Thursday, April 7, 2016


You would have heard these exchanges between two women.
One, “What a lovely shirt you are wearing, I love the fabric and the floral print!”
Two, “Oh, I bought it in a sale; you would be surprised how cheap it is.”

And “Your face is radiant, the skin glowing.”
Followed by, “It must be the sweat!”

Another goes, “I am so impressed with your cooking. And my goodness, your presentation of the food is outstanding.”
To which the response is, “You are just pumping me up, everybody is as good a cook I think.”

The denial mode goes on and on, “You are so fit, the clothes look so good on you.”
Pat will come the rejoinder, “Have you seen my stomach, I look at least three months pregnant.”

Don’t even try complimenting a woman therefore? She is programmed to shut it out, deflect it, play it down, fob it off outright….anything but accept it graciously. Why do women fear praise so much? Why do they feel compelled to explain?  Why is it so hard for them to believe the good of themselves? Where does this instinct for self-effacement come from? What sets them off on a lifelong of apologetic litany?

All they need to respond to a compliment with is, “Thank you; I humbly accept your kind words!”
But the fountain of disbelief that gushes from their flustered mouths is drawn from centuries old insecurity about their rightful place in the scheme of things. A baby girl is born just as affirming as a baby boy. She cries as lustily, gurgles as appreciatively and preens as skilfully. But somewhere along the way, this healthy sense of self gets buried under layers and layers of cultural pathology. Most women are not sure of their class and category. They are afraid to occupy space with a solid, self-assured sense of ownership. Their default setting is stuck on an unbecomingly appeasing mode.

Alright, so you don’t want to appear conceited, you do not want to owe anybody anything in return. Why, you may even be suffering from a low self-esteem. Perhaps you are a jaded cynic, highly suspicious of being buttered up for possible favours. Or your false modesty may just be symptomatic of a deep seated desire to appear even better than you already are. It might occur to you that a simple thank you would come across as cocky, too self-confident, even arrogant…all of them extremely unfeminine attributes.

Oh, I have been at the receiving end of this gracelessness more than once. Quick on the draw with whatever pleases and impresses me, I don’t waste time overthinking admiration. I just shower them, the compliments; they come gushing out often. But the experience has boomeranged more than once with my ending up feeling foolish, insincere and contradicted. There have been occasions when one compliment has led to ten sentences of insistent reassurance to the receiver. It is a double whammy to first praise then to raise volume a notch over the denial by the receiver of possessing the wonderful attribute you are lauding in them!

Will the day ever dawn when a woman will accept a compliment graciously without offering explanations? What would it take for her to realize that if she makes the giver uncomfortable she may not be complimented again? Also, she is losing out on a chance to feel good. She in fact, is diminishing her own value.

Let us therefore start by offering more compliments and accepting the ones coming our way with class.


Swapnil Narendra said...

Thank you very much for writing this. I had been wondering whether something was wrong with my words when I complimented a few wonderful women. There responses were quite cold and defensive, making me feel guilty. I completely agree with whatever you have said, 'instead of shutting ourselves down, all of us should learn to take a compliment.' Its as much as an art as paying a good one. In the world of social media "Looking cool" "Beautiful pic dear" etc have remained as the acceptable compliments. God forbid if somebody takes their time in constructing a thoughtful and original paragraph to laude somebody's beauty or skills, people (mostly women) feel so embarrassed.

Thank you again for this. But unfortunately I have stopped paying compliments to women lately. The only one I now compliment with my open heart, is my lovely wife.

Neerja Singh said...

I appreciate your dilemma. Women, more so in our country, are forever trying to fit into one acceptable mold or the other. You lose sight of what and who you are. They have to feel safe enough to be their strong, authentic selves. The next generation girls are proving braver, their supportive parents more accepting of their departure from the model of ideal womanhood. I think these are times of great confusion.