• Poppy Evans

the difference between a compliment and a catcall.

One may make your day, the other may break your day. What’s certain is the need for it to be discussed.

woman with stop caution tape wrapped round her | fully grown

The Guardian have reported that four-fifths of women in the UK have been sexually harassed. Even here at fully-grown, two thirds of our team have recently shared their experiences surrounding this topic. There’s never been a more important time to continue the conversation and distinguish uncomfortable situations.

Now, let’s explore two scenarios:

Scenario 1: A woman is walking down the street. A car drives past slowly with two men in the front, staring at the woman. The woman automatically feels watched and slightly vulnerable. They wolf whistle out the window, or shout something like, “Oi oi sexy!” before driving off, laughing. The woman feels embarrassed and self-conscious.

Scenario 2: A woman is walking down the street. A man walks past, the two of them catch eye contact and smile at one another. The man says to the woman, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you have a wonderful smile.” The woman says thank you and the two carry on walking in their opposite directions. It is likely that the words of a stranger made that woman’s day.

The differences between these two scenarios are fairly obvious, with a catcall and a compliment distinguishable by the woman’s response.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘compliment’ as: “an action that expresses approval or respect”. Whereas Merriam-Websterdefines ‘catcall’ as: “a loud, sexually suggestive call or comment directed at someone publicly”. It’s important for everyone to understand the meaning behind each before acting on one or the other.

what is your aim?

The first question to ask yourself in a complimenting environment is, “What are my motives in saying this?”. A compliment should not be a means to an end. Are you giving the compliment to make the other person feel good? Or are you making a remark because you would like something back from that person. Catcalls are about the person giving them, whereas compliments are about the person receiving them.


Reading social cues is key. Looking at the afore mentioned scenarios, a major difference is that in the latter, the two caught eye contact. Not everybody wants to be complimented. If you are walking past someone that is looking down and avoiding eye contact, it is highly likely that this person does not want to be disturbed. However, if the person’s body language is open and approachable, and you are respectful in your manner, it is more likely that your compliment is taken as one.

watch your words.

Are you being respectful in your compliments? Would you feel comfortable if your words were said to somebody that you are close to? If you spoke to your female friends in the same way, would you be coming off as a creep? Compliments come from respect, but catcalls come from a place of power.

It is not only how you say it, but it is also what you say. If you are commenting on somebody’s smile or style, you are showing that you see them as a human being. Making remarks that are too friendly or of a sexual nature is dehumanising and often makes a woman feel objectified.

being polite.

Would you feel comfortable being stopped by a stranger on the street? Before giving any sort of opinion or remark, basic social etiquette is crucial. Starting an interaction off with respect and courtesy with something such as, “I’m sorry to bother you”, can make a big difference on how somebody receives your compliment. Greeting a stranger with something such as, “Hey there gorgeous”, can instantly put a woman on edge. The intentions may be good, but what makes you think all women want to be called gorgeous by a complete stranger?

To include your motives (or lack of) also goes far. As mentioned above, compliments are not given to get something from that person. Making it clear that you are not ‘trying it on’ or want anything from her, validates to the woman that she is receiving a compliment.

a positive reaction?

A significant difference between a compliment and a catcall is the way that it is received. Once you have given your compliment, read their reaction. Do they look happy by what you have said? Did they respond with a smile and a thank you? Has is sparked a positive reaction? If so, you can carry on with your day, knowing that your compliment has made somebody happy. But if they look shy, awkward, and uncomfortable, it is likely that your remark was not taken as you intended. The best thing to do in this situation is to apologise and keep walking. If they don’t want to be spoken to, even with good intentions, do not hang about.

if you’re not sure, don’t do it.

Remember, a compliment is about the person receiving it. If you have any other motive for making remarks towards a woman, then it is no longer a compliment. Catcalling puts women on edge and makes us feel unsafe and vulnerable. Sometimes this is not the intention, which is why it is so important that we start to recognise the fundamental differences between the two.

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