“huh. interesting article. I can see how catcalls are an alpha-assertion; where does a plain old compliment fit in?
I can see a compliment potentially being based on objectification, but is it a dominant behavior, too? Curious.”
Two things should be considered when striking up a conversation with anyone; the content and the context.
Let’s start with the former. Catcalling (and poor flirting and creepy sexual harassment) is almost always crass and objectifying. Crude remarks (Nice ass!) or comments that are blatantly sexual (I want to fuck you.) are likely to not be appreciated. Debasing someone is not acceptable.
The second aspect, and the one I think is much more problematic for people, is context. First, location. Are you in a dark alley with a woman walking as quickly as possible? Bad time for a compliment. Empty subway station? Bad. An elevator at 4am after the object of your affection has just given a speech about not hitting on women at conferences? Really, really bad. These situations are bad because there is a concern for personal safety that may override any interest a person may have for you. Dark, desolate places conjure up images of last week’s Law and Order: SVU and that is not a mindset you want to put someone in.
Speed dating? Good. At a bar on Saturday night? Good. At one of those grocery store singles events? Good (as long as their basket is green!) In a bookstore? My favorite. These are social settings, in which people expect to interact with other human beings.
The second part of context is your approach. Catcalling is nearly always a “drive by;” someone yelling from a car or making a rude noise as you walk past. There is no expectation of response. It hardly ever takes place in a social setting, like a bookstore or a bar. I have experienced catcalling or read about other’s experiences at some public venues, like concerts or crowded clubs, but there always seems to me to be a buffer, like the crowd or loud music, between catcaller and catcallee. Do not do this. It’s rude under all circumstances. If you are interested in someone, than you should be interested in more than just a 30 second interaction.
The third and final part of context is considering the behavior of the person you are interested in talking to. Are they in the middle of a serious discussion? Do they have their headphones in and nose buried in a book? Interrupting or disturbing someone is rude, under any circumstances.
Finally, I want to address responses to your compliment. You do not have any sort of god-given right to compliment someone, no matter how badly you want to or may think they want to know. There are no circumstances under which you MUST pay someone a compliment ergo I am not obligated to respond positively to your compliment. Basic human decency requires me to not spit on you or kick you in the crotch. Beyond that, you do not get to expect that I will appreciate your compliment. I try when rejecting someone who seems genuine in their approach but I’m not interested in. If you are crass or creepy or you have a swastika tattooed on your forehead, it is very likely that I will respond rudely.
As I said in my previous post, catcalling is not about paying a compliment to someone. It’s about asserting yourself into their existence. My guess is that if you genuinely want to pay a compliment to someone, you’re probably not a catcalling, misogynist asshat.