woman’s place

Hey beautiful

Posted in catcalling, power balance, woman's place on September 9th, 2010 by steph – 13 Comments

Why are catcalls so upsetting? Why indeed, The Gloss.

This morning, some man on the street turned to me and yelled “damn girl, you looking fine!” And I responded pretty much the same way I always respond. I said “thank you!” And then the guy gave me a thumbs up, and I walked on, glad that soup-stained cat-ladies like us still do it for someone, thinking to myself “I am still hot to strangers and I haven’t even brushed my hair. I can eliminate 2 to 3 minutes from my morning routine. Score!

Now, look, I completely understand why people are offended by strangers telling them that they should perform sexual acts. That’s creepy and gross. This would be a different story if the stranger had said “girl, you should suck my dick.” But the generic “you looking, fine, girl?” cat calls? They’ve never really bothered me. And honestly, I’ve never really understood why so many women are offended by people telling them they look pretty on the street.

It isn’t really a good start when the “it never bothered me, so I can’t understand why it bothers other people” point is made. But, I’ve never been discriminated against/been slut-shamed/been expected to look a certain way, so I don’t get it. I appreciate that this post on The Gloss is apparently a genuine question about why women find it upsetting, not a denial, but the possible reasons brought up by the author are so quickly dismissed, when really they are pretty legit points.

Is it because it seems offensive that people want to pass judgement on your appearance without your consent? Eh, they’re allowed to have an opinion. You are too. Want to hang out on a street corner with me yelling at men about their bad haircuts and poor facial hair choices? We’re allowed to do that. It would be weird, but we could. I can bring vodka. It will be a party. An open-air judgement party.

Yes, people are allowed to have an opinion. But part of the rules of social conduct isn’t that you get to shout it to a stranger on the street. Want to think that chick is hot/ugly/wearing a dumb outfit/would be a great fuck? I can’t actually stop that. But it is offensive that people think they can comment on you/your appearance without your consent. Would you yell at someone on the street and ask “hey, what are your views on the 90 day trial period?”, or shout “are you going to U2?”. Social convention dictates that you don’t actually call out to strangers on the street and ask questions/comment/state an opinion. I know a lot of people will go on about how people are so isolated from each other, and we should just be like one big community, but honestly I have no problem with convention as it stands. I have no need to comment on people on the street, positively or negatively, because I don’t know them and they aren’t any of my business. The solution isn’t to get a bunch of women together to comment on the facial hair of men on the street, it’s to stop assuming we have the right to make a comment in the first place. Why do we feel so privileged, so entitled to the right to comment on other people that we don’t even know? I do not believe that we are entitled to that.

Is it because they’re treating you like a piece of meat and only remarking on your physical appearance? Dude, we’re all made of meat. Would it be better if they shouted “you look like someone who reads a lot of Chaucer, which is to say, my kind of woman!”? Well, maybe, but only insofar as it would be more creative. I think most guys who feel that way aren’t the guys who cat-call women.

My above comment stands: no need to comment on anyone, appearance or otherwise, so move along. So it isn’t really because it’s like being treated like meat, although that is a pretty sucktastic part of it. Who wants to feel like they’re up for scrutiny just walking down the street minding their business? But that’s the thing: being catcalled, or commented on, means that people think that you are fair game, that you are public property and their business. So even if it isn’t an objectifying “I’d fuck that” comment, you are still being treated like a piece of public meat, because “you look beautiful” puts you in a place where you are available to be critiqued, commented on, approved of, and your wishes aren’t relevant. So, a piece of meat for other people’s consumption.

Is it because there’s always a sexual implication, and this man would probably like to have sex with you if given the opportunity? Please. If you’re not… actually, just period, most men would probably like to have sex with you if given the opportunity. I’m not trying to demean men here, but yeah, the possibility of having sex with you has probably at least crossed the mind of most single men you interact with. Cat-calling actually seems sort of sad, because the minute men do that, they must know that there’s no chance whatsoever of actually having sex with you. I mean, hey, maybe if you’d been standing next to them waiting for the train and they’d struck up some sort of meaningful conversation about bands you both liked or something maybe it could lead to something. It will never, ever lead to anything with the guy who yells “you’re looking pretty, today!” at you from across the street. It doesn’t work. And men must know it doesn’t work.

The thing about this is that yeah, there is often is a sexual implication. But more importantly, is is about power. Just like rape is about power, splattering your opinion all over a strange woman on the street is about power too. Because it is an acceptable thing to do, shout at a woman on the street. This idea is embedded in our rape culture, and a man being able to say what he likes to a woman on the street (sexual or ‘harmless’) is indicative of the balance of power that exists, and puts women in their place, which is to be silent, receptive, looked at and talked about. Catcalling a woman isn’t about telling her you want to fuck her, because as the author states above, men probably know that catcalling wont get them anywhere. Men catcall because they can; they do it because it’s acceptable to talk about a woman you don’t know, to judge her and say whatever you want because you can. Catcalling is about power and dominance, and showing someone who’s boss. Catcalling is about making someone feel uneasy and uncomfortable and unsettled.

The post ends by discussing that maybe the problem with it isn’t the people on the street harassing you, but the societal attitudes that women should like it. I think that is the word harassment is used when describing the behaviour, then there is definitely a big problem with the behaviour and not just that idea we should like it. Harassment=bad, ok? Yes, of course the idea that we should be flattered is bad, because nobody should be flattered by catcalling (and most women probably aren’t), but the actual catcalling is terrible too. Both things – the behaviour and how we are expected to receive it- are terrible, and are indicative of attitudes towards women that reinforce the major power balance, and encourage the idea the women have their place, and it’s ok to put them in it.