Catcalling not synonymous with flattery

By Sehar Siddiqui

A recent BuzzFeed post brought to my attention the idea that you would never expect to see a woman tell a random man on the street to put his head up and smile because he’s a “handsome gentleman,” but you do see men randomly telling “pretty ladies” on the street to “stop looking so sad and smile?”

Since when did it become OK and almost natural for men to tell women what to do, even if it’s as petty as telling a woman to smile? 

And at what point in our fight for equal rights did we let these pervasive and other crass ways of harassing women fly under the radar? 

Some might wonder what the big deal is and view receiving a catcall as a compliment. But the reality is that a catcall is far from flattering. 

Getting hollered at on the street is a lot more common than most people think. It doesn’t matter what your appearance is; if you are a woman, you have probably gotten hit on at least once in your life while walking around minding your own business.

This is an issue because women should feel comfortable going about daily tasks without having to worry about being sexualized. A woman shouldn’t have to alter how she dresses, worry about what time of day she goes out or avoid certain locations because she’s trying to prevent unwanted reactions from or interactions with men. 

According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey, more than 33.7 percent of women experienced some type of non-contact unwanted sexual experience in their lifetime. This percentage equates to around 40 million women, all who have experienced undesirable non-contact sexual harassment. 

The types of unwarranted sexual attention women receive aren’t just limited to horn honking or wolf whistles. A report on street harassment in Boston shows that out of 500 people surveyed, 95 percent had experienced physical touch without permission, 96 percent received verbal attacks, and 93 percent experienced unwanted groping. 

Being harassed on the street is more pervasive than most of us would have thought. This statistic reflects an attitude that is tolerant of this kind of behavior toward women and predicts that a woman will most likely be harassed if she is on the street.

It’s easier to get away with catcalling on the street when nothing is threatening them — such as being with another man or a bystander.    

A simple whistle or honk of the horn can lead to so much worse. An unresponsive woman might be pursued for not saying “thank you” or for just not responding in a way her harassers were hoping she would. 

Of the 500 people surveyed, 93 percent were solicited for sex. In Florida, a 14-year-old girl was kidnapped and abused for refusing a man sex in exchange for $200. 

This girl was attacked simply because she did not comply with what a man wanted from her. 

He expected something of her that she gave no indication she was interested in.

The implications of these forms of street abuse aren’t just embarrassment or shame for the recipient, but a deeper, more disturbing look into how some men feel they can treat women out in the open. 

Men who feel completely justified telling random women to lighten up and smile are part of a movement of men who feel they have a right to women. 

When these catcalls are made, it seems like these particular men think they are entitled to a woman. They might think they have authority over her body and her desires. And they could believe they know what she wants and how she should be behaving purely because of his gender versus her own. 

A catcall is far from flattering. 

It is a declaration of a man’s feeling of ownership over a woman. It is a step right before other forms of abuse. 

And it is a mockery of a female’s independence. 

An obvious imbalance of power exists between men and women, and the fact that it’s normal for men to shout sexual profanities at women and never the other way around shows how we have allowed these kinds of men to believe they have some right over women that women couldn’t possibly have over men. 

There is a line between a sincere compliment and an objectifying catcall that should never be blurred. Feeling flattered by getting “hollered” at just encourages sexualizing women and fuels the fire.

Sehar is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Nimatod.