I don’t want to speak for all women, but I can only give you my (purely anecdotal) opinion as a lady who knows many ladies who feel the same: 98% of the time we want strange men to just leave us alone. Your intent may be harmless flattery, but we know from many, many, many, many experiences that far too often that flattery is used as an opening for harassment. And I realize that isn’t YOUR intent, but please understand, your compliment doesn’t happen without context. Your compliment may be the 10th in a long line of comments that started off with a flattering, “Hey, nice sweater” and ended with “your tits look great in it.”
Rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it to a man, don’t say it to a woman. We don’t need random men to compliment us. We just want to get through our day without feeling like our appearance isn’t constantly being appraised. We don’t need you to validate our appearance. We want to walk down the street and be met with silence. And yes, many of us have had such terrible, negative, scary experiences with strange men that we’d rather not interact at all.
Here’s where the 2% fits in: you see a woman every day in a coffee shop for months and she initiates small chat with you. After a while, you ask her to have that coffee with you.
You see a woman at a club and you tell her she looks great and if she’d like to dance.
Environment is everything. Context is everything. Women walking to and from work want to get home and hug their cats and dogs and maybe their husband. Leave them alone.