I came across a post on Tumblr the other day that was another variation of a somewhat common form of post I see often - one that tells men not to catcall, but to yell nice things at women instead.
There was already a response attached to that post, which simply explained that any man yelling something at a woman on the street, no matter how nice it may sound, is scary and intimidating. I reblogged the post, adding my agreement that men should just not yell things at women, or really try to compliment women they don't know in any tone while on the street.
And what I noticed is that I got a shit ton of people reblogging that to add their opinions on the matter. They were all women and they all say YES PLEASE DO NOT TALK TO US ON THE STREET OR ON PUBLIC TRANSIT IF WE DON'T KNOW YOU, DO NOT COMPLIMENT US IT IS SCARY NO MATTER WHAT.
Hark, I can here it now. The plaintive wail of the manchildren - "so I'm not ALLOWED to compliment women anymore?"
You are allowed, by law, to compliment women in public spaces where they're just fucking trying to get somewhere. It is not illegal.
What you can't do, the vast majority of the time, is compliment a woman in such a situation without making her anxious and/or uncomfortable. Not sorry. That's just the way of it.
And I really don't care what your intent is. Because we're not mind readers. We don't know your intentions. I've had conversations with strange men who started out seeming totally nice and cool but as soon as I gave them any hint of rejection, they turned into massive creeps and acted as though I had stabbed them directly in the heart by suggesting that I was not going to do what they wanted me to do.
So any time a man talks to me in public, at all, I honestly cringe a little on the inside. Because time and time again it has turned into a bad experience. And I have heard story after story from women who have experienced a lot worse. How am I supposed to not be scared when a strange man talks to me now? And the more I talk to other women about this, the more I find that they all feel the same way. The sense of dread, the hyper vigilance, looking for signs that this will turn ugly, the racing thoughts and subtle looking for exits. Please, please let this end quickly, please let my polite but brief reply be taken as an indication that I don't want to go further instead of an indication that I'm interested in him. Please just leave me alone.
This is what happens when you "compliment," or say anything to a woman you don't know on the street or in a store or somewhere in which people are just going about their business. It may not be your fault, it may suck that you can't strike up a conversation with us whenever you feel like it without making us feel uncomfortable, but maybe it would help if you tried thinking about someone other than yourself for two fucking seconds. Because trust me, it sucks more for us.
If you are aware that something makes us uncomfortable and you do it anyway just because you "should be allowed to," you're an asshole. If you have a problem with this, I invite you to fight against rape culture, because that's the cause of all this crap. If you just want to blame women for all this instead because it's easier, then again, asshole.