Updated: Oct 16, 2018
A cultural symbol of toxic masculinity which is so often brushed off, overlooked and absent-mindedly excused, catcalling is the abhorrent act whereby, more often than not, women are shouted at, commented on and whistled to in the street. In recent years the catcalling debate has been narrowed and cornered into an argument which now very much revolves around whether it’s acceptable to “compliment” people you don’t know, rather than getting to the nitty gritty of what is really said with a catcall. Instead of calling a spade a spade, or in the case dubbing catcalling as what it actually is – and that’s sexual harassment – instances of street intimidation and verbal abuse are pushed onto the societal backburner and painted as minor offences. We must direct the conversation back to the very real and very severe matter at hand – which is the hard truth that absolutely no one should possess the power to embarrass, objectify or sexualise anybody else for their own entertainment. Let’s all stop patronising women by telling them how they should feel about how people are treating them, shall we?
I’d like to make it very clear first and foremost that catcalls are not isolated incidents. They don’t just happen once or twice and then we all get on with our lives. They happen repeatedly. Periodically. Systematically - to many women. I have personally walked down the street before, about 500 metres (if that) of pavement to put it into perspective and been whistled or shouted at from car windows, MULTIPLE times. Now, I’m not going to tell you what I was wearing or how I was walking and feed into our sad, sad culture of victim blaming, because both of those facts are completely irrelevant. Women do not dress in the hope of being catcalled. We do not wake up in the morning, chose an outfit and think “wow, I really hope some random letch will hang out of his car window and tell me how great my arse looks today”. In fact, I think its safe to say many women probably do the exact opposite. I for one, have definitely changed my mind about my clothing in the past simply because I’d been absolutely petrified about possible catcalls making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, interrupting my day. And how wrong is that? Feeling such anxiety that what I’m wearing is acting as an invitation to sexual predators. No woman should ever feel this way. But I am positive that it’s not just me that does.
In my eyes catcalling is just another example of men, exercising power over women. It’s as if catcallers genuinely thrive off making women feel embarrassed and seeing the discomfort wash over their bodies. They love watching women squirm. For each catcaller as well, there tends to be ten men standing behind, egging him on. This is why its so intimidating. This is why confronting these harassers is so much easier said than done. I don’t know many women that would feel confident confronting a group of men who've been shouting sexual and inappropriate comments at her. I for one certainly would not. And this comes down to the fact that, in the experience of a lot of women; no actually doesn’t mean no. No, instead translates to “come on then, argue with me a bit more. Make me feel a bit more uncomfortable. Then when I continue to say no and leave me alone, completely turn on me, get really angry and call me a fat bitch.” Whether it’s when you decline a drink from a man you don’t know in a bar, say no to giving someone your phone number in a club or confront someone who’s just shouted at you to get your tits out in the street – women are still the ones who get demonised and are still the ones who come off worse. It’s got to the point where more women than anybody would care to admit, are genuinely scared to reject men or defend themselves because they know the possible repercussions.
If anyone reading this thinks I’m being over-the-top and painting catcalling as something it’s not, or if you’re about to argue the fact that ‘women should see it as nothing more than a compliment and appreciation of the female form’ – maybe these stories will open your eyes a little wider;
When I was 12 years old (aka A CHILD) a man followed me in the street, repeatedly calling after me telling me that I was a “sexy lady”. I was 12. Regardless of whether I looked my age or not, I was quite literally a child. Then when I was 15, a group of builders, inside the school grounds, whistled at a group of us, young girls. We were in our school uniform this time, there was no question about whether we were children or not. So how on earth can this behaviour ever be defended? This is the ugly truth of catcalling. No one can ever be sure of who they are catcalling. Who they are telling has a nice arse. Who they are telling should get their tits out. For any woman this would be a frightening experience but for a child, this experience could be life changing.
For me, it really made me question and doubt myself. It made me think about my input in the situations and whether I’d contributed to my own objectification. Which of course I hadn’t but as a child and as a young woman, you don’t realise that. You don’t realise how wrong the behaviour really is. And you definitely don’t realise how many more times you’re going to have to grin and bear it throughout your life.
Society, through this one behaviour in particular, is contributing heavily to raising young women in a culture of victim-blaming. We are teaching them that they are responsible for how strangers treat them. We are dismissing their feelings by patronisingly telling them how catcalling should make them feel – how it’s a good thing and it’s a compliment. It’s fucking not. We are asking women to adapt how they carry themselves and how they look, for the benefit of the people harassing and mistreating them. It is so wrong. It is so backwards. Imagine a world where we actually correctly punished and convicted people who sexually harass others in the street. Imagine the message it would send to potential catcallers about how their behaviour is affecting others. Imagine justice for women? We are put in such vulnerable positions every single day and no matter how loud we are all shouting about it. No one is listening.
With the amount I’ve been catcalled, in the past, by men in uniforms donning their workplace’s logo, I’ve vowed that from now on, I will be contacting their employers to let them know how their business is being portrayed by the particular employees. And I will be seeking justice. I refuse to let catcalling be ‘part and parcel’ of being a woman. I refuse to take this shit anymore. And I think other women, and girls, should too. For their own sake, for the sake of their friends and in honour of the girls of the future.
**SIDENOTE: I haven’t gone into this because it’s something that annoys me to such a degree that it would take an entire other blog post. But I will say this… WOLF WHISTLING??? REALLY??? AM I A FUCKING DOG, HUN?