5 Things You Can Say to Connect with a Woman Besides “Nice Body”
This article addresses catcalling, and alternatives to that behavior, including positive examples. It does not contain explicit material. It is written from a cis, straight, female/male binary perspective.
I didn’t want to leave my house today. Some days, it just takes too much energy to interface with the world. But the library app wasn’t working and I had overdue books, so I took a walk.
It’s about five minutes’ walk from my house to the library. I was enjoying the flowers and the sun. I crossed the street to avoid a man who was walking, drinking, and spitting up on himself along the way. I passed several women who ignored me, and I returned the favor. And then I passed three young men having a grand time riding scooters around the public sidewalks.
They seemed friendly and jovial. One rode passed me, so I smiled and said “hello.” He said “hello” back, and then, just as he rode past, just as he could no longer look me in the eye, he said, “You have a great body.” Sigh. I replied, “That was not the right/appropriate thing to say, but thanks.” I wished I’d never left my house.
Catcalling and physical space encroachment come my way on the sidewalk outside my house, on the street, in the grocery store, at my place of work, with family friends, on airplanes, on busses, in healing spaces, with neighbors…in other words, everywhere where I should feel safe.
Sometimes I ignore these things, sometimes I throw someone the bird, sometimes I file a complaint, sometimes I roll my eyes, sometimes I bother to explain why I don’t appreciate the comment, and sometimes I smile because, as a woman with female socialization, I’m so, so good at smiling for men to help them practice being just a little less threatening and entitled for a few minutes so I can go ahead and get through my day.
And I love men. I really do. Men, I love your strength and tenderness, your clarity and purpose, your toughness and kindness, your playfulness and sincerity. I recognize the bind you’re in in a society that demands that you squash your feelings and then be sensitive to others, that demands that you perform with bravado and tramples you when you fail. I see you. But I’m really tired of taking care of you and having to protect myself to accomplish mundane tasks. So if you’re struggling with how to connect, if “Nice body,” to you means, “Hey, I want to connect but I don’t have the skills!”, then here are five things you might say instead:
- Nice shoes! This is what the next man I encountered said to me. He was a dad alone at the library with a baby in a stroller. I held the door open for him to push the stroller out, and he noticed my awesome sneakers. “Thanks,” I stumbled, my throat still caught up from my last male interaction, “they’re Chacos.” That dad made my day better. He helped heal the divide. If a woman’s wearing cool shoes, you can usually tell her. This also goes for cool hats, cool jackets, and shirts with the logo of your favorite sports team. If it’s a revealing top or tight jeans you’re tempted to comment on, you should probably re-route.
- Good morning! Yeah, it’s that simple. Just a connection. A hello. An opportunity to acknowledge each other, human to human without any expectation of return. The woman you say hello to owes you nothing. Not even a “hello” back, but you’ll leave the interaction knowing that you were nice to someone today, and that’s not nothing.
- Hey, how’s it going? This is an excellent choice for longer interactions. It shows care and engagement in a casual way, and leaves the other person free to respond with an equally short, “Fine, thanks,” or a longer, “It’s a great day, a really nice guy just asked about my awesome shoes.” You can continue the conversation, or not.
- Great to see you! This works exceptionally well for neighbors, coworkers, and repeat customers at your store. Everyone likes to know that they’re appreciated. I used to teach yoga at a gym where one of the trainers also ran the front desk from time to time. When he was there, he greeted me (and everyone who came through the door) like he was genuinely happy to see me. He acknowledged whatever mood I was in that day rather than requiring me to conform to his mood, but inevitably talking with him cheered me up. We were both always wearing workout clothes, and he never commented on my body. Not once. He asked me about my life in a non-pressing way, and he told me about his without dominating the conversation. I looked forward to seeing him every time I went to work.
- Have an excellent day! Once, I was sitting in a café in Amsterdam (the food kind, not the smoking kind), and a man walked in and announced to the entire place, “This is the first moment of the rest of your life!” and then walked out. That moment filled me with joy! Little unexpected enthusiasms which require nothing of you can be inspirational. Imagine if we walked down the sidewalk shouting to one another with big smiles, “Have an excellent day!” with no expectation of return. (Emotional literacy caveat: if someone is crying, don’t tell them to have an excellent day. Say, “Hey, I hope your day gets a lot better from here on out!” This is a lovely way to acknowledge their experience without prying or invading their space.)
Will any or all of these work every time? Probably not. Grumpy people are grumpy people, trauma is trauma, and miscommunications are inevitable. But all of them give you the opportunity to be kind, connection-oriented, respectful, non-objectifying, and a just plain decent human being when interacting with other genders, and then I can look forward to taking a walk to the library by myself on a sunny afternoon. And that’s not nothing.