All over the world, women experience catcalling and daily street harassment. It seems women cannot breathe without having our bodies touched and our boundaries eroded.
It also seems as if women are told to act as though our bodies being objectified is in actual fact a compliment that we should take pleasantly and with joy. Sometimes, this viewpoint comes even from women.
The first time I can recall a woman implying that catcalling was a compliment was on the timeless streets of Twitter. A woman who I cannot remember her handle, was rightfully being dragged and corrected for setting the conversation on consent several steps back.
Her offence? She said nothing warmed her heart more than walking on the streets of Lagos and having [unknown] area boys/bus conductors tell her in Yoruba and I quote: “You are very beautiful”; “I want to fuck you nastily” and general comments on her body shape.
I have often wondered about the above tweet. Not one to judge her, especially seeing as all women carry one form of internalised misogyny or the other.
That said, what is it about sexism that makes women have incredibly rose tinted eyes such that comments and statements that are incredibly degrading from strangers take on an elevated quality in our minds as women? Is that a way of whitewashing the very fact that in the eyes of most men, women are not seen as human but rather as pieces of meat at best and objects at worst?
Even more, why is it that most men are not raised to know how to compliment even random men and women without being creepy and totally sexist and objectifying?
Personally, I’m someone who believes strongly in complimenting the hair of young female children. This is especially if they have natural hair or locs. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t compliment the hair of a child or an older woman when it is natural. The way I see it, compliments can lift you out of a bad day and can instill confidence in a child. So yes, compliments are totally kind and necessary.
All of that said, it must be observed that most men believe that random comments on a woman’s body and comments said loudly with a group of his friends must be taken nicely. There is a long and clear line between complimenting someone and outright exercising your “right” as a man to verbalise your ownership of women’s bodies.
This is something that even Nigerian male musicians are yet to comprehend. One often finds songs from male singers speaking about women’s body parts. Some of these male singers may even be married and the same people who police married female singers turn a blind eye.
It is not only in songs that women experience objectification in the name of “compliments”. In most Nigerian and African markets, it is not uncommon for young women and even much older women to encounter their body parts being rechristened by market traders. When these women keep quiet or even respond and show discomfort, they are called prostitutes by these men and essentially made to feel shame.
Speaking with Joy, the above scenario has been her case.
To quote her: “Very recently, I was in the market and my slippers cut. I had to find a shoemaker, and the first thing this man said to me was, ‘Your body na something o. E no too fat e no too slim, if you maintain am i fit marry you or any sensible correct nigerian man go marry you’.
The statement was so cringe, I just wanted my slippers to be repaired 😭.
The man kept stealing glances at me which I found creepy until I told him I’m in fact a married woman. Then he focused on sewing the slippers 😭.”
There are numerous ways to compliment women without looking like a creep.
When a compliment crosses the boundary and begins to look as though the woman’s body is “fresh meat” created solely for the eyes of the person “complimenting”, then it is no longer a compliment but rather a manifestation of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies.
Angel Nduka-Nwosu is a writer, journalist and editor. She moonlights occasionally as a podcaster on As Angel Was Sayin’. Catch her on all socials @asangelwassayin.