If you are a woman who has to walk down a street on a regular basis chances are you’ve had things shouted at you by men. This can range from a presumptuous “hello!” a mildy degrading beep from a car or a more terrifying and vulgar suggestion (GET YER TITS OUT). Maybe someone even followed you around.
A viral video has been doing the rounds showing a woman walking through the streets of New York dressed in jeans and a t shirt and receiving around 100 catcalls. At one point a guy does follow her around for several minutes, asking why she won’t respond to him. Another guy tells her she should smile and be grateful of the attention. It certainly highlights what women have to deal with. It has since come to my attention that the video is problematic in its own right (accusations of editing out white men) but the interesting thing is what the video has generated.
Some people still fail to see what the problem is. A debate has opened up with a large amount of people (mostly men) asking what the big deal is. The fact is men just don’t get catcalled. Unless they pass a drunk hen party on a night out it is very unlikely a woman will try and grab their attention on the street (or anywhere else for that matter seeing as we’re conditioned to be submissive in romantic situations but that’s another topic for another time). Some dudes are genuinely curious as to why this all seems to bother us so much. After all, it’s mostly complimentary! Some guys are simply out to tell us to stop whining and get over it. The same points come up over and over again so I thought I’d throw in my opinion about them. Do with it what you will just don’t pull any gamergate shit on me.
We are social animals and there are hundreds of opportunities to pay someone a compliment, strike up a conversation or greet them. That’s what friends, family, acquaintances and so on are for. You can even start a conversation with a person while you wait for a bus or buy a cup of coffee. There really are so many ways to make friends or brighten someone’s day. Don’t waste your energy on women in the street. No woman has ever turned round to a catcaller and thanked him or tried to continue the conversation. It’s just social etiquette. You would be freaked out if someone you’d never seen before beamed at you and said GOOD MORNING, and that’s without the obvious sexual undertones of catcalling. And you have to keep in mind this happens constantly, it isn’t a one off. One reason it pisses us off is because it happens so often. Even the most polite catcall makes you feel self conscious, like someone is obviously sizing you up and feels the need to inform you they like what they see. Recently I was walking to Uni and a builder walking with his coworker said “hiya!” I gave him a weak smile of the ‘leave-me-alone’ variety, which is more than I should be expected to do, and I heard him say “I didn’t get a hiya back!” It seems harmless but it pissed me off. I felt like I was only there to give him some amusement. What he was saying was “you exist to please me with how you look.” That gets a little disheartening.
I read someone say that men are “just like that”, that it’s a natural by product of a testosterone fuelled sex drive and men will never stop acting on. Firstly I would like to point out that is never us so-called “man hating” feminists who say men are mindless sex beasts who can never be changed. Feminism believes such behaviours are produced by social conditioning and a warped view of masculinity presented by the patriarchy. Yes I said patriarchy. We’ve had one female prime minister in the history of our country it is not a great leap to say we live in a world built by and for men. It’s this thinking that tells men they must constantly give off an air of sexual vibrancy and women an air of sexual timidness. We can reverse that, we are reversing that. The very fact not every man catcalls women is proof enough this behaviour is not inherent. I am always saying we should not simply accept bad things and ever so britishly put up with them. We should always consider if there is a better alternative and head for that.
It is often said by men that they would love it if women tried to hit on them everywhere they went. That’s how most male-fantasy-beer-and-body-spray ads work anyway. Women flinging themselves at men. Hetero heaven! However it is still different for a woman. In a world where we still blame victims of rape for their attacks and catcalls can turn into “fuck you bitch!” when they go unheeded, being chatted up by a stranger is no fun. The reason I smiled at the builder even though I didn’t want to? I didn’t want to deal with the potential consequences of not smiling. Hell, I even got a sulky response for not returning his greeting! Catcalls don’t come from a place of sincere romantic approach. At best they are wind up attempts. Men of immature dispositions showing off in front of their mates. They don’t want to make you feel good, they want to irritate you. Men shouting at you in the street are not out to improve women’s confidence, they are out to control it, to mock it. They are out to feel big. Sometimes I flip the bird at such comments, assuming I am at a safe enough distance that I wont have to deal with any potential ugly consequences. Most of the time the van has beeped at you and is halfway down the road before you can get indignant. Even if you can make some sarcastic response, you still feel humiliated.
For those men who still don’t get the picture I will outline an alternate reality. Imagine living in a world with an abundance of gay guys, almost all of whom are bigger and stronger than you. In fact you are regularly told that they are bigger and stronger than you, which really helps you feel safe. Also, small side note, they own and control pretty much everything. Now on a regular basis such men shout things at you. They may comment on your appearance, ask you for your number or just generally be lewd and gross. If you don’t respond they get angry. They may even yell abuse. Sometimes they may even shout insults at you and tell you how ugly you are. In nightclubs they might grab your backside without permission and then have a smug satisfied look on their face when you turn around to glare at them. You are also told by your Mother that if you try anything they might beat you up or worse, so don’t do it. Gay guys twice your size feeling you up without permission is a standard part of a night out. Now imagine the same type of people are telling you it’s not a big deal you should be grateful for the attention, you should get over it, at least you don’t live in a country where small straight guys aren’t allowed to drive. Imagine some people like you say they actually like being approached by such men and they take it as a compliment so you should to. Just imagine all of that. Now tell us again why catcalling is no big deal.