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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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Your Catcalls Are Not a Compliment. Ever.

Your Catcalls Are Not a Compliment. Ever.

| On 23, Jul 2013

I was driving to work alone in my Smart Car, casually rocking out to Demi Lovato on the radio. I had only been driving for about five minutes when I noticed some movement out my left window when I was waiting at a stoplight. Against my better judgment as a woman driving alone in a car at night, I made the mistake of looking to see what it was.

It was two men, one driving the beat-up muscle car while the other hung out off his window making obscene gestures at me. You know, the usual.

I turned away and cranked my music, thinking that I could ignore them until we went on separate paths. This is usually a tactic that works for me, as I try to avoid flipping aggressive men off unless it’s a last resort.

Usually this tactic works. But this time, they followed me.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t know if they were purposely following me with the intent of scaring me. Maybe we just happened to be going the same direction and they targeted me; I have no idea. But I drove for 15 minutes with them pursuing my exact path, occasionally catching up to me and matching my pace while making gestures from their car. Fifteen minutes of being irritated, upset, and afraid. Fifteen minutes of trying to decide if I should keep going to work or change my route so they couldn’t find out where I was going. Fifteen minutes of going through all of the escape-from-vehicular-stalker tactics that they taught young women in driver’s ed. Fifteen minutes of wondering what would happen if they followed me until I got out of my car.

I was finally infuriated by the fact that I was being made to feel so afraid, stepped on the gas, swerved until I was six cars ahead of the men in question, and took a sharp left turn that they didn’t follow. I was safe.

This is not the first time that I have found myself in this situation. Two men in a muscle car, one man in a pickup truck, five men in an SUV … the list goes on. It has been a phenomenon that I never understood the purpose of. What did they think: if they followed me long enough, I would stop and they could ask me out? If they told me that they could “show me a good time”, I would leap at the chance? If they called me ‘sexy’ out the open window of their car, I would take my clothes off and let all five of them have their way with me?

No, I don’t think so. I have never once felt any sort of primal sexual urge after someone has objectified me in a public place, whether I was walking on a sidewalk, in a club, or in a car.

So what, then, is the purpose of hanging out a car window, catcalling at a woman driving or walking alone, making gestures to imply oral sex, blowing kisses, calling her “baby,” and asking if she wants to be shown a “good time?”

I was perusing my Tumblr dashboard and came across a male user asking why women hate catcalling. “The men who cat call aren’t trying to degrade you, they are simply appreciating your looks,” he said, and it saddens me to think that this guy was asking this question because he genuinely did not understand. Tumblr user fandomsandfeminism answered his ridiculous, however well-intended, question with all of the frustration at being forced to fear that every woman feels. “Why, in a culture that tells women that if they let their guard down around strange men that they will be raped and it will be their fault if they are, would women not appreciate strange men commenting on their bodies in a public place, often while walking alone?”

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According to a staff contributor at the website All4Women (yes, it’s a webzine directed at women), ladies should be flattered that they are being catcalled at. Apparently men are just looking to feel validated, and “most of the time, the cat calls are harmless, while they might feel demeaning.” Women only have a “right to complain” if the men yelling inappropriate comments at them as they walk alone down the street “if…[they] feel like [they're] being harassed.” I couldn’t make this up: it’s a real article.

So it is up to women to validate men by allowing ourselves to be objectified and harassed. Of course, if women are groped, it’s because our clothing was too revealing or our bodies were just too sexually attractive. If women are raped, it’s because we were walking along “asking for it.” And why should men know any better? Catcalling is apparently allowed because “boys will be boys.” Besides, society tells them that it’s the woman’s fault: she victimized herself by being sexually attractive to her assailant.

I know that I am preaching to the feminist choir here, but catcalling is never OK. It’s never cute, it’s never flattering, it’s never funny, it isn’t something that women should have to “expect” because they are women. I was afraid of them: men who may or may not have been following me purposely because they didn’t not stop when I expressed my disinterest. They didn’t care that I was uncomfortable. They didn’t care that miming oral sex out a car window at a woman driving alone was a rude, insensitive, and vulgar thing to do.

I was afraid, and I hate that. I’m so tired of being afraid.

I would love to go out of my house alone and not fear being hooted and hollered at from a car. I would love for my roommate to go to yoga on a hot day in shorts without six separate incidents of the same ilk in the span of three blocks. I would love to be able to drive to work without having to look straight ahead and avoid eye contact with people who think that insinuating oral sex at me is a perfectly reasonable action. Just once, I would love to be a woman and not have to be afraid.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Written by Emily Hill
Follow her on Tumblr and Twitter!

Image courtesy of Jupiter Images

  • Corey Lee Wrenn

    Ugh, what a hard read. We’ve all been there, scared out of our wits. I honestly don’t think the kind of stuff you described had anything to do with sexual attraction to you, it was about intentionally having fun with a vulnerable woman, it was predator behavior, it was misogyny, it was rapey. It was about reasserting male power over the social space. Gross.

  • Jennifer Lewis

    YES, 1000X YES.

  • Vivid Sammy

    If I would see you in your car right now I’d yell, hey girl, You’ve got a damn fine brain! I totally respect you and your opinions! Have an awesome day!

    • Michelle

      Or you could just leave her alone…

      • Vivid Sammy

        I had my fair share of catcalls myself, and I always tell them, if you want to impress me, compliment me on my skills. I would totally love that.

  • Name


  • Carolina (Portugal)

    Couldn’t agree more! Last year I moved to a different city in my country, and in this city, i don’t know why, I get catcalled all the time. It’s so frustrating. It takes 5-8 minutes walking from home to the University, and sometimes it happens 3 to 4 times in that period. Do the maths: I’m being harassed every one or two minutes. I hate it so much. I started answering them back, and showing my middle finger, some time ago. I just got tired of being harassed and keeping it quiet. Like I had no right to walk my way to work.

  • Wanda Bates Syko

    I’ve always hated cat calls because I am NOT THEIR DOG! That is what I feel like when someone cat-calls me. Like they’re calling their dog. My late father didn’t get what made me so incensed. He tried to placate me using the old chestnut about these men “just appreciating your looks, Honey.” Thing is, I didn’t feel appreciated. Even at a young age, I felt they saw me as less than human, not deserving of basic respect. Plus, it was really creepy to have men my father’s age whistling and howling at a thirteen year old girl. Even at a young age, I knew it was wrong.

    • Michelle

      I was pulling up on my block on my bike and these dudes who work at this moving company which is ON MY BLOCK started making sounds like they were calling a dog to them. I knew what they were doing, but I decided to pretend I didn’t and kindly ask “You guys looking for a lost dog?” They were like “uhhhh…we’re trying to get the attention of that dog over there…” “Over there” was across Columbus Avenue (avenues in NYC are about three lanes wide) – pretty hard to get the attention of a dog that far away.

  • Snobo

    I think the “well intentioned” male questioner is full of it, as is anybody who insists that comments and stares from strangers are meant to be flattering to women.

    • Lino

      Oh it’s all that gets me through the day. Without the flattering stares and gestures of strange men, I just wouldn’t feel attractive and therefore worthy of membership in society. A woman’s worth is entirely based on her attractiveness to the opposite sex, don’t you know?

      (Please know that was sarcasm :] )

  • somuchyes

    Yes, once when I was walking to school in Boston in the winter (scarf over my nose and giant puffy shapeless coat) a man PULLED OVER so he could yell out his window at me that I “made his day.”

    • Amy Brander

      lol.. how exactly did you make his day? OMG at least if they insist on yelling at us, they could be a little more original? I often get the “hey baby give ya $$ for a BJ”. sigh.

    • Peter Sullivan

      I’m guessing that guy fantasizes about Cartman from “South Park” and he got confused.

  • Miranda Soinso

    Man I know right! I just saw this parody video trying to combat Robin Thicke’s rape-y lyrics in Blurred Lines and it was so great! Totally called out all the cat calling “douche bags”

  • Paul Bovis

    I am against any sort of violence toward women or intimidation, but you guys have to realise that you are a percentage of the action. We humans may have intellect and put categories into little boxes which is good in legal cases. However we are in our raw state primal, natural instincts overpower and the order of things has been lost as mankind has evolved into this frustrated think tank denying his primitive animal behaviour. Why do you think there are more women than men? Watch the animals, they fight for their honour of male-hood and the others sit back and sulk and lick their wounds until they are fit enough to serve.
    Today in our evolutionary society, women now have the power believe it or not, men are kicked aside and belittled by Amazon packs. We pray this change will settle down and a respect for one another ensues, in the meantime both male and females need to grow up in the field of respect. Media and films need to stop making sex look like a norm and that women don’t give a shit and will beat the crap out of any-man that walks in-front of her. Lets get back to reality folks.

    • Michelle

      “I’m not sexist, but…”

      So if men are always on the verge of losing control over their animal instincts, how can they be trusted to lead countries, pilot planes, be CEOs of companies, and take care of children? Sounds like men are a serious threat to the public good and should be locked away – in fact, it sounds like you’re saying that every man is a potential violent criminal. Since you sound like such an expert, maybe you should lead a campaign against this threat of these wild animals living among us! I’ll make sure to keep the men of my life locked indoors after dark…you know, for the public good!

    • Chelsea Tornade-Hoe

      ^ lol check this asshole.

      Ta for mansplaining that to us.

      • Paul Bovis

        My pleasure, now go back and read it again without your feminine bias. Women and blacks can say what they like, whilst white folk or men are considered idiots and don’t have place in society. Read into it what you like but try seeing the truth of a very touchy situation.

    • Chloe Austyn

      “but you guys have to realise”

      I’m not a guy.

      • Paul Bovis

        Where I come from even the women call one another guys, it’s about culture, what box you grew up in, what your tribal beliefs are, what law governs you.

        If it offended you by what your culture has taught you, I’m sorry, but from where I am living and cultural practices, get a life.

  • Laura

    I always head straight for the police station if I notice someone is following me. (On a side note I was shocked that there were follower avoidance tips in driver’s ed? I had to take it twice. One because I had a sexist teacher who passed none of the girls in my class. Second at a private establishment by a female driver. I think these types of tips should be required considering the culture we live in.)

  • Megan

    I’ve been cat-called at since I was around 10 years old, when I started developing. It was really terrifying and embarrassing for a little kid to be looked at and shouted at in such a way by men who could be my parents. I’m a teen now, and its much more common for guys my age and older to cat-call me now. I hate it so much. I know it’s gonna keep getting worse as I get older.

  • feministbitch.

    Don’t blame women for being afraid or for letting men get to them. We hear all too many horror stories about sexual assault and rape from women all around us; why wouldn’t we be upset by people who are acting the way that many sexual assaults start off? We can be afraid if we want to, that is a natural response. Sure, protecting ourselves is always a good idea, but it does not mean that feeling afraid is somehow illegitimate.

  • Orpheus

    I agree that catcalls are objectifications, demeaning, and an insult to the personhood of their target. I find it shameful that men do such things. I really do. I am not one of those who foolishly say “Well, you must have been asking for it.” I’m a man myself, and know these things often come completely unprovoked, and on behalf of my gender, I say I am sorry. I really am.

    Just one objection. If I were black, and somebody said they were afraid because they saw me notice them, that would be racism. Most stats (biased or not,) agree that a larger percentage of blacks perpetrate crime, but to generalize that to the whole is insulting and unfair. Likewise, male rapists are the norm. While we are stereotyped as a gender for having zero control, even those who stoop to the animalistic catcalls are not threatening rape. My friends don’t catcall, I don’t keep company like that, but I have known and worked with many who do, and none of them are rapists. The only two men I have ever known who were rapists were not the obvious ones. Usually the catcallers are all bark. “Just once I would like to be a woman and not be afraid.” To me, this is a judgment on all men. Please know that for every catcall from a car, there are two who want to pummel that man to bits for the disrespect he is showing. To be honest, being the gender that nature has given physique and stature for hunting, protection, and combat, most of us don’t feel the same kind of fear as you describe here. Most likely, they thought it a game, and had no clue that you were afraid.

    Still, I am not a woman. I don’t know how you feel. I don’t know what your experiences may or may not have been. All I am saying is that as rude as they are, catcalls rarely lead to anything more than annoyance. Regardless, I am sorry that you are pretty enough to have to endure this from the less evolved members of my sex.

    • Deb

      I think you may have missed the point of the article entirely. “I am sorry that you are pretty enough to have to endure this from the less evolved members of my sex”. The cat calls have little and less to do with being ‘pretty’! We seriously do not find it complimentary at all. And it is because it is intimidating. To be honest, when I came to California to study for 3 months several years ago (I am from Australia) I was surprised at just how many men would call out to me. This is not to say that men don’t do it in Australia but it certainly less pronounced, usually contained to a car honk here and there (which I don’t really find intimidating, just bizarre). But the prevalence of it in California, at least, was dumbfounding. At first, I won’t lie, it felt almost like an ego boost all these men telling me I was pretty. Until it kept happening. Multiple times. Every. Single. Day. And not just to me. But every single girl who would walk by would get similar treatment. After a while I just hated it because I felt less-human, like some interesting creature in a zoo. And it really is intimidating because you don’t know what kind of man is actually calling out to you. Of course most men aren’t actually interested in making me do anything I wouldn’t want to but as women we learn from a very early age that, no matter how harmless looking, just about every man IS stronger than us so the fact is if they were intent on rape there would be very little that we could do about it. And in a lot of ways your insidious brand of sexism just as bad as the misogynist guy a few posts above you because you think that you’re on ‘our side’, you’re a ‘good guy’ and that you understand but in the end you still cannot seem to understand that we are people with feelings and thoughts, not just asses and tits!

      • Paul Bovis

        Ah! another person who thinks they can label the male gender with an honest opinion and cannot see truth when it stares them in the face. There is good and bad on both sides, don’t judge the book by what is displayed by the media, use your own brain and evaluate people. There is a lot more good and genuine people out there in the world than the ones displayed and conceived of in chat boxes like this.

        As for your label misogynist aimed at me I take that as a Julia Gillard insult. You do not know me, where I have been or what I have been through be careful in what you say, bit like a wolf whistle I suppose.

  • Emily

    I would like to take nice long walks, but one of the fears that always pops up in my head when i consider doing this is that some random guy is going to honk at me or shout something at me. It’s happened, and I don’t like it.

  • Ann

    This sort of fear is completely irrational

  • Jack

    Your hassling of men is never okay. It is not alright to disrespect men and demonize them and call them street harassers you wil be in hell in the afterlife for this. Flemeanists are satanists not Christians. Christians would not despise and dishonour those who whistled at them. Lauren your a disgrace to women everywhere. For once I would like to be a man and not be afraid This dumbbell is preaching misandry. Femeanist nazi regime is about war against men and teaching blind hatred towards mens actions and words.