(This post contains some strong language.)
Recently, there has been a video making the rounds of a woman getting catcalled as she walks through New York City. Many people, men and women alike, seem to want to dismiss this as harmless. They wonder what the problem is with it. They’re just saying hi. Can’t she take a compliment? What’s the big deal?
Here’s a pro-tip for the fellas out there who might be confused by this. Because I’m seeing a lot of comments that indicate confusion. Fellas, if you want to pay a lady a compliment and flirt, don’t do it on the street. Go to a club or something. It’s a sidewalk, not a singles bar.
The issue is this: Men who catcall at women are not offering compliments. They are showing their power. Getting catcalled is scary. Most women don’t leave the house looking for compliments. We just want to be able to go about our lives without having to engage in exhausting banter. Being told that a stranger finds my body sexually attractive does not make me feel good about myself. It makes me scared.
Here’s why. Quite often (and I’ve been on the receiving end of this) if a woman politely declines an offer for a phone number, dinner, coffee or what-have-you, the catcaller does not simply shrug and walk on. No, instead, he becomes angry. “Stuck up bitch.” “Fucking Whore.” The so-called compliment shifts immediately to violence. And quite frankly, as a woman walking down the street, if an adult man decided to become violent towards me, there is little I could do to stop him. In another real life example of the quick shift from “compliment” to violence, the woman in the video is getting rape threats because she dared to speak out about how uncomfortable and awful it feels to have strangers harassing her on the street.
Culturally, many men are taught that they are entitled to a woman’s attention, body, and time. Motorcycle racers are often flanked by scantily clad women, winning bicyclists receive congratulatory kisses from podium girls, and in the movies, the hero always gets the girl in the end because, well, he deserves it after all he went through. Who cares if Prince Charming is actually a knuckle-dragging wife-beater. He busted his ass to get her out of the tower, so she better be grateful for the chance to marry him. Our culture is saturated by the notion that women are a reward to which men are entitled.
Which brings me to this.
Last week, there was another school shooting. It’s coming to light that the killer targeted the students because the girl involved broke up with him. He was a good, successful kid. He was the Prince Charming of his own story. He believed the narrative that he deserved the girl and when the story didn’t play out like he believed it should, he killed her.
Maria Guido over at Mommyish unpacks the issue thoroughly and I would encourage you to read the entire article: Stop Excusing The Actions Of A Murderer By Calling Him ‘Heartbroken’.
All weekend, the same narrative kept playing out in the media – How did this happen? He was attractive. He was popular. He was happy. He was also the product of a society that teaches boys from a very young age that their female counterparts are not peers; they are trophies to be won. News story after news story keeps repeating the narrative that Jaylen was jilted and lovesick. But what about the girl whose life he ended? He believed she was “his.” When she didn’t return his affection – he killed her. This is not a new story. This is a story far too many women know. It’s a narrative way too many women have lost their lives to.
Catcalling isn’t the issue. Quite honestly, neither is mass murder. They are symptoms (one much more horrifying than the other) of a deeper problem. We live in a society in which women aren’t recognized fully as people. Women are still relegated to prize or trophy status, and until that changes, issues like street harassment and domestic/dating violence will continue.