The Danger in Compliments

Feminism exists to allow each person to be whoever s/he needs to be regardless of what body s/he was born into. As a result, the world has become more open-minded in regard to who can perform different careers and how household responsibilities should be allocated. However, all of this progress seems to drift away as soon as we begin complimenting one another. While any number of compliments would be prized among men, we act as if the ultimate compliment for any woman is to be the most beautiful woman in the room.

This creates two major problems. First, it pins women against each other in a competition for “fairest of them all.” Second, it perpetuates the trend feminism is trying to end of tying a women’s worth to her body rather than her mind.

So why do we insist on returning to these compliments? One answer lies in Steven Pinker’s presentation, “Language as a Window into Human Nature.” According to his assessment, language needs to do two things. First, it must convey some content. And second, it needs to negotiate a relationship type. To do this, we use the literal wording to navigate the “safest relationship” with the listener and allow the listener to interpret an implied proposition or statement that might be incompatible with that relationship.

In the case of physical compliments, the literal wording commends the listener on her appearance, while the implied meaning could be anything from a sexual request to congratulating the listener on being a worthy woman or person. While this might be fine in a singular situation, it becomes a problem when it becomes the primary way of communicating a person’s worth or attractiveness. At that point, it begins affecting how a person perceives herself, making her, first and foremost, a body and, second, a person.

To change this we need to change what we consider the safest relationship with a woman. We allow even the most intimate physical compliments to be exchanged between strangers as if it is safer to enjoy a woman’s body than to enjoy her company. However, it is time for a mutualistic relationship to become the safest relationship between all people. It’s time to listen more than we look.

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