Why Catcalls Are Not Compliments

Most people who’ve met me would probably tell you I’m a very upbeat, friendly sort of creature. Even on days when there’s no particular spring in my step, I tend to smile automatically at the people I pass on the street.

Few things wipe that friendly smile off my face like a bad old-fashioned cat call.

I’ve been hissed, barked and howled at, had my body, face and hair appraised and commented on, been propositioned or just told what someone might like to do to me, or have me do to them more times than I would care to count since I was 14 years old. And all of this by complete strangers.

Just last week I was walking down the street at 8:30am, bundled up like a big old toasted marshmallow, when a man winked, licked his vile lips at me and said, “Heyyyy, little girl-” before I drowned him out with my ipod.

Disturbing on multiple levels. “Oh heyyyy…confused pedophile?”

Unfortunately, I am in no way the exception. I have yet to meet a woman who has not experienced some form of this type of harassment.

Some would argue that I should just be flattered, take it as a compliment. But the thing is, I have in fact been complimented by strangers. I’ve had both men and women I didn’t know compliment my smile or my eyes or my dress. They smile an open and friendly smile, look me in the eyes and don’t expect anything in return and it absolutely brightens my day.

The people who leer and jeer catcall expect something. They want to get a reaction out of the people they harrass. And God help you in trying to figure out what that reaction might be. Say thank you and you’re liable to encourage further or more inappropriate remarks, ignore it and watch how quickly you transform from “Baby!” into “stuck up BITCH,” yell or answer with some colourful language of your own and risk getting deeper into an altercation.

Sometimes, of course, it’s not your reaction they want, but that of the buddies they’re trying to somehow impress or bond with or prove their super-awesome, all-important heterosexuality to.

Either way, it’s tough to walk away from many of these situations without a little stormcloud of annoyance, rage, fear and disappointment trailing along with you.

It’s so disheartening and, depending on the setting, frightening, to encounter that kind of blatant objectification and lack of respect.

There’s this attitude that women’s bodies are public property, that by leaving our houses  dressed in anything but a burqa, we’ve consented to having our bodies commented on and leered at. People who just accept this kind of behaviour as an unchangeable status quo are operating on the assumption that men are beasts, creatures of lust who just can’t be expected to somehow control their special man urges.

It’s a dangerous way of thinking.

It leads to some guys thinking it’s ok to crouch down on the ground on a bar dance floor and reach through the crowd to put their hand up a stranger’s skirt (this actually happened to me. It took me a second to register what was happening and I don’t think I’ve ever been so enraged in my entire life. I grabbed the offending hand and yanked the guy up through the crowd so he was face to face with me and told him quite loudly in no uncertain terms that if he ever did something like that to anyone again he could expect to be murdered. By me, specifically.)

It’s a way of thinking that leads to people being rape apologists. It leads to victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

Also, it’s nonsense.

Last I checked, men had brains and free wills and the capacity to behave with empathy, respect and kindness towards their fellow human beings.

Some of them just have to be reminded to actually use that capacity.

How do you guys feel about this issue? Do catcalls bother you? How do you typically react to them? If it does bother you, do you ever try to educate the perpetrator as to why?


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