“I’m a man, and I would be happy compliment girls on the streets!”
Such is the kind of comment that is guaranteed to be made at least once during a discussion about catcalling, by a man who fails to understand what cat calling is. It’s the old “women need to learn how to take a compliment” defence of behaviour that makes women feel uncomfortable and unsafe. And frankly, I am so bored of this kind of response, and even more bored of having to explain why it is wrong.
But let me try again.
When men say this kind of thing, I know it’s not coming from a place of malice, but ignorance. In his mind and in my mind, cat calling are two very different things. In his mind, perhaps he thinks catcalling is seeing a pretty woman on the street, and saying to her “hey beautiful” thinking it is a compliment and that it brightens her day. Thus, I’m sure in his mind when he pictures catcalling happening to himself, he pictures an attractive young woman telling him “you look handsome today” with a wink of her eye and a coy smile, and the interaction is all very lovely and charming and sweet. This is not cat calling.
Catcalling no doubt comes on a spectrum, but from my personal experience, and the experiences of the women I have talked about this with, almost all of it is aggressive and belittling. It ranges from a man making kissy faces at me from his car, to a man yelling that he likes my breasts (though with much harsher language), to a group of men in a car who slow down when they see me walking alone at night, and tell me what they like about my body, and how there are many things they would like to do to me. In all of these instances, and the many more I have experienced, not once have I considered it a compliment.
This type of catcalling is not about sexual desire and attraction. Catcalling is about power and dominance, and thinking that a woman’s body is there for men to enjoy and does not belong to women themselves. Catcalling happens to women of all different shapes and sizes, different ethnicities, different ages, in different clothing. Whether you’re a 16 year old girl in your school uniform or a 30 year old woman in her running gear sweating all over the place, you get catcalled, by men of all varieties too. Does that really make catcalling sound appealing? When you’re a young girl walking home from high school and a man thirty years your senior yells obscenities about your breasts at you from a car? Imagine if that was your daughter, would you tell her to learn how to take a compliment? Would you say “I would love it if that happened to me!” I’m gonna guess not.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn’t experienced some form of catcalling, and even more hard pressed to find a woman who liked it. And this is what we need to highlight: I’m not saying all men catcall, but I am saying that nearly all women have been catcalled. I am asking men that if you see this happening, if one of your friends does this, I hope you have the courage to call him on it and tell him it’s inappropriate. I’m sure you would if he was catcalling your daughter, your sister, your mother, your friend, or any other female in your life, because the women who get catcalled are these same women. And while women have and will continue to speak up against it, we need more men saying its wrong too.
So please think about this next time you’re around someone who catcalls, or if you feel like doing it yourself. Because if you experienced this on a daily basis, I’m sure you would quickly realize that it is not something you want to happen to you.