As I see it, the problem isn’t that equal rights and anti-discrimination/harassment movements have mollified people’s speech. The problem is that even after we’ve established that *all* people deserve equal rights, we’ve only ever attempted to train our language to mimic this change. Essentially, we made a linguistic game out of equality rather than actually attempting to change our behaviors and attitudes.
With this in mind, if we don’t know someone, odds are that “complimenting” them in a way that highlights aspects of their physicality and our desire for their body will not be perceived so much as a simple compliment as an un-solicited advance. While there are certainly those that are open to such advances, those who are not often rightly find this type of behavior threatening (harassment). As members of civil society, no one should need feel threatened by the proximity or interjections of their fellow humans. So, in short, if you’d really like to pay someone a compliment, let’s lay off the cat calls and objectification in order to perhaps make what’s said less menacing and more meaningful.
Interestingly, along somewhat similar lines, I came across this text in a “Personal Living” book I was using to teach a class:
I feel like for many of us, myself included sometimes, BS (Benevolent Sexism) similar to that indicated in this passage is a fairly subtle form of sexism that is often near-indistinguishable from something so simple as helping one’s neighbor. The not so subtle distinction here is that we know that Manuel’s BS was not performed equally to all in need, and came with the expectation of time or a date with Lori.
I hope that these examples (my comic’s example of two people “complimenting” a stranger while it is only in the third frame that the comment is actually perceived as such, and the “definition” of motivation suggesting that the motivation guiding a kind act need not be helping another person in need, but rather helping a desired partner with the unstated expectation of some sort of future reciprocity) both help to draw out what BS is and by extension how one might wish to and be able to avoid it.