You smell nice: A compliment gone too far

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By Muyideen Ayinla

The internet is agog with the tweet made by an HR person who goes by the name Taiwo describing an encounter she had with an applicant who passed a complimentary remark at her after the interview.

She was quick to come on twitter to narrate this encounter of hers as she described “most men” as lacking in manners. The question of manners remains a great subject of discourse that needed great attention within our society.

This narrative was simply a case of effrontery and drawing the limits that exists between a man and a woman, one which I think has been misconstrued as arrogance and unruly attitude of this woman against the man as portrayed by various social media users except for a few like myself.

I should sound a note of warning before delving deep down into the subject matter that this is my opinion and I am not trying to shove it down anyone’s throat as you are at liberty to read, digest and make your constructive criticism or you simply ignore.

The fact remains, there are times when compliments get too far – one which may not go down well with the parties involved but bragging about such escapades like making another person feel inferior shouldn’t be encouraged.

There is a border line that divides a man and a woman – one which can only be crossed with care and with a thrust of respect.

Failure to respect this may bring about a negative feedback that may not be well accepted by the receiving party.

I think we are taking things too far and we have allowed the term civilization to cast a veil upon our moral inclination. Yes, I know you will begin to question the wrong in saying “someone smells nice” most especially to a female folk.

I know you expect that one should not pick offence at compliments and after all it was just a compliment. “Must she be rude to a man?” “She is rude and a low life.” All these are your opinions, but the fact remains, the thin line between a male and a female remained a sacred one most especially when they are strangers.

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I have experienced how people take compliments too far at the workplace one which must be checked. This corporate flirting is one of the curses some organizations are still yet to recover from due to the fact that it eventually led to immoral sexual exploit within the workplace.

There are times when at work, some colleagues could identify a woman just by the smell of her perfume alone. In fact, they could tell if a particular female colleague had been at a place just by the smell of her perfume only.

The compliments over the years have taken on so many dimensions, from side pecks, to warm hugs, even to lifting the woman within the office all in the name of compliments.

I believe if husbands were to be in these offices to see what transpires between colleagues and their wives in the name of flirtatious compliments, a lot would have died of heart attack.

It is a big shame what the corporate environment is turning to and I have seen cases of top officers being disciplined just by being caught having illicit affairs with female colleagues in the office. Just imagine that!

Of course as Taiwo said, “a lot of men lack manners” and it is becoming rampant these days to see women being victimized sexually in a corporate environment. Well, we are in Nigeria where we are more exposed and civilized than the Whiteman. The respect for women is dwindling at each passing day as they are seen as objects of sexual exploits for men.

A woman has a right to dictate what she can endure or accept from people, it is a form of fighting back the insecurity in a men dominated environment.

Mind you, I am not talking about feminism here as it is a trash and it will always remain in the garbage bin. I think there is a lot wrong within our society and it is a subject needing discussion in the public sphere.

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The fact remains that such complimentary words are tools to break the barriers between a man and a woman and at the end which could lead to familiarity, indecency and other vices within the workplace.

Such complimentary remarks is what is termed “soft or subtle sexism.”

According to Laura Donovan, “sexism exists in many forms, particularly in professional settings, as demonstrated by Ellen Pao’s recent lawsuit against a former employer Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Bryers, a venture capital firm in Silicon valley.

Pao, who lost the case, argued that she was the victim of more nuanced gender discrimination after reporting unwanted sexual advances to her supervisor.”

Donovan further explained that “an earlier Penn state study on subtle sexism and benevolent sexism (complimentary remark about women) confirmed that they can be damaging to a woman’s career.”

Even Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook was guilty of subtle sexism when he mentioned Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s skin while introducing her as having “really good skin.”

Taiwo’s verdict is not a new issue and shouldn’t be over-bloated in the social media space and there is a need for individuals to be educated. There are countless cases of subtle or soft sexism in even developed countries where complimentary remarks like that made to Taiwo as smelling nice sounds offensive even the founder of Facebook was found guilty of such by making a complimentary remark as to his female colleague’s skin.

These compliments or flirtatious remarks come in various forms like, “woman, you smell nice”, “Lady, nice back you have got there”, “Nice top you have got there babe”, holding a female colleague by the hand and telling her to turn around for you to appreciate her and others are unhealthy flirtation within a corporate environment and this may lead to illicit sexual exploit within the organisation.

Taking a deep look at this issue from a religious angle most especially the Islamic faith, intermingling with the opposite sex is forbidden and even shaking hands with them. It is a dictate from God to the whole of mankind most especially to protect the woman.

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It is also discouraged for a woman to remain in seclusion with a man who is not lawful to her even at the workplace. A woman is not allowed to reveal or expose her beauty in public even to the extent of using perfumes that could easily get the attention of the opposite sex.

I know most feminist will not agree with me and to avoid these immoral acts at the workplace. There is a need to go back to the divine dictates and the instruction from Allah to the women as stated in Surah Al-Azhab; “And abide quietly in your homes, and do not flaunt your charms as they used to flaunt them in the old days of pagan ignorance; and be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto Allah and His Messenger: for Allah only wants to remove from you all that might be loathsome, O you members of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you to utmost purity.” [33:33]

It is better for a woman to safeguard herself from becoming a victim of the moral decadence we are currently witnessing within our society. People seem to see bad as good and good as bad as we have descended so low in understanding the role of the women within the society.

A woman is not to be seen as an object of exploitation or to be disrespected. And when a woman tells you she doesn’t like you to compliment her on her smell, respect her opinion as you are likely practising subtle sexism on her fragile mind, one she has a right to protect with her words or her might.

I hope Taiwo learns from this and stick to the commands of Allah likewise other women who have abandoned this great protection Allah Has made available to the women.


Muyideen Ayinla writes from Lagos.

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