After the 10th man physically larger than I asked me a question ending with “baby” or “honey” on the streets of San Francisco, I turned around and asked if he was serious.
As anticipated, words too inappropriate for publication began spewing out of the “gentleman’s” mouth and I hurried to get out of there.
Another time, when I wouldn’t acknowledge the objectifying words of a man twice my size, a slice of perfectly edible pepperoni pizza landed at my feet.
“Next time, I’ll bring you down to your knees where you belong, bitch,” yelled the freakishly tall man wearing a hoodie. Once again, I rushed to get away.
I would like to add that I was wearing jeans, boots, a thick sweater and a jacket – not that it should matter. I lived in San Francisco for about a year, and it’s not like Santa Barbara where–in my opinion–the street harassers are fairly tame and less intrusive. However, after talking to several girlfriends, I’ve realized it’s more common than one might think, even here.
So let’s talk about catcalling.
“Catcalling is when a person, usually a man, makes comments, gestures, or noises to another person, usually a woman, to convey physical attraction.” – Marie Lester, the Feminist Observer.
It may seem innocent on the surface, but catcalling is usually the little brother of sexual harassment, abuse and even rape.
With a total of 1141 participants in two online surveys conducted by stopstreetharrassment.org in 2007 and 2008, more than 99 percent of the female respondents said they had experienced some form of street harassment. The types of interactions varied from leering and sexist comments, to kissing noises and following, to more severe interactions like sexual touching or grabbing and masturbating in front of or next to them.
75% percent of female respondents have been followed by an unknown stranger in public, and nearly 57 percent of women reported being touched or grabbed in a sexual way by a stranger in public. More than 37 percent of female respondents have had a stranger masturbate at or in front of them at least once in public, and about 27 percent of women report being assaulted at least once in public by a stranger.
“I’m giving you a compliment. Smile,” these men say. And if you don’t, they tend to get aggressive. Most women can’t for sure know if these men are just trying to be nice, or will cuss her out for not giving them the attention they “deserve,” or follow her to the next alley.
Lester claims that “when a man asks a woman to smile, what he is essentially saying is, ‘your outward appearance is not up to my standards and expectations, promptly fix this.’”
So why do some men feel entitled to receive a smile or response from a woman on the street? To understand why, we have to look at society’s ancient patriarchal viewpoint that women are objects for men’s pleasure. It stems from a history where women weren’t allowed to vote, and where they were literally owned by men. We were seen as less than human, and even today, we’re not worth as much money as a man for the same work.
And just for the record, the phrase “catcalling” suggests someone is trying to get the attention of an animal, not a human being.
For the longest time, women have been something to be had, something to be looked at and something to comment on. Shouldn’t we know better by now? If all women lived with the knowledge of where catcalling originally stems from, I believe less of us would take pleasure in it and more of us would speak up for ourselves and our dignity.