Earlier this year, writer and social worker Feminista Jones made a casual suggestion for how to irritate men: agree with their compliments.
She tweeted about her experience doing so, saying men found that agreeing with compliments, or simply saying “thank you” with a straight face, was downright offensive. Some men even yelled at her.
Jones wasn’t the first to conduct this social experiment. Women have been posting similar reactions they’ve received on social media or dating apps like Tinder. Like Claire Boniface and Gweneth Bateman, who both shared some particularly disgruntled reactions they received two years ago. Spoiler alert: it includes a bit of colorful language.
In her Twitter thread, Jones mentioned that these interactions often take place in the street. But online chats—such as those that take place through Tinder or other dating apps—seem to be a commonly preferred location for offended compliment-givers to share their true thoughts. Anyone who’s ever stepped foot into the dark recesses of the internet shouldn’t be surprised at someone getting a little too angry online.
And that’s the thing: they really are getting angry. This isn’t men feeling a little slighted at a woman acting so unapologetically confident. Some men are going so far as to completely denigrate any woman who dares to agree with their flattery of them. What exactly is going on here?
How To Respond To A Compliment 101
If being called a b**** is anything to go by, then some men aren’t too keen on women responding to their compliment with agreement. So how exactly are they supposed to respond?
Many people respond to a compliment by delivering another compliment—as if they feel obligated to return the favor and even the score. But it’s not uncommon for women to respond to compliments with a little more humility. A coy smile, embarrassed blushing, and even conveying gratitude but dismissing the statement as untrue or “too kind” are pretty standard. This reaction sends the message that such kind words are unexpected and maybe even surprising to hear.
It’s easy to see why they would feel the need to act this way. Women are taught they’re not good enough from a very young age. This insecurity is what keeps the beauty and weight loss industries so profitable.
But this intentional lowering of self-esteem also makes women easier to control and manipulate. Make a woman feel beautiful for the first time and she’ll think you’re amazing, right?
There’s apparently something quite intimidating about a confident woman. Even high school student Michaela Prien discovered this when she accidentally shot down a classmate. According to her, he’d been “acting creepy and making odd comments that I didn’t feel comfortable with, so I was trying to subtly make it clear that I wasn’t interested in him.”
“I don’t remember the exact thing he said but it was something along the lines of, ‘You’re beautiful, you don’t need makeup.’ So I said, ‘I know, but I like makeup,’ and he didn’t really seem to know what to say and just stopped talking to me.”
Apparently her response was so out-of-line that he didn’t speak to her for months—which was just fine with Prien. While this worked in her favor considering his unsavory character, she was surprised at how powerful her response had been.
“I think that his response was kind of a perfect example of how men react to women agreeing with their compliments,” she says.
When Women’s Worth is Decided by Men
Pop songs aren’t known for their original lyrical content, but some of the overused tropes in these songs can be problematic. There’s no shortage of love songs that not only glorify women’s beauty, but state that a woman being oblivious to her own attractiveness is what makes her so appealing.
Just look at the lyrics for One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”:
“You don’t know you’re beautiful
If only you saw what I can see
You’ll understand why I want you so desperately
Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe
You don’t know, oh oh
You don’t know you’re beautiful, oh oh
That’s what makes you beautiful”
Oh, and there’s also a line about not needing makeup to “cover up.” Yeah.
This stereotype has also been used in Hollywood: the girl who sees herself as plain or even unattractive until she meets the right man who suddenly makes her feel beautiful. I’m looking at you, Twilight’s Bella.
Like many tropes, these become desirable traits in real-life women. But if a woman already believes herself to be amazing or beautiful, then she takes away a man’s power to fulfill the role of the knight in shining armor. Is a woman who doesn’t need a man to feel validated really so undesirable?
Frank Mandel, 26, is a full-time bartender who doesn’t get much time to socialize. As such, he uses Tinder quite often. He was a little disturbed when he saw screenshots of these conversations online.
“It sounds a lot like negging,” he says. “Which is pretty messed up. I think it’s really only a tactic used by predatory men.”
This again comes back to women’s lowered self-esteem. As Mandel mentioned, negging is a common tactic used by pick-up artists to “compliment” women whilst also pointing out their “flaws”—making them feel insecure and needy. For example, “That dress would look so tacky on anyone else, but you really pull it off.”
It’s possible that these men are using their own tactic to target women with low self-esteem. As the beauty industry knows, insecure women are much easier to control.
The most perplexing (but also telling) part is when men retract their compliment once a woman confirms that she’s already aware of her beautiful eyes or great smile. The idea of taking back a compliment just minutes after giving it is childish at best. However, it also shows that the compliment was never sincere in the first place. Like negging, it was just a strategy.
However, Mandel doesn’t think what these men were doing were exactly the same as negging, but more an overreaction to what they perceived as rude.
“Maybe that’s too far. Maybe they actually don’t realize they’re looking at women in that way,” he says. “Also, you might get a little peeved if someone reacts in what could be interpreted as a really arrogant way when you say something nice to them.”
Mandel raises a good point. How are you supposed to respond to men who are only trying to be nice? There’s the argument that women don’t have an obligation to humor men’s advances just because they’re “being nice.”
What about a dating app? It’s literally designed for people trying to score a date. Again, no one ever actually has an obligation to humor you, even on Tinder. Though if your reaction to a woman agreeing that she has nice eyes is to try and shut her down, then you’re definitely not as “nice” as you think.
You Mad Bro?
There’s an undeniable stigma against confident women, though it’s a little perplexing to see confidence met with such anger. Sure, it’s a welcome red flag when you’re speaking to a stranger with whom you might potentially meet up.
Better to be insulted through an app than face that wrath in-person.
And no, not all men are speaking to women in this way. But the ones that do are standing out a lot more and giving a bad name to everyone else.
As a man who uses Tinder, Mandel has some pretty clear thoughts about men who react so aggressively toward these women.
“If you’re reacting that intensely to women with self-esteem, then that says a lot about you,” he says. “But I think most guys who have these reactions don’t question why they think about women the way that they do.”
He admitted that he didn’t quite understand not thanking someone for a compliment but said he didn’t find it offensive. If anything, he thought it was a way to think outside the box in the crazy world of online dating.
“I’ve had some strange messages and interactions with women on [Tinder], but I think they’re mostly just trying to be creative or appear different,” he says. “Look, so many of the conversations on there are so, so boring. You have to stand out somehow.”
Just as there’s a right and wrong way to respond to a compliment, the same applies to a response to a response to a compliment. If you think the way someone has accepted your confident comes across as arrogant, you’re under no obligation to let them know. And you’re definitely not entitled to use harsh words against them. Because if that’s your surefire way to finding a date, then you’ve got bigger problems than matching with people on Tinder.