All the women I know fall into one of two categories: those who can graciously accept a compliment and those who would rather grout the tub than receive a compliment. And, of the women I know who would be able to take a compliment well, there are really only about 3 of them.
That means that pretty much every single woman I know, or have ever casually encountered, or have heard while eavesdropping on a conversation is unable to easily embrace a compliment.
As this includes myself, I have recently become very intrigued by this phenomenon. On the face of it, a compliment is a fairly innocuous thing and women shouldn’t fear or reject compliments the way they do. And yet they do.
“Wow Sally – that is a beautiful dress you have on. It is so flattering for your figure!”
“This?! Why, this is nothing! Nothing, I tell you! I bought it at the clearance bin of a thrift resale store. In fact, they paid me to take it!”
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating; but not by much.
Having been on the giving and receiving end of that particular conversation makes me really wonder what it is about the feminine physiological make-up that inclines us to perceive praise from others as a verbal onslaught to be dodged and avoided.
Here’s what I believe.
I believe it is because women are, by nature, givers. To take something, even in the form of a compliment, is almost foreign to many females. When Pope John Paul II spoke of the "feminine genius," he was speaking directly about a trait that is inherent in the nature of woman, what he called “the gift of self.” Women are, by their very design, meant to give. They are wired to nurture and tend to others. Sure, some do a better job of this than others, but at her very core, a woman is created as a giver.
It doesn’t matter how often some radical feminists deny it: women are different from men. The truth our Faith teaches, though, is that this "different" doesn’t have a value attached to it. The value exists in the full and complete phrase “different but equal” -- and complimentary.
It is this very message that is at the core of who we are and how we can serve God. Women throughout the ages have modeled this for us. Zipporah most certainly had a marriage to Moses that was different than she would have imagined and yet her role was as important to God’s plan as was Moses’. To believe that God called upon Moses separately from Zipporah is to misunderstand the Sacrament of marriage-- the mystery of great value, which was made clearer to us when Jesus performed His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Zipporah, for her part, is a perfect example of “gift of self.”
Likewise, when Naomi encouraged her daughters-in-law to stay in their homeland while she would return to Bethlehem, she was acting in complete selflessness. Naomi had, by that time, lost her husband and her sons. She could have selfishly asked – or expected – her daughters-in-law to remain with her; but, instead, she encouraged them to be on their way, separate from her, in hopes of finding fulfillment. Indeed, Naomi’s “gift of self” was so beautiful that Ruth could not tear herself from her mother-in-law but chose to remain with her. And, of course it is this selfless action that ultimately begets the lineage from which our Savior is born.
Women are givers-- and though they may get mired in the day-to-day details of life and lose track of their true selves, they are still made to give love, comfort, and guidance. While this may make receiving compliments difficult or arduous, it is also what makes women unique and necessary to God’s plan for mankind.
Women can and should understand that receiving compliments does not diminish who they are, as givers; rather, it enhances who they are as daughters of the King. For women who struggle with accepting compliments, it is good to remember that a gracious and sincere “Thank-you” is actually a gift to the giver of the compliment! And so, graciously accepting a compliment is truly a “gift of self.”
Photograph from http://www.insightgeneration.com/