Hello all, buckle up for a little bit of a rant. I wanted to write this post because there still seems to be a whole load of misconceptions about catcalling, that I hear both online and in person. People still seem to lack an understanding of how upsetting and worrying it can really be, as well as how allowing it has a real effect on our society. So, here’s my two cents on the whole situation.
Misconception Number 1: Catcalling Is a Compliment
Although I do completely disagree with this, it’s very easy to understand where this misconception comes from. Men and women alike are taught that women’s appearance is their most valuable asset, and therefore it seems to make sense that commenting on it positively would make them feel valued. However, there is a massive difference between a compliment and sexual harassment.
General rule: if you wouldn’t say it to your mother, it’s not a compliment.
If it seems like a gross thing to say to a family member, there’s clearly a sexual undertone to it, and that’s not an appropriate way to communicate with a stranger. Yes, if my boyfriend (or overinvolved best friend, @thinkingandinking) said that my butt looks great in my jeans, I’d be complimented – but if you’re a stranger, it’s very weird. Ideally, just don’t give any unsolicited comments to women in the street – if they’re anything like me, they probably don’t want to talk to anyone whilst running errands/walking to school, never mind a stranger. However, if you feel incredibly compelled to comment you should: A) Probably seek out a therapist and make an actual friend or B) Only say things you’d say to your mother. As I say, however, the ideal situation is we both mind our own business unless you want to ask for the time/directions/when the next bus is.
Misconception Number 2: Catcalling Isn’t Harmful, Women Need to Lighten Up!
Okay, so there’s a whole lot to unpack here. First off, I think it’s generally not a good idea to be telling women what they do or do not need to do. Unless it’s for their safety and wellbeing (” Women need to avoid sticking forks into toasters”, “Women need to drink enough water”, “Women need to keep bigots like Trump out of the Whitehouse”), in which case, it’s really people need to, not women need to. Secondly, the idea that catcalling isn’t harmful really ignores the effect that it has on those who experience it. Every time someone has commented on my experience in the street, it has been sexual, from someone much older than me (bar one incident with a 12-year-old), and has made me feel deeply uncomfortable and vulnerable.
What you need to remember is this: no-one owes you anything. Not even a smile, or a response to your comment, or any of their time.
If you ask someone to go on a date with you, they have every right to turn you down – even if you’ve pined over them for 20 years and bought them a diamond the size of Peru. There is absolutely no situation in which someone is obligated to respond to you romantically. Catcalling, however, functions on the assumption that women are constantly available as male entertainment – if a woman does something as simple as walking down the street, she has consented to you interacting with her. This just isn’t true, full stop. Why are you assuming your opinion is so important that a woman desperately wants to know whether you think her arse is great? If I’m not dating you, I really could not care any less about whether or not you “would”. The sense of entitlement towards commenting on women’s bodies often then generalises to a sense of entitlement in other areas, such as sexual access or just simple attention. It creates a framework in which women can’t say no, and men are allowed to interact in a sexual manner with any woman without consequence. This can spiral into violent crimes such as rape or sexual assault, as well as chronic abuse in relationships. I know it sounds extreme, but everything that we do or don’t allow as a society sets a precedent for what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable. By considering catcalling harmless, a set of beliefs about women continue to be perpetuated and allow these more serious offences to occur.
Misconception Number 3: Boys Will Be Boys!
The answer to this one is phenomenally simple: boys will control themselves and respect others, just like everyone else has to. Firstly, grown men are not “boys”, and have had many years to educate themselves on how to function respectfully in society. Secondly, misogyny is not some uncontrollable force, luring you into bad behaviour. Lesbians don’t go around leering and catcalling so straight men can figure it out too.
When you say “Boys will be boys”, what you really mean is “I’d rather let girls remain uncomfortable and endangered than have an honest conversation with my son about respect.”
The Truth: Catcalling Is Damaging – Especially to Girls
What I think men struggle to understand, having not experienced catcalling, is it doesn’t just affect you whilst it’s happening, but all the time. Every time I walk past a building site, or through an underpass, or any other male-dominated environment/quiet public place I tug on my dress or skirt, keep my gaze on the ground, pull my phone out, walk just a little quicker. This isn’t entirely due to catcalling, it’s symptomatic of the wider societal idea that women need to keep themselves safe from assault or harassment, but catcalling definitely plays a part. I really wish I didn’t have to do this, firstly because it’s a stressful inconvenience, but also because I don’t like considering men some sort of ‘enemy’. I’d like to feel just as safe with a man walking behind me as I would with a woman. However, this sadly isn’t the case. Even though the vast majority of men or boys I interact with are nothing but friendly, there are also those who have made my skin crawl with inappropriate looks, comments, or beeping of car horns. Most of the girls I’ve spoken to said it was a comment from men that made them aware of their own ‘sex appeal’. Some of them as young as 10, 11, went from the innocence and naivety of wearing what they wanted, considering themselves (rightly) as children, to being aware that they had begun to be sexualised in some way. One girl even said that at age 12 she was told she had “blowjob lips” by an adult man.
Young girls deserve to live in a carefree world where they don’t have to worry about what their clothes are “revealing”, or tolerate the comments of men (often old enough to be their father or grandfather) about their appearance.
Sexual identity should be discovered by yourself, not pushed upon you by some creepy man who leers at you out of a car window or hollers at you in the street.
My Own Experiences
I think the first time I had this kind of experience was when I was about 13, at the races with my family. I held a door open for a man in his 50s/60s (because, basic human decency) and after walking through he muttered: “Nice arse” (because, sexualising a child is really cool). However, way before that, I’d become aware of The Look. Every woman alive probably knows The Look, when someone makes eye contact with you and then slowly looks you up and down, ending with some smug smile. It’s gross, please don’t do it. The Look started when I was about 11, and I suddenly started being a lot more nervous about walking past groups of men or wearing short shorts. It also coincided with male relatives saying that they needed to start “Keeping an eye on me” because I was “looking grown up”. Anyone under 16 is undoubtedly a child, and should not be sexualised, especially by adults. I’ve had many different instances of street harassment, from men muttering amongst themselves and grinning, to beeping their horns as they drive past, to outright sexual comments. Fairly recently a boy who can’t have been older than 12 made some very inappropriate comments as I walked past him, and even more recently than that a group of men in their 40s whistled as I walked past. I’ve been lucky in the sense that it’s never escalated – a few of my friend have horror stories of being followed home, but it made me feel incredibly embarrassed and upset, I suddenly wanted to put on a coat because I’m so self-conscious. It’s yet another reminder that I’m constantly being viewed sexually by the men around me, which is deeply unpleasant.
So, that sums up my thoughts on catcalling. In summary: it’s really gross and downright unnecessary, so please don’t do it. Ever. No exceptions.
Do some mindfulness, get out and enjoy the sunshine, drink some water. Also, don’t harass people in the street. Until next time, take care of yourself. x
Image from Flickr user: Dormant Braincell Research
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