Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t find catcalling okay in the slightest.
I don’t find it flattering. I don’t find it cute. I don’t consider it a compliment.
Sometimes that concept goes over people’s heads. I mean, take the compliment! Someone is expressing their interest in you — be flattered!! How is this a problem? You’re being too sensitive.
Sometimes the words are flattering. Sometimes the catcalling is so downright PG in its innocence. Sometimes I start asking myself what the big deal is as well.
And then something happens and I’m reminded why it’s terrible, no matter what, no matter how innocent it is.
Let’s set the scene: I’m walking down what is a relatively busy street in a New Hampshire city. It’s nighttime and I’m tired and I just want to get to my car, which is maybe a quarter mile out from where I am. I pass by a slightly unpopulated stretch of street between the buildings and the parking lot.
During this stretch, I pass by two guys. One of them goes, “Damn. Hey.”
Standard-issue cat-calling. Nothing to write home about.
I keep walking.
He gets a little louder.
“Mama, I said hey.”
I shake my head slightly – my go-to subtle way of saying, “sorry, no thank you,” – and keep walking.
He gets a lot louder and considerably aggressive.
“What, you think you can just ignore me? I said hi!”
“Who does she think she is?” his friend pipes in.
I pick up the pace. He picks up the volume.
“You don’t get to walk away when I say hi.”
There’s a part of me that wants to turn around. Yell at him and his friend. Tell him he doesn’t get to threaten a woman because she doesn’t respond to your shitty disrespectful words. Ask them who do they think they are.
But I’m just scared and I just want to get as far away from the situation as possible. My adrenaline has spiked and my fight or flight has landed firmly on flight.
There’s a part of me that’s incredulous at myself. I’m 5’11”. Broad-shouldered and athletically built. I know how to throw a punch. I have extensive martial arts training. My car key was already between my index finger and middle, creating a makeshift weapon – something I’ve done it so many times that it’s been committed to muscle memory.
And yet – in the face of machismo that was so aggressive I feared for my safety – all of that was lost.
All I could do was keep walking and pray to God they wouldn’t follow me down the street.
Adrenaline broke when I turned the corner into the parking lot – when I realized they weren’t going to follow me, when the shouts had dissolved into grumbles. I weaved through the parking lot, determined to not let this adrenaline crash translate into crying in public. I get into my car, determined not to cry over some skeazy guys and their sleazy behavior.
I start my car and I call my husband. Within seconds, I dissolve into tears.
I try to relay the story. I try to stop the crying and shrug it all off. Instead I start shaking. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I can hear a chorus of people tell me it’s no big deal.
But it is a big deal. And it’s situations like this that proof why catcalling is fucked up – even when it’s PG, even if it’s one line and then everyone goes on with their day.
Because catcalling – all catcalling – shows an entitlement mindset.
The catcallers feel entitled to shout whatever they feel like, to someone they don’t know, just because they can. Whether they want to say you’re beautiful or you’re sexy or you have a nice ass or they want to do some very explicit things to you. They feel entitled to shout it from car and from porches. They feel entitled to interrupt whatever it was you were doing. And they feel entitled to think that such behavior is no big deal.
And it doesn’t take much for that entitlement to shift.
If you feel entitled to shout at a stranger – to say whatever it is on your mind no matter how inappropriate it is – how much of a jump is it, then, to feel entitled to get the response that you want? And how much of a jump is it to feel entitled to anger if you don’t get that response you want – entitled to turn to the very woman you found sexy and decide she needs to be taught a thing or two.
To repeat: catcalling is not fun, not flattering, not okay.
It is indicative of the toxic attitudes we have in this society. They might not all be dangerous, but they create the perfect platform for it to become exactly that.