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  • Emily Ellet

Thoughts on Being Complimented on the Street


It’s a stunningly clear and bright Indian summer morning. I’m strolling briskly down 125th Street, getting a nice walk in to compensate for missing my usual roller-blading to the train to work, since my brake needs replacing. A couple of heavy bags on my shoulder and a focused look on my face, I’m probably sending off the vibe of “deep in thought,” because…I am.

Suddenly an awkwardly smiling man is right next to me, opening his gambit with, “Excuse me, miss….” He goes on to stumble over telling me how “f*ing amazing” I look, etc., as I’m warily continuing to walk forward slowly (despite his obvious desire for me to stop and talk with him) with what is probably a very bewildered look on my face. He sort of trails off with a grin and an “Okay!” and I turn and keep walking, feeling completely discombobulated.

I then spend the next ten minutes of my walk alternating between feeling discomfited and feeling guilty. On the one hand, he seemed really genuine and nice, and that was (if I’m honest) a very flattering compliment, if highly unconventional in its word choice. He was well dressed, apparently a business professional, and he seemed nice, though a bit nervous, and it seems entirely possible that he just gathered up his courage and went for it, stumblingly, to give me that compliment, to which I responded with confused, guarded disdain. How terrible I would feel if I had just hurt this nice man’s feelings!

AND YET – he definitely accosted me, he opened with the attitude and language of those people trying to get you sign something or buy something on the street, and he failed to notice the context of his big move: to wit, the morning commute, on a busy sidewalk, in an ethnic neighborhood in which I probably feel a bit defensive as a white girl, and in spite of the fact that I was in my own focused world mentally. Not the time to try to connect with someone.

I get on the train a while later and I still don’t know what to make of the interaction. Was I right to be wary? (To be clear, not of rape or anything, just of someone stealing my purse.)

Honestly, this guy probably never thought about that moment again this morning. And yet, I was left dealing with plenty of lingering thoughts and feelings – guilt, creeped-out-ness, and above all confusion. It reminded me of the recent “how-to” article about getting a woman to talk to you EVEN WHEN SHE DOESN’T WANT TO that disgusted and enraged many women, resulting in plenty of responses humorous and serious.

Was this harassment? I hesitate to call it that, because he wasn’t malicious or even particularly objectifying. It’s certainly not the first (nor will it be the last) time I’ve been verbally accosted by strange men in public, especially here in NYC.  But it made me uncomfortable just the same.

Like many women, I’m (surprise!) not looking for insta-love on my morning commute; I’m looking to get to work and do my job. Gentlemen, I appreciate the nerve it takes to talk to a woman. But please read the situation! Think about someone other than yourselves in that moment (or really, any moment). Remember, I’m a person, too.

Ladies, have you experienced situations like these? I’m not looking to bash on men here. I just know, from my own experience, that moments like these tend to accumulate in the back of your mind, weighing you down and isolating you. My guess is, though, that I’m not the only one, so if you need a space to share, let me know what you’ve gone through.

#rapeculture #GenderParadigms #harrassment #mixedfeelings #selfdoubt #Feminism #compliments #guilt #nyc

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