What's the deal with catcalling?
I've seen a lot of different opinions on this, all of the shouted very loudly, and at the beginning of A Levels, I distinctly remember feeling confused. I had very feminist English teachers who I admired so very much, I wanted to think like them and be like them, but I knew I didn't have the confidence and self-assuredness that they had, and that frustrated me. I felt I didn't have the strength to stand up for myself the way they did...Something that simultaneously made me frustrated and disappointed in myself.
I wanted to be headstrong and know what to do if I did ever feel used, intimidated or had just been catcalled, but I never ever did. Instead, I would freeze and not know what to do when it happened. I remember feeling distinctly just, confused, as to what I thought about catcalling, and whether, it really was as bad as they made out.
So let's give some examples. Around this time I was repeatedly being catcalled in the corridor by one particular guy. He was a few years below, but much taller, much more confident, and much more self-assured than me. He was also very attractive, far more attractive than any of the other guys in the year, and he knew it. From what I had seen, that gave him power, because it meant he had the full support of everyone around him. (Regardless of what he did, or his character, others would always be admiring him because of his outward being.)
The teachers had seen him call out to me a couple of times already, but then it happened and a teacher decided she was going to take it seriously haha. And I remember thinking 'Nooo, just leave it alone please don't pay attention to it.' I didn't want to the guy to think I'd said anything to anyone, or that I cared at all, or had payed any attention to it.
That time, he had said something particularly nasty which completely shocked and made me feel actually um not good. My heart started beating very fast and my mind went into a whirring of questions and shock and worry.
So I don't know if I accidentally displayed distress on my face, or if the teacher just wanted to chase it down, but even when I pleaded "it's fine just leave it alone, please don't say anything", the guy still got in a lot of trouble haha.
But it stuck in my mind, because I would have left it, but the people around me for the first time in my life
were treating catcalling as serious, as something not just 'an ordinary fact of life', but something that could be fought back and dealt with.
And although I knew it was making me feel a bit- um, intimidated; as if I'd been 'put in my place' by an invisible force which meant that I would freeze, instead of carrying on with my day; I couldn't figure out what exactly isss bad about it. I knew the basics of it was picking out women because of their looks, which I was against at that time anyway, but still I was unsure about the entire topic.
What was it about catcalling which meant the people around me would think its so negative, and why was I so keen to brush past it, and call myself stupid for feeling uncomfortable?
Since then, after finally realising exactly what I think about it, I found and made up a general rule in my head, to explain why, (before going into details, just on a bare minimum level) catcalling must by all standards of logic, be negative.
The rule goes like this, 'If it makes you feel uncomfortable, then how, in any way, could it ever be (by any weak or strong standard of logic) a positive thing?'
The thing is, compliments from friends make you beam inside, they cause a positive reaction in you because you feel warm and fuzzy. But catcalling has never in my life made me feel anything other than- wanting to disappear, wanting to be swallowed up by the ground, self blame, sudennly being incredibely self conscious and worried about what I am wearing, or simply, uncomfortable.
Your body is yours. It's what you live with and live in everyday. It's the delicate case holding together organs and emotions and thoughts and talents and weaknesses too. It's delicate because it can get hurt easily, skin rips, blood spills, you get colds and red noses with so much blowing-of-the-nose, you get mysterious bruises and blisters from frustrating shoes. It's familiar to you, and you know it better than anyone else. You know the corners and the bumps and the rolls, and where that tiny birth mark or scar that not many people know about, is exactly positioned.
You even have a relationship with it, by it's very nature it demands that you have one. It may be a distant relationship, or a deeply intimate one which may simultaneously be difficult- with arguments and bumps and disagreements and conflicting opinions. But either way, whether distant or involved, your relationship with your body is like a fixed friendship- whether toxic or good, it's always there.
So when someone comments on your body, they're commenting on a deeply personal thing. And when they whistle at your body and you don't expect it, or look you up and down with transparently assessing eyes, or linger at a part they have no right to linger at, of course that triggers feelings of anger and confusion and being overly self conscious. Because they're not someone who feels like an extension to you, they're not close to you at all, they're just a stranger on the street, a man chewing gum in a van with the window down, or an overly confident late teen in the high school corridor who think they have the right to everyone, and everything.
...(in case you missed the subtext) But they- DON'T.
However, I remember the topic of catcalling somehow coming up in a conversation I had with some of my family I have. And two females, one in her forties and one a teenager, said that they don't get why people make such a big deal out of it...They shrugged their shoulders, smiled in a relaxed way and said, 'I like it, it's a compliment. I don't get why people wouldn't want a compliment. I like being told that I look good unexpectedly as I walk down the street, it's nice'.
Afterwards, I gave some thought to what they had said, because it really did shock me and stay in my mind vividly. I pondered why they'd say that and why they felt that way, and I realised this...I'd simply say that if you do see it as a compliment, if it does give you a warm feeling and you smile and think 'ohh isn't that nice', I actually think that is an incredibly positive thing. Because it probably means you live in a safe enough environment and have lived a safe enough life, and lifestyle, to not feel intimidated by men. It must mean you haven't felt unsafe on the streets around where you live very often, or been intimidated by men often enough, to know the feeling of a shiver.
But for those people, I do think it's so important to recognise why others do struggle with it, why it is something that can make us feel incredibly vulnerable, or even just plain offended and angry. I think its great if you see it as a compliment, but of course it's then not fair to spread the thought that other's are being stupid, and shouldn't feel uncomfortable. After smiling and saying how they found it, they then made a comment about everyone overreacting when it's just a compliment, and openly mocked those who say they feel uncomfortable, saying they overreact, which clearly, hurt. I'm sure it's very obvious what I'm about to say, but clearly, though you have never had that experience of feeling uncomfortable, freezing, OR JUST PLAIN DEVESTATED that you've been reduced to your looks and sexual attractiveness once again, does not mean that catcalling can't be a very nasty experience. Personally, I've had some experiences of it where it's stayed in my mind all week, and genuinely affected me and taken me that long to get over it. I've also had the overwhelming desire to tell someone, say, 'this group of guys called out this to me on the street today' , and just TELL SOMEONE. But often, instead, don't tell anyone, because I'm scared they won't care, or, like those family members say, 'but that's a compliment'.
I think it boils down to how it makes you feel. No matter the cause, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, or any negative emotion at all, then that was a negative thing. If you want to know whether catcalling is fine, or whether it deserves the name 'street harassment', just look at how it makes people feel. If anything made people feel happy and break into smile, then we would justifiably give it the name positive. If something made people feel like they wish they had never gone out alone, then surely, surely- whatever it is that made them feel like that- was a negative thing.
Feminist's get such a hard time for making a fuss out of nothing, being stuck in the past when, 'there isn't an issue now'. In fact, I've heard people make every excuse in the book to try an defend why what feminist's are saying is just not valid.
I've even heard it been said that femenists only complain about being treated for their looks, because they are so ugly. Mhmmmm, no lies.
'They complain that men only look at their looks, because otherwise they'd have no chance, have you seen the type of women they are? They're actually so ugly. So of course they're desperate for men to not look at their outward appearance, because no one will date them.'
OKAY LETS TRY TO REIGN IN THE COMING OUTBURST> YES THIS COMMENT MADE ME WANT TO THROW UP. p.s. Thanks for calling me ugly :)
Sounds like the only explanation for not wanting to be judged for my looks or body which are only 1% of who I am, now means that I must be an unattractive person who's desperate for any kind of male attention, since I can never get it because of my outward appearance. :)
Oh yes, because btw, you totally need men to find you attractive, because clearly that is the goal in life. And because, oh yes btw, it all circles back round to looks anyway, and I had no other reason to fight for being seen as more than a body, other than trying to make up for the unattractiveness of my own body.
Well, well well. May I please just turn that around and say WHO WOULD DATE YOU????????
What even is this world. Anyway I'm almost at the end, I hope this was somewhat helpful, and sorry for getting side tracked in the end. The person who said that is very close to me, (someone in fact, that I love very much), and it came as an enormous shock to see not only that they think that, but that everyone else on the table (who I also all love) started laughing, nodding their heads and agreeing, and confirming how supposedly unattractive femenists are.
Because apparently, that's really all they can see.
My Little Conclusion
To me, catcalling is a sign of being reduced to nothing but the outward appearance. It's a sign of females getting treated as pieces of meat, weighed up, looked at, stared at, judged before allotting a price tag, and men always thinking subconsciously, that they can buy us, or have any of us. That they have that right.
And to me, being reduced to my appearance has always made me feel dehumanised. It has never made me feel valued, because the person I am has no space to be celebrated, if all is seen is skin.
I absolutely believe that catcalling deserves the synonym street harassment, because I know how small it can make you feel. How much you wish they'd look away, how self conscious and suddenly anxious and how fast your heart can beat. How it sticks in your mind for a week and you think, 'Did I do something wrong? Why did I feel so unsafe? What right did he have to comment on that?'. The anger, the confusion, the sudden alert. The thing is, bodies are personal things. Your body belongs to you. It's your job to take care of it, to listen to it, to be kind to it, to nurture it and live in it. But no stranger has the right to comment, to call out, to whistle.
Street harassment can include the following- being chased, being called out to, invading personal space, being asked personal questions; catcalling. But yes I do believe catcalling is street harassment. Because it can make you feel- just plain shit.