Men’s catcalls scratch at female nerves

A vocal form of sexual harrassment, catcalls are an offensive way for men to feel empowered without bothering to follow through on their shouted words.

A vocal form of sexual harrassment, catcalls are an offensive way for men to feel empowered without bothering to follow through on their shouted words.

There is nothing sexy about a hung-over stagger to the bus stop at 10 a.m. Wearing last night’s outfit, sporting greasy hair and smeared makeup, I was certain absolutely no one would find me attractive.Picture 9

My personal train of thought crashed when, as I headed down the street, a garbage truck cruised past me. The driver, who was probably my father’s age, took his eyes off the road for moment, to shout a slur of sexually fueled comments at my friend and me.

It was at that moment I decided this: I have had it. I am a female, not a feline, and the “catcalls” men make are offensive and a form of sexual harassment.

Even if I had a thing for garbage-truck drivers and decided to hop on the back of that truck, I doubt we would ride off into the sunset toward a happy future. These men openly harass women expecting no consequence.

“What they say is meaningless,” said Laura Levitt, director of the women’s studies program at Temple. “They use the power of the anonymous guy to make comments to you.”

Of course, not all men disrespect women in this manner, but Levitt said some men feel they have a heterosexual masculinity privilege that gives them the right to say offensive things to women.

“It is some sort of entitlement for men,” Levitt said. “It is really not OK.”

After enduring my share of whistles and “I-wanna-get-wit-chu” comments, it was my turn to dish out some harassment.

Working at the Reading Terminal Market served as the perfect place for people watching and prowling.
As men walked by, I held nothing back. I whistled at a middle-aged man, made indecent grunts at teenage boys and even snuck in a “nice butt” to a man in a business suit.

Guess how many positive reactions I received. Zero. Instead, I received looks that screamed, “Are you insane?” And a couple of men even told me I was being rude and immature.

Reverting to my original role as receiver of the catcalls, I decided to take a different approach.

Standing on a sidewalk, chatting with a couple of friends, I watched two men slide past us, pointing out how “sexy” they thought we were. It was a hit-and-run catcall, if you will.

Once I proceeded to ask one of the men where we’d be going for dinner, the confusion on his face was priceless. Is it wrong for a woman to assume that if a man is making advances toward her, he may actually be interested in dating her? Apparently, it is.

After moments of stuttering, the man suggested he’d take me to Olive Garden, a clear indication that he had no intention of asking me out on a real date. Come on, we live in Philadelphia. Saying you’ll take me to Olive Garden is nearly as offensive as talking about my rear end before finding out my first name.

“If you actually wanted to ask someone out,” Levitt said, “you would never do it in this way.”

Lindsay Ward, a junior anthropology major, said she simply ignores men if they make suggestive comments to her in public areas.

Sometimes, the best way to stand up for oneself is to ignore the offender.

“It would be great to think that if you told them the truth, they would stop,” Levitt said. “These things are always situational. We live in a violent culture. It is scary, you never know if someone who says something to you has a gun or not.”

Levitt suggested a new tactic, whistling.

“Don’t say anything, just make noise,” she said.

Maybe blowing a whistle in these guys’ faces will help them realize how annoying their comments are.

Samantha Krotzer can be reached at samantha.krotzer@temple.edu.

6 Comments

  1. Wonderfully written article about something super annoying, scary, and demeaning that far too women have to live with. I’m admire your bravery at harassing men back and your efforts to think of ways women can take back the power harassing men try to take from them.

    I run a street harassment website (http://www.stopstreetharassment.com/) & blog (http://streetharassment.wordpress.com) and I’m writing a book on the topic. I encourage anyone with a street harassment story to tell to anonymously submit it for inclusion on the blog – http://stopstreetharassment.wufoo.com/forms/z7x4m1/ – (and my accompanying harassment map) to help document the problem. Too many people don’t realize how often it occurs and to how many girls & women.

  2. Wonderfully written article about something super annoying, scary, and demeaning that far too women have to live with. I’m admire your bravery at harassing men back and your efforts to think of ways women can take back the power harassing men try to take from them.

  3. Great article! While the ‘objectification’ of women is ‘normal’ in our culture, it is always fun to throw it back in mens faces. I am glad that none of your experiments ended badly, because I think if more women reacted in that fashion, it might begin to die out (catcalls, generally, that is). When I was young & attractive, I gave as good as I got – and it either led to interesting encounters or the guy shut up and went slinking off. This was many, many moons ago, however, when there was much less chance that the person was armed and dangerous.

    Goodonyer, as the Aussies say, and I hope you start a trend!!!

  4. and to think how many girls are flattered by cat-calls…. they’re basically giving you compliments, but not in a very discrete matter. I’m sure some would disagree.. but the real problem that presents itself when you dive a little deeper is a bit more disturbing… To make rude cat-calls, one must be immature and ignorant of the rights of a female. However, if someone asks you to a date..(and he probably isn’t a garbage man) That’s perfectly okay. Both previous sentiments have the same goal (if you’re still a pig)… I have to agree, this is a great article… but there isn’t really anything viable you can do about it… (except for leaving North Philadelphia) And you mention one great thing, if you were to in fact cat-call a man… he’d probably be confused… but that’s because we’ve only been making extreme changes to gender equality for the past 50 years… do you really think if a girl said to a guy that his butt was cute that it could be taken to court for sexual harassment?
    I’d actually say men get the shorter stick in America’s current ideology of gender equality.

    So I leave you with this question.. Should women be treated equally? or as women?

    ha

  5. Catcalls might not be nice, but ever heard of the First Amendment? Unless these men actually DO something, they have not done anything wrong through saying certain words, whether or not you take offense.

  6. To gregory and Matthew, there is no way that you could ever understand how it makes a woman feel to have a man say things like that to her. I live in Ecuador, where the cat calling and whistling is constant, and i mean constant. Because im white and not from here, it is literally every single guy on the street, no exagerration. So when you say what about the first amendment, stop thinking about political rules, and start thinking about MORAL rules.

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