Catcalling: Should women speak up?

Catcalling. It’s been a topic that has been discussed a lot recently. Every woman has experienced this unsolicited attention of certain males, especially those of us who reside in a big city. I have been the target of such comments on occasion too.

The most common are the “Hey girl, what’s your name?” or the “Do you have a boyfriend” on the street corner waiting for the light to change or on the platform waiting for the train. They smile, they whistle, they wink, they stare. These actions are far from flattering, as some (of both sexes) have suggested, but rather discomforting.

Some take it up a notch, like the guy standing with a group of friends on the sidewalk, who stepped directly in front of me as I made my way down the street to ask me, “Hey girl, what’s your name?” Luckily, I had headphones in so I was able to pretend I couldn’t hear and keep walking.

The scariest and most obnoxious of these catcallers occurred one night after work. I used to walk the mile between my old job and my apartment, on a fairly residential street, but a block away from several businesses and traffic. I was on the phone with my parents when I heard someone yelling “HEY!” at the top of his lungs to my right. I glanced over. A man in a big van had slowed down, inching his vehicle along as I walked. I continued, and he continued to yell, “HEY!”

Finally, wondering if I had dropped something, or if some other urgent event was taking place of which I should have been aware, I told my parents to hold on and I looked in his direction. “What?” I said.

“Hey, how you doing?” He smiled.

I angrily turned back to my destination and continued on my way. My parents naturally wanted to remain on the phone with me until I made it safely home. This occasion was not only unsolicited and annoying but creepy.

But, it is what it is right? We continue about our days, brush these catcalls off as “typical” and go about our day. Why start trouble? Why feed their ego? Why turn around and fight back, when it’s possible that could create more problems? It’s better to just ignore these idiots and go about our business, right?

Well, that’s what I thought, until I had a conversation with a good friend. She had a common story of an ignorant and clueless man catcall her as she walked down the street, but her response was not common at all. Already in a bad mood, she was subjected to the whistles and racist (she’s Asian) comments of one of these guys who mistakenly think that harassment is a compliment. As the rage bubbled up inside her, she continued on, keeping quiet, only to change her mind a few minutes later.

“I let him have it,” she relayed to me later. And she really did. She cussed him out, asking him what makes him think he can say those things to her, embarrassing him in a similar way that he had embarrassed her. “That felt really good.”

She went on to make a very good point. We are taught our whole lives to ignore this kind of behavior. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Avoid confrontation. Who’s knows what they can do?

But the truth is, these comments that women have to face when going out in public is not some innocent showing of attention that we should be flattered by. It’s annoying, unwanted, and oftentimes as you read above, scary. No, I’m not some uptight, ungrateful, man-hating “bitch”. I am just calling it what it is, and it is not OK to make someone feel uncomfortable in that way. Not ever. And certainly not as we are simply trying to get home from work or school.

By ignoring these comments, are we sending a message that this behavior is OK? If you saw a man slip his hands in a woman’s purse and steal her wallet as she waits for the bus, you’d definitely speak up, right? Well by stepping in front of me, blocking my path to ask me “Hey girl, what’s your name?” you are stealing my time, my worth, my sense of security, and my freedom to walk to the grocery store unbothered. I think that justifies me, and any woman to chew you out. Rightly so.

This morning, as I walked to the bus. Yet another fool took the time to stop, check me out, and ask “Hey girl, what are you doing?” For a split second I thought of snapping back, but I did as I have been programmed and kept walking. But I got to thinking later, maybe I should have. I wonder:

1. When has whistling or making ignorant comments to a stranger worked for these men? Where in the world is a woman who finds that desirable?

2. What makes these men think their comments are wanted or even OK to make?

Ladies, we have an important decision to make. Do we ignore, silencing ourselves, pretending this problem doesn’t exist, or do we fight back, confront, and let these guys (not every guy, some guys) that their behavior is unacceptable?

Men, the decision to catcall is yours. However, if you’re going to dish it out, be prepared to get a mouthful in return.

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