines of “You’re pretty” or “Hello, have a nice day.” And in my book, that’s part of what makes being human around other humans fun. Or, at least, not awful.

Here’s the video so you can see for yourself:

I mean, with all due respect to New York City, which is sort of well known for its good and bad street interactions, I’m mildly surprised the video editor didn’t have far more to work with. In my experience there’s much more give and take about these things in New York City than, say, my hometown of Denver, Colorado (and many of might nominate foreign locales for street harassment that even puts New York to shame). I’ve gotten my fair bit of attention on the street in New York, and have heard some dramatic, hilarious and creepy exchanges.

That dude walking alongside the actress, mostly silently, for five minutes? Uncouth, creepy, weird, scary. Certainly threatening because even though he wasn’t a particularly impressive male specimen, men are generally stronger than women (outside of Hollywood movies and in other fictions).

But a young man asking a young woman “How you doing today?”? Pardon me if I don’t get upset.

And even that horribly annoying “Smile!” is lame more than anything else. It happened to me just last week in the Chicago airport bar:

 

I say this as someone who generally enjoys a bit of harmless flirtation and, when I was single, was quite sympathetic to the difficulties of trying to talk to a woman: There is nothing worse in your game arsenal than telling a woman to smile. It’s like a poor man’s neg. And negging is already a poor excuse for having any game. One guy on Twitter said watching my “live-tweeting an airport bar emasculation is probably the high point of my week.”

If it helps just one man not be an idiot, I’m happy to oblige. (And I do it for the sake of all the decent men and women who are hurt by other people’s idiocy.)

But I’m not going to join all the other pundits on the fainting couch over this viral video:

 

The praise for this viral video is so strong that the only negative reaction you’re getting in popular media is from people noting that the video has racist overtones, since all of the men pictured negatively are black and Latino.

Let’s not overreact

Is there room for a middle-ground approach to interaction with your fellow humans? I think so!

I think men can easily learn how inappropriate it is to creep alongside a woman. I think they can learn how to do a better job of interacting with women than telling them to “smile.”

Women can also learn to distinguish between “Hello,” “Hi,” “How are you?,” “Good morning!,” “You sure look nice today,” and creepy stalkerish behavior or overt sexual objectification with no redeeming qualities.

And we can all learn how to find a healthy middle ground where we encourage healthy communication between the sexes while avoiding unhealthy communication.

Learn How To Give Compliments

I wrote about this previously in the perfectly headlined “Turn Down (Compliments) For What” but let’s revisit. It’s always a good idea to remember that a compliment is, by definition, polite. If you’re not being polite, you’re not giving a compliment. Merriam-Webster defines compliment as “a remark that says something good about someone or something” or “an action that expresses admiration or approval.”

Telling a woman to ‘smiiiiiiile’ isn’t terribly polite. It’s not going to be received as a compliment because it’s not given in a courteous manner. Telling a woman you want to do unspeakable things to her is not cool either. I regret that I even have to say this. Objectifying a woman and reducing her into some kind of means by which you fulfill your lustfulness is not polite.

Don’t Panic When Someone Interacts With You

If a man says “hello” to you, don’t be too self obsessed about it. A simple nod or “hi” might be perfectly appropriate in that situation. If you’re told you’re looking good, you might just receive that compliment kindly. I can’t be the only woman who actually enjoys being told I look beautiful or even just that I look nice. It might even be something close to universal among women, even if those complaining about compliments are more prominent in the media. There’s no need to jujitsu such nice sentiments into bad things. Maybe just reflect on how blessed you are to have all that you do and live in a free country with such abundance and to be living at a point in time where the world has conspired to put you in such a situation where you’re wearing beautiful clothing and having time to face the world clean and healthy. And then you can say something along the lines of “thank you.”

As I wrote previously, feminism has made it some kind of hate crime to offer compliments to strangers but it’s worth remembering how difficult it is for some of us to just say “thank you” to anyone, including our friends and family members. Perhaps the best demonstration of this is an Inside Amy Schumer sketch where a group of women downplay every compliment they receive from each other. The sketch is “uncensored” and totally over-the-top in offensiveness and, well, NSFW as a result. But here’s a sample of cleaned up dialogue:

Woman 1: OMG Bree, you dyed your hair! It looks amazing!

Woman 2: Oh no, you’re just being nice.

Woman 1: No seriously it looks great.

Woman 2: No, I tried to look like Kate Hudson but ended up looking like a golden retriever’s dingleberry.

Woman 2: Hi, I love your hat.

Woman 3: Are you drunk? I look like an Armenian man. People are trying to buy carpets from me.

Woman 3: Miss Jessica! Congrats on your big promotion!

Woman 4: I’m going to get fired in like two seconds. I’m legally retarded. On my SATs I just drew a picture of a house on the first page and I ate the rest.

At the end of a sketch, someone compliments a woman on her coat and she responds with a simple “Thank you!” and it’s so awful for the other women that they all kill themselves in dramatic fashion.

See, it’s ridiculous when you’re unable to learn the art of accepting a compliment.

Actually, since we’re talking about professional comedians’ takes on these things, this 2007 “NYC street harassment” video from Lauren Weedman remains a favorite of mine:

And for another perspective, this completely NSFW bit from David Cross can be heard here:

For those who wisely heeded my NSFW trigger warning, Cross discusses how he was walking across a park in New York City and saw a sanitation truck moving really slowly. Trash was spewing out its back as the truck slowly progressed down the street. He soon realizes the driver of the truck, in his fully stained uniform, is trying to hit on a girl walking on the sidewalk. Cross is amazed that this driver thinks he could ever pick up anyone while driving a sanitation truck. He says it reminds him of how everyone has that one male friend with the annoying, gung-ho, go-for-it attitude when it comes to dating. He says of this friend, “I make things happen. I go for it. Whatever, I’ll ask a hundred chicks. Maybe I’ll get 99 ‘no’s. That’s fine. Slide it on. Maybe that 100th chick likes to [redacted] on a pile of trash. See what I’m saying? That’s what I’m saying. Yeah. That’s what I’m saying.”

The Bleak Land Of No Compliments

Yes, this viral video clearly shows that some men need a remedial course in how to respectfully interact with women. That’s clear. But the solution isn’t to destroy the very human and fun interaction between the sexes. We’re in danger of destroying the practice of knowing how to give or receive compliments about style or appearance. It is good for humans to recognize beauty and beautiful things. What’s neat about this is that you can do this with literally everyone you come across if you have gratitude and see the best in others. People need not have outsize talents or look like a supermodel to be complimented. Everyone likes a compliment about their beauty or taste. A typical woman will feel delighted to be told she’s pretty or has pretty clothing or accessories.

And here’s the thing about killing the practice of complimenting others, particularly related to beauty. The fact is, and I know it’s super controversial to say obvious things these days, but the fact is that men respond to female beauty because it is part of their nature to respond to female beauty. That drive to make babies works in part because women respond to certain male traits and men respond to certain female traits. Women are hot. We are. Men go all googly eyes with us. This is not to say we don’t have other admirable traits in addition to our God-given beauty and it’s not to say that beauty absent virtue can be counted on to appeal to the opposite sex — but it’s one of the things we have going for us. We’re basically luscious. And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing!

Men of course need to discipline themselves and be civilized as they live in a world of female hotness. That discipline is partly seen in men learning how to offer formal compliments of beauty. If you want to see undisciplined men in this reality, I would refer you to the DJ Snake and Lil John video Turn Down For What. I would refer you but it’s, like, so awful in offensiveness that it makes that Amy Schumer sketch I linked to above seem like a clip from Sesame Street.

The Turn Down for What video contains three and a half of the most hypnotic minutes of a filthy man ripping clothes off of a woman and humping a television set you will ever see. It’s a James Poulos Pink Police State pulsating fever dream. It’s man’s natural passions unrestrained by any reason or civilization. It’s also kind of a scary environment. Guns! Incest! Lots of ambiguity about consent!

Women As Powerful Instead of Women As Victims

A world in which men have the freedom and discipline to offer compliments to women about their beauty is a civilized world where women hold a lot of power. Because men have natural desire for women, this gives women some power. Power is difficult and at times scary to hold, certainly, and it causes all sorts of imbalances, but women hold it so long as men desire us. Women should be given some tips for how to effectively manage this power we have. That’s part of what growing into womanhood is about.

If we instead take the feminist line that compliments are basically the equivalent of sexual harassment, that removes our power and turns us into victims.

Yes, street harassment is a serious problem in our sexually confused and chaotic culture. And, no, it’s not always nice or easy to hear compliments from people. Givers of the compliments need to work on how they phrase things. They need to be gentle, polite, not too effusive and not too flattering. And recipients of compliments need to develop a talent for accepting compliments and responding politely as well.

Men properly pursuing women and women effectively managing the power they hold in sexual dynamics is what civilization — and the perpetuation of humanity — is all about. So let’s learn how to enjoy what’s great about the natural sexual dynamics in play here while inculcating virtue and modeling good behavior. No one but the most boring Progressive Puritans want a world without flirtation. But if we’re going to have a world where men and women are free to flirt and have fun with each other, we’ll have to make sure we have a sexual ethic that makes sense and keeps our worst tendencies in check.

Follow Mollie on Twitter.