Why Catcalls are NOT a “Compliment”

A few months ago we posted about a popular anti-street harassment blog post that went viral (you can read it here). Since then the topic hasn’t left our minds.

Street harassment doesn’t always have to be malicious to be harassment (as it was in Allison’s case). I was talking with a friend yesterday who was complaining about her neighborhood. She says she can’t walk down the street without being whistled at or sometimes even followed by men. Here in Denver I can vouch for a similar sentiment. Being a young female walking down the street I usually feel more like a piece of meat than a human being. The problem when I try to explain this to men, however, is the huge disconnect between their intention and how women perceive it.

The usual conversation goes something along the lines of “but I mean it as a compliment.” In their minds women are supposed to want to be noticed on the street on a day-to-day basis. It means they look good; who wouldn’t want a stranger telling them that? Well, actually… when I’m alone walking down the street (day or night) I feel threatened by strange men who shout at me even when it’s “nice” things!

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is the patriarchal notion that women constantly want to please men through their looks. The idea is communicated to men that women should enjoy their attention, including in the form of whistles or cat-calls. The experience for women, however, is vastly different. When a woman is walking down the street she generally going somewhere. Her journey has a purpose and that purpose is not men’s appreciation of her physical appearance. In other words, when I’m walking down the street I want to get to where I’m going without being reduced to my body parts by a stranger. I think this is what cat-callers don’t understand about why cat-calling is harassment: it’s dehumanizing. And that’s never a compliment.

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What do you think? Have you been cat-called on the street? If so, how did it make you feel?

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