By Katharina Kalus
Person XX: “Wow, your hands are quite soft and gentle-looking.“
Person XY: “Why, thank you. Perfect for fingering, don’t you think?“
Many people all over the world experience such a scenario on a daily basis. Google presents about 9.060.000 entries in under one second. That’s how urgent this topic is. That’s how important it is to talk about it and to pull it out of the dark hole of topics that are often not discussed because people are afraid of being seen as prudish, childish, or boring.
Person XX sends a sincere compliment towards person XY. Those words are meant exactly as presented. No other meaning is hidden between the lines. Person XX plainly thinks that person XY has a pair of “quite soft and gentle-looking hands.” It is as simple as it sounds. No deeper meaning, no further intention. A nice feature that the addressee thought should be highlighted and appreciated by pointing it out in the form of a simply stated compliment. However, person XY hears a completely different message. A sexualised one. An invitation, an offer of intimacy. Not only does person XY sexualise the addressee’s intention, they objectify them by implying that sexual interaction is all person XX would be good to be used for.
Scenarios like this happen on a daily basis. One human being meets another, they get a coffee together, small-talk turns into a deeper conversation and all of the sudden, a completely harmless topic, an irrelevant subordinate clause is transformed into the sexualised elephant in the room. A sentence that used to be merely informative, like “I’ll be right back, going to take a quick shower,” is understood as “I’ll be right back, in the meantime please get turned on by the thought of my naked self showering.”
Now, some people claim that whenever they experience such a scenario, the person receiving the sexualised response to a plainly informative action should feel honoured to be thought of that way. That person should appreciate the fact that somebody would want to have sexual intercourse with them, or rather would want to use them for the satisfaction of their own sexual needs. Furthermore, they should thank the instigator for thinking of them that way, to have the honour of being their chosen muse of relief or pleasure.
It is important to be grateful for honest compliments. But these scenarios are neither honest nor acceptable. They are a pure exploitation of dominance in the constellation of two beings. And to say that those actions should be taken as an honour or a compliment marks the attempt to excuse inacceptable behaviour in the form of manipulating the actual victim of sexual assault into feeling guilty for feeling assaulted.
What to do and how to act? Of course, people could be more careful about what they say, which words they use and which order and setting they put them into. However, instead of manipulating the person with the actual good intentions into feeling guilty for stating a simple nicely-meant compliment, I think the one receiving it should learn how to take a proper compliment and how to reply to it in a decently mannered way. Instead of objectifying and assaulting a person in the form of a sexual response, how about simply thanking them for the compliment? How about seeing a person for the human being they are with all their values such as their personality, their soul and inner state of mind? How about accepting and respecting someone’s personal limits and boundaries? How about a sense of decency and the use of common forms of civility?
Person XX: “Wow, your hands are quite soft and gentle-looking.”
Person XY: “Why, thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.”
This is how it should have ended. This is how you don’t mistake my kindness for flirtation.