I’ve just had a conversation with my sister about catcalling. Anyway, we are both on the same side of the debate- Nay.
Catcalling refers to ‘a loud whistle or a comment of a sexual nature made by a man to a passing woman’. (OED)
The wolf whistle is another disturbing term for catcalling. ‘Wolf’ as in predator. PREDATOR! In the wild, wolfs howl to communicate with each other. So a wolf whistle essentially communicates that this lady is sexually attractive.
The modern wolf whistle originates from the navy whistle used to call attention to the fact that someone is about to say something important. It was also used by sailors to draw their attention to a passing female. However, catcalling does have an ancient history.
This article explores the interesting history of catcalling. Well worth a read.
Catcalling essentially sexually objectifies women. It places the man (the caller) in a position of perceived superiority and it says that he has the right to determine the woman’s value as a sexual object (not a living human).
Even the name is problematic. I mean really, ‘cat’. Let’s not get into that today.
Fairly recently, I watched an episode of an ABC show that I cannot recall the name of that addressed the very theme at the heart of this post. In this episode, some women were for catcalling. Or rather they enjoyed it. They didn’t necessarily agree with the idea of catcalling, but they appreciated the attention of the men that confirmed for themselves that they’ve ‘still got it’.
Here is an interesting article that looks at how and why a woman might appreciate catcalling.
But here’s the issue, why does it matter what the man thinks of the woman? He is a random that she has never met who willingly objectifies her from a distance and this gives her a thrill. She gets a thrill that a strange man finds her sexually attractive. I can't judge her for this, but seriously, why do we place so much emphasis on the thoughts and opinions of those of the opposite sex, or of the same sex for that matter? Regardless of whether you are a male or a female, your worth should not be in whether or not someone else considers you sexually desirable.
Man, our society is messed up.
One argument, which kind of links to the above point, is that women should be thanking their cat callers. Umm, what?! That’s like telling a rape victim that they should thank their rapist for choosing them. I know that catcalling is not the same as rape but bear with me here because the point is valid. The idea is that the caller chose to tell this woman that she is good looking, attractive, and desirable. Something that you want to know, right? Well, possibly, but certainly not from a random with no invested interest in your life. Both catcalling and rape sexually objectify. They develop a dangerous power balance and reinforce a patriarchal society. They give the man a privileged position in determining the woman’s worth and asserting dominance over her. No, I will not be thanking my cat callers.
For an argument that defends catcalling as well-meaning and an integral part of masculinity and our society, read here.
Personally, I don’t associate masculinity with the ability to objectify others, but let’s keep moving.
When I was younger (still at school and wearing a school uniform might I add), before I really understood the deeper issues at play, I did say thank you. Partly because it felt good for someone to think that I was good looking, and partly because I wanted to embarrass the caller by showing them that they hadn’t embarrassed me. However, the truth is that if someone is only interested in you because of your appearance, then that is an interest that you could probably do without. But that is an entirely different argument for another day.
But if catcalling is okay, then where is the line? Is it okay to approach a woman and tell her how much you appreciate her as a sexual object? No, but it is okay to do this from a ‘harmless’ distance? Is it okay to force yourself on a woman as a sign of how much you appreciate her as a sexual object? Certainly not, but it is okay to force your opinion of her body as a sexual object on her from a distance. Clearly, the issue is more complex than a simple whistle from afar.
Here’s the thing- I don’t like being sexually objectified. I don’t even like being called ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’. It’s not a compliment to me. If you want to appreciate me then you may call me pretty, but even better than that, get to know me and find something about my character, personality, or achievements to compliment. Or my clothes. I love when people compliment my clothes. :)
So, there are my opinions on catcalling.
What do you think? Have you ever catcalled? Have you ever been catcalled? Are you yea or nay?