Dear Amy: Iama young woman whose physical appearance is occasionally the subject of comment or “compliments” by men (strangers). Random men sometimes stop me and directly “compliment” me on my appearance while I am walking to work, driving, or in an elevator. It is unwanted attention and it feels creepy to be observed and commented upon by (often older) men whom I do not know.
How should I respond? If I reply with a curt “Thank you” or “That’s nice of you” it will only affirm the male gaze and encourage them to continue commenting on the physical appearance of random women.
If I say something like “Leave me alone” this will (and has) incited a verbal altercation (or more awkward attention).
When I’ve ignored the comments altogether, I’ve been shouted at: “You’re supposed to say, ‘Thank you’ when you get a compliment!”
I feel like any response that’s not “thank you” will likely be received with misplaced indignation or even verbal threats.
How should I respond in a way that will discourage men from continuing to comment on my physical appearance and not bring me further unwanted attention?
No Good Options
Dear No Good: I don’t know any woman who genuinely wants to receive a “compliment” from a stranger when she is on her way to work, carrying her groceries, out for a run, or minding her own business on an elevator.
Sometimes, these unwelcome remarks and veiled “compliments” can lead to threats (or worse), and women who receive them have nanoseconds to somehow decode the moment and figure out which response will garner less attention.
On an elevator, you are basically trapped in a locked box until you arrive at your destination. In that case, I think you should say a noncommittal, “Thanks” and immediately reach over and press the button to the nearest floor to exit. This polite response and abrupt exit may send the message that you don’t wish to engage further.
Otherwise, I vote for ignoring. If a man responds by yelling, “You’re supposed to say, ‘Thank you!’” you could try responding, “I know I’m attractive. Thank you … for leaving me alone.”
I’ll welcome reader responses.