Nov 13, 2014

Catcalling - Why Are We Still Talking About This?

I know, I know.  The breakup didn't last long.  Society, you are a poison!

Let's start with the good.  More people are talking about casual harassment since the Yes All Women movement, and I think that's awesome!  It's good that it's being discussed, and it's good that men are being exposed to the idea that this is not acceptable behavior.

But it's also revealing the full depth of ignorance between the genders and our lack of empathy for each other.  There are certain things we don't see eye to eye on, because we don't (typically) have the same experiences.

So I watched this video documenting the amount of attention a woman received while walking through New York, in regular clothing, without doing anything particularly special.

If you watched and didn't see the point of this, read this explanation from Reddit.  The poster does a great job of explaining it in a way that everyone can relate to.  I read it, and was glad that someone was summing it up for the people who couldn't, or chose not to, see the point of the video.

But then I made a mistake and read through the comments.  And people still didn't get it, or wanted to argue about semantics instead of the overall message.

100 men attempted to interact with her in 600 minutes.  Some of them seemed pretty innocuous.  "Hello."  "Good morning."  She ignored them, and that was that.  Is this harassment?  A lot of people were outraged that it was even being shown in this video, but I'd argue that while I wouldn't call it harassment, it still makes the point.

In a crowded city, you don't talk to every single person that passes by.  These men weren't.  But they specifically targeted this woman to greet.  If they're only greeting attractive women, doesn't that hint at what the intentions behind the comment are?  It's not harassment, but it's still an undesired interaction.

Having to repel unwanted attention every 6 minutes is a lot!  Can anyone honestly tell me that they wouldn't mind fending off undesired advances every 6 minutes of every day, just because it's a validation of their attractiveness?

But say we treat each instance on a case by case basis.  "Hello."  Ok, no problem.  You either return the greeting or you keep walking.  Either way, the interaction ends pretty quickly.  But what about those men that followed her?  Or kept after her, "What, I'm too ugly for you?"  "Someone's telling you, you're beautiful.  You should say thank you."

These men think she owes them something.  They act as if they have some sort of claim on her.  This is rude and disrespectful, if not frightening.  One of the comments (in the Reddit post) stood out to me.  The commenter didn't understand how this could be scary, because, "Does she think they're just going to attack her out in the street where everyone can see?"  And I guess that's the whole point.  You don't know.

When you meet a stranger, especially in a city with a huge population, there is no guarantee that they're sane, that they're not violent, that they're not a rapist.  Obviously most people aren't.  But most people aren't following you through the street either.  Yelling at you or criticizing your (lack of) response is an aggressive act.  Someone following you with no provocation is downright terrifying.

This is another point where men, specifically, might have some trouble understanding the female viewpoint.  Because men are, on average, larger and stronger than women, they are less likely to feel concerned about the actions of other random people, and it would be harder to be overpowered.  Honestly, I know I feel more comfortable, as a taller, heavier woman, than many more petite women I know if I'm walking alone at night or in an unfamiliar place.  I feel both more equipped to fend someone off, and less likely to be targeted in the first place.

There is also the question of being the pursuer, rather than the pursued.  I'm not going to say we're biologically wired this way, because I haven't done the research to back this up, but if not biologically, we are certainly socially programmed to have the man be the aggressor in a relationship.  So in addition to feeling more confident in his abilities to fend off an attacker, a man is less likely to feel that someone will be coming after him to forcibly make sexual advances, or worse.

I read something once that hypothesized that so many straight men are so extremely uncomfortable being around or hit on by gay men because, unlike most women, a gay man is someone who is physically capable of forcing his attentions upon another man.  (I wish I could source this for you, but try searching it - it is one of the uglier internet searches I've ever made.)

These straight men are uncomfortable (remember, hypothetically) not because it's something they perceive as wrong, or are morally opposed to, but because it is one of the rare occasions they don't have the assurance that comes along with being physically dominant.  Straight men know what they are capable of doing to a woman, and the idea of someone else having that power over them is extremely uncomfortable.

So take that discomfort, and that fear, and apply it to how a woman feels every time a man randomly catcalls, insults, or follows her.  Is it really so difficult to see why it's wrong to make others feel this way and why this is a problem?

What frustrates you too much to ignore?  Have you been catcalled at and how did you feel about it?

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  1. I wonder what a man would do if they were treated the same way?

  2. Well written. It also frustrated me that many men just didn't get it and think women should see street harassment as a "compliment"! I always feel a little nervous if I have to walk past a gang of men and if they start trying to talk to me/bother me, it definitely makes me feel very uncomfortable. I just want to be left alone when I'm out and about!

    1. You know, I've been on the receiving end and not been bothered at all. Like whistles or "Hola, Mamacita!" But I've also had comments that bothered me a lot more. It doesn't really matter what the sentiment is behind it - it matters if it's expressed appropriately. And it matters how it's affecting the recipient. These men clearly don't care how it's affecting the recipient, which completely negates any possible positive motives behind their actions.

  3. When I was in college, my roommate and I used to run around campus in the evenings to get our work out in. One evening we had just left dance practice and decided to run while we were in proper clothes, which happened to be UWG cheerleading shorts (they said UWG on the butt) and tank tops. We were running along the main road on campus when this guy ran up past us, then stopped in front of us and said "Nice bumper stickers ladies." We were both scared because why are you running to catch up to us and then stopping us from running? What he said was offensive and even worse, he made us feel fear. Sometimes men have no clue...


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