I recently was made aware of a video on Youtube called Street Harassment: Sidewalk Sleazebags and Metro Molesters. The women in the video discuss both sexual harassment and sexual assault that they have encountered and how that made them feel. It also included a part where one of the women wore a camera as she walked down the street in a typical outfit for her and experienced catcalls from men she passed.
Nothing in the video was news to me. I don’t experience harassment much and have never experienced assault. However, I know friends that have and know it is a problem. And no, not all men do this type of thing, but this isn’t a discussion about what type of men do it or the percentage of men that do it or anything like that. This is a discussion of the women.
Many of the comments on the video were, to me, horrifying. Here’s a breakdown of some of the stuff I was hearing:
- The girl wearing the hidden camera was “entrapping” the men…by doing nothing but walking down the street. Apparently. Even though I’ve never heard entrapment being used in anything but a criminal sense, and all she was doing was attaching a camera to herself while doing something normal.
- That same girl was asking for the attention by dressing provocatively, even though what she was or wasn’t wearing should not have any influence on whether or not people catcall her.
- Women that dress provocatively want the attention.
- The catcalls are compliments. Why is it so bad that men want to compliment women?
- Women look at dudes, so why can’t guys do the same?
And my personal favorite, from Space Cowboy:
“I also notice it’s only “harassment” because the guys aren’t attractive.”
I’m not going to address all of this, because there are plenty of people discussing the issue of women’s clothing and such. However, I do want to address the catcalling thing.
I mean, the men do have some fair points, so I think it’s fair to discuss them and try to explain the differences of thinking that seem to be happening in this situation.
But catcalls are compliments!
It is true that in that video, some of the catcalls could be considered compliments.
“Hey gorgeous.”-“Beautiful.”-“Lady in red.”-“Sexy.”
And then there were:
“How you doing, sweetie?”-“Purrrr.”
Some people would make a distinction between these two groups of catcalls, but I’m not one of them. One thing a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that the problem with catcalls isn’t the words that are being said. It’s often the tone of voice or the expression that accompanies it. However, it also just comes down to the fact that strangers are enforcing their presence into a woman’s space and mind without her consent.
That sounds as if nobody should ever talk to a woman, but that’s not what I’m getting at. At a bar, or a party, or wherever, those same words sound completely different. Being greeted at a bar with “how you doing, sweetie?” is more readily accepted than it is on the street. Why?
Because while walking down the street, women are on more guard than they are at a bar or a party, and they’re more likely to see something as threatening. This comes from the amount of sexual assault we see around us, and from being uncomfortable by stares that seem more possessing than admiring. A man that acknowledges you on the street with a catcall is very easily placed into the “threatening” category because now we know he focused on us for some amount of time and might want to do something about whatever made him catcall.
Once again, I’m not saying all men are threats or all men will harass or assault. I’m just saying that when men are strangers, it’s safer to assume all men are, because then we won’t miss the one that seemed okay but then assaulted us. It makes us feel safer to be on guard with everyone, and catcalls just call our attention to how dangerous a man can be, if he so chooses.
This can, of course, lead to women seeming rude to nice guys. One commenter said he asked a woman out for coffee and she threatened to say he harassed her. One possibility is that the woman was trying to be rude. The other possibility is that a stranger asking her for coffee (especially if it’s on the street) makes her feel threatened, and she responded defensively. I don’t know the whole situation, or where it happened, but I can attest that not knowing someone, especially a man, and having them ask you to go somewhere with them, even in public, is a slightly dangerous thing for a woman because we have to expect the worst, because if something happens, everyone will ask what we were wearing.
Every “yes” to a date with a virtual stranger is a risk, and some women respond to that by becoming defensive about going out at all.
This got a little off track, but the main point is this: Catcalls make most women uncomfortable. If you yell a compliment after someone, it doesn’t necessarily sound like a compliment to them. Therefore, a general rule could be that catcalls are unnecessary, but compliment someone all you want if you end up interacting with them in some way.
But women look at and comment on dudes too!
I will admit this happens all the time. Everyone is human, after all. The difference is how women do this and how men do this.
Yes, I’m generalizing and this might not apply to you. Ignore that for a second and focus on the fact that this is the most common stuff.
Men do things like:
- Make rude comments about sex
- Speak loud enough that the woman can hear
- Try to get her attention somehow
- Project their interest and manliness for her to admire and/or respond to positively
- Eye the woman hungrily
Women do things like:
- Eye the man hungrily
- Tell their friends
- Maybe make rude comments about sex
- Try not to speak loud enough for the man to hear
- Giggle and smile but not try to force herself into the man’s focus
Obviously there are men that are respectful of women and women that are a lot ruder to men. Obviously, both men and women are going to eye each other appreciatively or hungrily. It’s when some of the other things happen (trying to get into the person’s focus, speaking loud enough for them to hear, catcalling) that it gets uncomfortable.
I don’t think it’s fair to say that men can’t look. They can, just like women can look. And men can look at men and women can look at women. Looking at things is not bad. Imagining all the things you can do with that person is not bad. It’s just part of human nature. It’s also human nature to want to tell your friends about the lovely specimen of a human that just walked by because DAMN she/he is hot and it has to be acknowledged somehow.
It’s when that looking and telling friends becomes catcalls, or loud, rude conversations, or inappropriate gestures, or moving towards the person, or any other way you can think of that would make that person notice and bring you into their focus, that it becomes uncomfortable for the person hearing it…especially if that person is a woman.
Neither men nor women should catcall, make inappropriate gestures, or loudly “compliment” a person they find attractive on the street, because it often makes people uncomfortable. If you get the chance to compliment them at a bus stop or something in a polite way, then feel free to do so, but yelling compliments to people as they pass or stopping them to compliment them can be (and probably will be if it’s a man to a woman) perceived as threatening.
This whole thing wasn’t very clear, but I don’t have the time to rewrite this multiple times and polish it. It’s amazing I’ve had the time to write it at all, actually. I’ll probably lose some sleep for the effort. Anyway, I apologize if something here sounds unclear or offends you.
If it sounds unclear, feel free to tell me in the comments and I’ll do my best to clarify.
If it offends you, you can send me all sorts of comments, but I won’t be acknowledging any that are rude or insulting, because that’s not productive discussion. I would, however, love to hear your opinion if you disagree…or even if you agree. Other people joining in is what makes discussing fun.
Have a lovely day (or night) everyone.
I know it has been a while since I’ve posted regularly (or at all, really) but I’m currently studying in Scotland at the University of Stirling and welcome you to read all about it at another blog of mine that I used for school, writeitreal.wordpress.com, which is currently called Summer in Stirling but was Girl on Fire since I used it for blog posts for my Hunger Games class.
I hope to see you there! I will try to post some things on here, but I don’t know if I will have the chance.