Is a Cat Call a Compliment?

Is a cat-call a compliment?

If a stranger on the street whistles when I pass by, who am I to complain? I mean, really, what woman doesn’t want to be admired by men for the way she looks?


Seriously, isn’t that one reason that many of us come to this site? We want encouragement because we’re worried that no man will find us attractive.


What if a man does find you attractive? And what if he’s a total stranger? What if this man you’ve never met doesn’t stop at a double-take? What if he sees you on the street and whistles at you?

“What’s up, baby?” he calls out. “Lookin’ good today.”

Or what if he finds you on Facebook and tells you you’re beautiful? Is one compliment acceptable? What do you do if it’s more than one?

Maybe he’s not a stranger. Let’s say he’s my co-worker. Is he inbounds if he tastefully compliments my appearance? Even that may be inappropriate at the office. Now, if it’s after work, and the gang from work is having dinner together, a polite compliment is probably acceptable if both of us are single. It may lead to flirting. If I flirt back, it means I’m comfortable with the gentleman’s interest.

If we go on a few dates and it comes to the point where both of us are calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, then he has probably earned the right to say, “What’s up, beautiful?” (At least in private.) But that’s very different from a stranger on the street, whether it’s literally a street or figuratively a street, like Facebook or Twitter. A stranger has no right to make any comment, positive or negative, on my appearance, and I have no right to comment on his.

Defining Dignity in a Cat Call Culture

Some people accuse me of playing the victim.

“You people cry, ‘Harassment!’ at everything,” they accuse me. “Don’t you know a compliment when you hear one? Do you know how many women would like to hear a cat call as they walk down the street?”

Nope, I stand by my argument. If the compliment comes from a man who has earned the right to comment on my appearance, that’s one thing. And if a casual male friend says, “You look nice today,” at the office or at church, I may choose to say thank you and let it go. But if the comments continue, that’s another matter. Again, same goes for me, too. Unless we’re in a relationship, I have no more right to comment on a man’s appearance than he does on mine.

But a total stranger has no right to state his (or her) opinion on my appearance. Or yours. Stand up for yourself and say so.

The good news is, it’s not the 1950s. My mother tells me stories of men who not only made inappropriate comments but who proceeded to touch women. My mom had one male coworker who would sidle up beside a woman and casually slip his hand around her back, under her arm and onto her breast. To deal with him, you had to keep your arms straight down by your sides so he couldn’t reach his target.

Of course, the same kind of thing happens today. But at least today, a man would be more likely to take you seriously if you responded with, “Take your hands off me, or I’ll slap you with a lawsuit so fast it will make your head spin.”

Whether it’s inappropriate touch or unwelcome talk, stand up for yourself because you are a person of value whose dignity should be respected. God made you, after all.

God also made cats, and when a male cat calls for a female cat, it is something to hear. And perfectly appropriate for cats. Cat-calls are fine for felines. But you’re a human, created in God’s image. Therefore you have great value. When you’re treated as less than that, speak up. God is a God of justice and will not stand for people to be treated as objects. When you see another woman or girl treated like that, speak out. Don’t let the cat get your tongue.

Wendy Herrmann Smith is a 40-something mom of two. One kid she got the old fashioned way and one by adoption. Wendy writes adult Sunday School curriculum which is not as boring as it sounds. She can barely fill up an A-cup bra, and that’s okay. Really. She blogs at Read Wendy’s posts here.


  • Christina Knauss
    April 20, 2017

    This is a very interesting topic for me. I entered my perspective on your Facebook page but I’ll also leave a note here. The very few times I have been “cat-called” or complimented by a stranger have been on days when I was having a low self esteem moment. And frankly those compliments gave me a pick me up. Maybe because the guys I have been “cat-called” by have never been obnoxious younger men, or frat types. I tend to get compliments from older men, more like the grandfatherly type. Case in point: the other day I was walking to a meeting down near the university. A senior gentleman was riding by on one of those old vintage bicycles. He even had an orange signal flag on a long pole on the back. As he passed me he slowed down and smiled. “Hi honey, I just wanted to tell you you are beautiful!” And kept on pedaling.
    I had been having a lousy day, feeling old and beat down. That nice man saying that to me put a spring in my step and a smile on my face.
    It’s just me, but if someone compliments me on something about my appearance and does it in a nice, non-stalkerish way, it doesn’t bother me. I compliment people on their hair, clothes, jewelry, nails, etc. all the time. It’s just the way I was raised. Maybe the key is not what the compliment is, but how it’s done. Just a thought.

    • Heather Creekmore
      April 20, 2017

      Hi Christina – Yes, I’ve had the same thing happen to me! Where a random stranger says, “Wow, you’re beautiful” and it’s a pick me up of sorts. I’ll have Wendy chime in since she wrote this. 🙂

    • Wendy Herrmann Smith
      April 22, 2017

      Thanks, Christina. Yes, if someone compliments me in a non-stalkerish way, as you put it, the best response may be a simple, “Thank you.” But if it happens more than once with the same person, I still say it’s probably inappropriate. Comments on my physical appearance by the opposite sex are, generally speaking, inappropriate unless they are made by a man who has earned the right. Like a boyfriend or husband. *** Funny thing happened after this posted. I was jogging by a busy divided highway, and a voice from a passing car yelled, “Pick up the pace, girl!” I did not see the person, but he sounded young and male. (I’m female and not-so-young.) I don’t know if that was a cat-call or just encouragement. So there ya go.

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