Of all the assaults that can happen to a woman, catcalls can appear to be the most benign. After all, “sticks and stones : hurt bones :: words : no hurt ” …something, something, metaphors.
However, just because a catcall does not land a lady in the hospital does not mean it isn’t harmful. Catcalls demonstrate the pervasiveness and acceptability of sexism, objectifying women, and satisfying the “male gaze.”. After all, no one is yelling “HEY, I WANT TO GET TO KNOW YOU! INTELLECTUALLY, EMOTIONALLY, AND MAYBE IF WE BOTH FEEL A MUTUAL ATTRACTION, SEXUALLY.”

Catcalls make us feel unsafe. Catcalls remind us that, at any moment, even when we feel safe, we could be assaulted. Even if we were all superwomen, capable of dodging all harm, catcalls tell us that we’re only objects, waiting to be objectified by the next brazen creep who walks by. And that’s what makes catcalls so obnoxious. When you’re in broad daylight with a group of friends, and some dude says something gross, we’re likely to sneer “F*** OFF” or generate our best Clueless “AS IF!” But regardless of the threat of assault, the underlying message of a catcall is: you are a piece of meat.

Among the garbage heap of things that are wrong with catcalls is the fact that there is no dignified way to respond—an angry response only validates the negative attention. Or it reinforces the belief that feminists (nay, all women) are bitches, or the one about how women do want this awful attention, but we have to play “hard to get” because women who want sex = bad, bad, dirty whores.

If you do say something back, such as the aforementioned “F*** OFF!”, you get a myriad of similarly objectifying responses.

“Cheer up!” that guy on the corner taunts. Catcalls aren’t a measure of attractiveness. They’re a reminder that I was apparently put on this earth to entertain you.

“You’re the one wearing those shorts!” he might explain, if you could engage in conversation with him. Because you clearly wanted attention. It’s not 95 degrees outside or anything.

“I’m just letting you know you’re pretty!” Nope. It is not a compliment to be yelled at from a car. Also, I am more than a nice face. And even if I wasn’t, this is not the medium for delivering that “compliment.”

One friend once told me that a great way to respond is,“Great! I’m single, ready for marriage--I’m thinking three kids?” Because, get it? Women are cuckoo for marriage! And men are scared of commitment! It’s hi-larious!

Perhaps the worst thing, then, is that there is no way to win. Unless someone comes up with a pamphlet we can silently distribute to our harassers, “Do You Know What That Means? Things to Consider Before Yelling at a Woman on the Street.”

How do you deal with catcalls? Steely indifference, snappy retorts, or shouted obscenities? Let us know in the comments.


Valerie Burn


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