Catcalling

Hi huns! Let’s talk about catcalling. 

I realize that it is winter, and therefore it isn’t the common time to talk about this issue. We tend to shelve this conversation for spring, when the sun comes out and the clothes come off. But if we are going to eliminate this from our culture - which is possible - we need to talk about it all the time. 

I have withstood so much verbal harassment it’s sickening. I’m not going to get into the details because sadly we have all been there. What’s important is addressing the issue at the root. 

Catcalling is not a compliment. It’s a power play. “Compliments” do not incite fear. I’ve never “complimented” someone by: 

  • Shouting across a street at someone; 
  • Slowing down a car to talk to someone; 
  • Honking at someone and asking where they’re going; 
  • Following someone home;
  • Taking someone’s headphones off;
  •  Grabbing someone; 
  • Making that incredibly insulting “psst psst” sound; 
  • …You get the picture. (yes these have all happened to me, what great fun.) 

That’s because catcalling has never been about complimenting women. It’s about power and ownership. 

Catcalling is not some silly little thing. When people belittle it, or wave it off, it tells women who felt uncomfortable about being catcalled that their experiences are not valid; that their feelings are not worthy; that the priority is a man’s ability to call out at you. 

We are taught that it’s silly and to let it go. FUCK THAT. “Let it go” is a phrase taught to us from such an early age, and sure, it’s useful for the mundane, petty shit in our lives. Unfortunately, it has been overused in teaching women what they should ‘let go,’ what they should ‘brush off,’ what they should ‘grow a thicker skin’ about. It has been used to encourage women to be docile and polite instead of enraged when someone defiles their space. Women are expected to ‘keep the peace.’ Um, no, not for me, thanks. These men have invaded my space, my privacy, my existence as a human being, because they felt entitled to not only their opinion, but also, my body. I will not be docile. 

So let’s call it what it is: Catcalling is street harassment. It is a normalized strand of sexual harassment. Catcalling is a display of self-prescribed power and entitlement. It is meant to establish a power dynamic in which the woman is fearful. Men who catcall believe they have a right to view women’s bodies, and that their consumption is the main purpose of women’s flesh. They feel entitled to women’s bodies. Catcalling is a man publicly announcing that he has a right or an ownership to the skin the woman lives in. 

Catcalling upholds the culture that women’s bodies are objects. Our culture has encouraged us to observe, judge and consume women’s bodies. Catcalling stems from the belief that women’s bodies are for consumption, not a part of a human being. This teaches us that women are objects, not humans. 

A recent study found that sexually objectifying a woman can lead to aggression towards women and reduced moral concern for the objectified. This means that quite literally, catcalling turns women into objects, it reduces care for the individual, and can lead to violence. Another study conducted by a counselor of male sex offenders reported that the popular perception of males as aggressors and women as sexual objects finds little contradiction with rapists’ attitudes. The perpetrators’ attitudes often reflected those of ordinary members of society, attitudes that have their roots in sexual inequality, stemming all the way to commonplace sexism, such as in the workplace. 

These studies prove that these topics are all related: catcalling, harassment, assault, and even rape, stem from a normalized societal treatment of women as objects. 

I’m going to address a couple of points that have come up when I’ve approached this topic before. 

If at any point you’ve thought to yourself, ‘what was she wearing when this happened?’ It doesn’t matter. I’m allowed to exist without it being for someone else. If your respect for women is dependent on the amount of clothing she’s wearing, it’s you who needs to change. I recommend turning the scope inward, and working to discover why you reserve respect for only some women. 

I had someone once say that men deserve to voice their opinions about bodies. No, they don’t, it’s that simple. No one “deserves” to weigh in on another person’s existence. You do not “deserve” to give unsolicited opinions about the appearance of another, full stop. Teaching otherwise – especially to men – only adds to harassment culture. 

Someone else once said to me that they didn’t believe catcalls were dangerous. It doesn’t matter the percentage that turn violent. Last summer I had someone try to mug me – whom I fought off, by the way – but it started with him eyeing me up and down and then following me, much like catcallers have done. It’s not my job to decipher who means it “as a compliment” and who is going to attack me. I don’t care if it’s one in two instances; one in 10; one in 100; one in a million that turn violent; why would I ever make that gamble when it comes to my life? When someone approaches me on the street, or hollers at me from across the way, I treat that as potential danger. 

And here’s the hard, cold truth: I don’t owe these people anything. I don’t owe them polite; I don’t owe them pleasantries; I don’t owe them an ego stroke. If you call at me, or approach me on the street, you are invading my personal space, you are invading my safety. Your intention is irrelevant; I will not gamble my life for your ego. 

Keeping quiet about catcalling teaches us that it’s normal. Calling it “normal” excuses it, when really it’s not normal, it just sadly happens a lot. We are taught to “let it go.” In reality, catcalling is street harassment, and it can be violent or non-violent. It is deeply intertwined in a desire to keep power over women. It is meant to intimidate, and to instill fear. Whether direct violence comes from it, it should not be a woman’s job to decipher which men are violent in order to politely “take it as a compliment.” Belittling it as a silly thing only tells women that their feelings of fear, intimidation and anger aren’t valid. We need to stand up against street harassment, and fight it. 

This is my body, not anybody else’s. You have no right to call at me, you have no right to approach me, and I owe you nothing. 

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