The other night I got into a debate with a well-meaning straight guy about why cat-calling sucks. He seemed to agree that cat-calling isn’t nice, but he also suggested that it wasn’t a problem that had anything to do with men and power.
I disagree. Catcalling is a way men inflict their will on women. In this way, it goes hand in hand with rape culture.
Catcalling is a daily occurrence for me. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing (most often I leave the house in baggy jeans and a t-shirt), if I’ve got makeup on, if I’m sick or whatever. I can tell you, every single time, it’s unwanted attention. Days that I go without getting elevator eyes with smooching sounds, or a ‘hey baby, hey baby’ are really awesome days in my book.
I didn’t need you to turn my morning into one long defense of my humanity. I didn’t need you to add to the “gauntlet” that I already had to walk to get to the train station.
There are men who insist that catcalls are “flattering.” No doubt there are women who are complicit in this too. Men often use this as an excuse that because some women enjoy it, that I, a completely different woman with a different set of tastes and standards, should appreciate it too. This is, of course, a warped and idiotic logic that is based on the understanding that I, in my possession of XX chromosomes, must be a part of the hivemind of womanhood that kowtows to male standards of behavior. Because. . .
Rape culture demands that women are sexually subservient. We must behave in a pre-programmed way to any and all attention we get on the street from greasy strangers. Hence the perennial street-harasser’s favorite: “Smile, honey! You have such a pretty smile.”
There are variations on the catcalls, too. Sometimes they do try to express genuine interest, as when I was leaving my office at the Gay & Lesbian Center and a particularly filthy man, along with two friends who were sitting on the curb drinking 40s out of paper bags, suggested that “Girl, you are the kind of woman I go for.” When I retorted that “That’s a problem, cause I don’t go for men at all,” all three men got angry and one snarked something about an ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately, I had walked too far by that point to hear what, exactly, she and I had in common. From the outset, it was a relative innocuous statement. The problem is that when I dared open my mouth in response, he and his buddies got defensive.
Catcalling is a way of removing a woman’s voice. How many times have you witnessed/experienced/heard about a woman responding to a catcall with a loud “fuck off” which only encouraged the man to follow/harass/chase her? In my world “fuck off” means “no.” But in the world of cat-calling, “fuck off” means intimidate, harass, or yell louder.
As Starling wrote in the now-internet-famous essay Schrodinger’s Rapist:
A man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.
If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.
Catcalling is part of rape culture. It declares that the catcaller has more rights than recipient of said harassment. It tells her that her voice is irrelevant and that she should just grin and bear it. It tells her that she should take it as a compliment and if she doesn’t, it’s her that’s broken. Pardon me, well-meaning straight guy who doesn’t see catcalling as part of rape culture, but doesn’t this sound familiar?