Myth: Sexual harassment is flattering

A popular misconception regarding sexual harassment is that it is a form of flattery. These days, it’s often used as a measurement of women’s “hotness”- the amount of cat calls, honks, and whistles an individual receives is directly proportional to how “hot” they look. And a person should be flattered and feel good about themselves for receiving this ‘attention’.

Sexual harassment, in forms like cat-calling, wolf-whistling, or honking, is not flattery but gender bullying. Messaging around bullying has been so effective that everyone seems to understand that bullies are people that put others down to feel superior or gain power from them.

In the same way, the real intention behind sexually harassing someone is to gain a sense of power or superiority. Sexual harassment defended as flattery typically focuses on only one aspect of a woman- be it breasts, legs, buttocks etc. It is a behavior that reinforces the idea that women are only worth sex. The individual being “flattered” is often outnumbered and feels intimidated and threatened by this behavior.

The idea that women should be flattered by this behavior is offensive because it is not up to society to decide what an individual, let alone an entire gender, should find flattering. Sure, some women might find this flattering, but yelling at a woman across the street or from inside a car doesn’t allow space for her to accept or reject the attention. In other words, there is no consent.

Unfortunately, even when someone is upset by this “flattery,” they are likely to be dismissed as being oversensitive. After all, this is not a human rights violation or bullying, it’s a compliment! This is a sad, distorted view of what should make us feel good.

Real flattery is a behavior that is humanizing and requires actual communication with a person, not a random sexual comment thrown at a person by a stranger.

Sexual harassment involves one-directional communication that occurs without the consent of the individual. It’s ridiculous to excuse any behavior as flattery when it makes a person feel less human. In a world without sexual violence, we would all be able to dress up or feel attractive the way we want to without having to put up with people objectifying, judging, or leering at us. In this world, flattery is only legitimate when the other person chooses to engage in it.