Note: I originally set out to write a sincere, non-snarky version of this article. But then I tried to do background research by reading a couple of the articles I reference below, and my inner snark rose up and overwhelmed me. After I emerged from the snark-induced haze under which I wrote what follows, I composed the originally-conceived-of, much politer article. You can read it here.
It’s International Women’s Day, or so today’s Google Doodle for today tells me. And so I thought I’d lend my considerable expertise in having two X chromosomes to aid those who choose to foray into the dangerous minefield that is…trying to compliment a woman.
Now, some of you may be gagging on a spoon right now, perhaps thinking something along the lines of “This is stupid. There is no magic answer to complimenting a woman beyond voicing admiration for her that’s rooted in a holistic respect for her as a person who just happens to be female!” I mentally pat you on the back for this, not least to help with the gagging. You can probably stop reading this entry now, and sip some water or something.
But this blog entry is for the rest of you, who may have done what I just did and typed “how to compliment a woman” into Google, only to come up with articles like this wikihow which include such classic pieces of advice as:
Come up with something original. Don’t use generic compliments such as “You look beautiful tonight.” Compliments such as this, while they might be sincere, are both unoriginal and boring (and she’s no doubt heard that exact same compliment a hundred times before). A better compliment would be “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world”, which is both more original and also plays upon the natural competitiveness that woman have toward each other (women love to be told that they’re prettier than other women).
Holy Here We Go Again, Batman, I may need to borrow a spoon.
I couldn’t help but notice that the article above was almost exclusively geared to complimenting a woman on the way she looks, because there’s nothing like contributing to the already overwhelming focus on how well a woman performs this subjective “Looks” thing to make a lady feel genuinely valued.
But just for the sake of diversity, I’ll also show you a sample from this brilliant young writer, who unexpectedly rebels against the physical flattery angle and, in a completely unexpected twist, suggests that you focus on a female’s intellect. I know, I know, it’s crazy, but to be fair, this writer does distinguish his article from other treatises by titling it, “How to Compliment a Woman’s Personality:”
Take a good look at the female you’re wanting to compliment; what has she expressed interest in? What are her passions? Her hobbies? Dreams? Perhaps you haven’t gotten that far just yet, but if you know a bit about her in general, you might have an inkling as to what matters to her the most. Is she knowledgeable on books and history and the like? Then maybe you can make mention to her that you’ve never met a woman who was so knowledgeable about the subject at hand. Any woman would be proud to hear that they’re thought of as intelligent. Go on and TELL her that you think she’s intelligent.
“I’ve never met someone who knows as much as you do about “subject”.”
“It’s nice to meet someone intelligent.”
“How do you know so much?” (Said in a good-natured manner with a genuine smile, otherwise it could be construed as sarcasm.)
“It’s nice to meet a woman who knows what she’s talking about.” (This separates her from other women you’ve met and tells her she’s got something they seemingly didn’t have.)
Now, I want you to fasten your seatbelts for this ride, dear reader, because I’m about to rock your world with this weird fact, that I deliver to you with the full weight of my authority as a woman–none of these “compliments” make me want to keep talking to you.
“WHAT?!” you may be crying, as you silently burst into tears, because this “complimenting a woman thing” is just too damn hard. It must be all womankind’s fault. They just can’t take a compliment anymore. Stupid feminism, ruining it for everyone.
But hang in there, Skippy. I think I can break it down for you. See, I think where these articles fall apart is that they focus on what you can say about a woman, without considering what those words will in turn say about you. Like this:
You say: “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world!”
I think: “Wow, this poor kid has never seen a movie with Angelina Jolie in it.”
Most women know that they are not the most beautiful women in the world, and they are OK with that. Some of us are even tired of being complimented on our looks as though they were the most important part of our personality, and actually find comments like this not only stupid, but kind of insulting.
You say: “I’ve never met someone who knows as much as you do about _subject_.”
I think: “You don’t get out much.”
This is particularly true when the subject you choose to compliment me on is one that I don’t know a lot about, which is most things. This isn’t because I’m stupid, it’s because there’s a lot of crap to know about out there, and I have what I’d call expertise in very little. So unless the subject is Shakespearean references to gardens, the history of this one Lutheran missionary in China I wrote a long-ass research paper on, or Lutheran theology, I’ll assume that you are either lying or don’t get out and talk to other people very much.
You say: “It’s nice to meet someone intelligent.”
I think: “How strange. This room is full of smart people.”
Weirdly enough, I find the ability to respect those one is not trying to hit on an attractive character trait.
You say: “How do you know so much?”
I think: “What the freak?”
Because I have a brain? And use it? Are you finding this surprising?
You say: “It’s nice to meet a woman who knows what she’s talking about.”
I think: “And we’re done.”
Contrary to implying that I’m smart, you implied that all women are dumb except the one you are currently hitting on. I will relieve you the burden of pretending to find me intellectually competent just as quickly as I can.
Listen, Sparky, I think that maybe you’re just trying too hard. Instead of desperately trawling through your store of hackneyed and vaguely insulting “compliments,” try being sincerely interested in women as conversation partners. There’s no script for this. There are just the guiding lights of respect, curiosity, and authenticity.
And the nice thing is that those qualities are found attractive not just by women, but people of all gender identities! This is the wonderful side effect of implementing a policy of speaking to people as though their defining characteristic is their humanity, instead of their sexual availability.