There is a fine line between flattery and objectification. While being complimented is perceived as flattering by most, being whistled at isn’t. What’s the difference? Personally, it’s that being complimented is nice and generally begins a conversation, whereas being whistled at feels threatening. More than that, it feels dehumanizing, like you can only see me for being your sex toy.
I’ve wondered about where the line falls between flattery and objectification for some time. So, I asked around. I talked to five college women about where they feel that line is. But before I tell you what they said, let’s start with a couple definitions.
Cambridge Dictionary defines to flatter as “to make someone feel important or attractive, or to praise someone in order to please him or her,” while they define to objectify as “to treat a person like a tool or toy, as if they had no feelings, opinions, or rights of their own.” Knowing this, here is what five college women think about the difference between these two.
“I’d say for me the line has to do with a) intention and b) appropriateness. The part is self-explanatory: if I think it was a compliment with no underlying motive, such as ‘You look beautiful today,’ and expect nothing in return, then that’s acceptable. But if there’s an underlying intention of giving the compliment to just garner a reaction from me, that’s a bit much. The second one is pretty self-explanatory, too: if my grandmother wouldn’t give me the same compliment, you shouldn’t be saying it.” – Lucy, 21
“I’d say if the compliment is more for your benefit than the speaker’s benefit, that’s the one thing that sets the line.” – Bridget, 21
“It depends on who you are and what offends you, but guys and girls can say ‘you’re hot/beautiful,’ and it’s flattering sure or when someone is like ‘Yes, slay girl’ but things I’ve gotten and my roommates have gotten over the years is ‘You have f*ck me eyes,’ ‘You’re pretty so you must get big d*ck,’ and this is usually random people over Facebook Messenger or just on campus. So anything that is just unnecessarily sexual when sex isn’t even being brought up or just anything that can be taken negatively, like ‘You must get a lot of guys,’ is what crosses the line.” – Naomi, 20
“Too far is anything that wasn’t consented to. Flattery is something that makes a girl happy, and objectification is anything that can upset the girl you’re trying to attract, and it does the opposite of attracting you to them.” – Jordan, 18
“It basically turns into harassment when one compliment is not enough for them to say, regardless of how you react. Then you can tell they want your number, sex, etc. Like after they say something completely normal and nice like ‘I like your outfit,’ and I say ‘thanks’, they go on and on about how I look great in it, etc. At that point, I’m uncomfortable because there’s no reason for you to still be talking to me unless you want something. I also get ‘let’s be friends/why can’t we be friends’ a lot, which is creepy (if) you’re a stranger. If you’re interested in me, start with a simple compliment, and then say something like ‘I’d love to get coffee sometime, if you’d be interested,’ and then ask if it’s alright to give me your number. I feel a lot safer if I’m more ‘in control’ of the situation.” – Marissa, 21
The line between flattery and objectification is a little different for everyone, but what’s important is that the person speaking to you doesn’t make you feel scared. It is more than okay to tell someone they are making you uncomfortable, and you’d like them to stop. But remember you don’t owe that other person anything, including a conversation, so don’t feel obligated by politeness or anything else to stay in a conversation where it feels like someone is harassing you
Image via Tessa Pesicka