I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. "The folks over at The Onion are so funny!" I thought to myself as I read "Hey, ladies -- catcalls are flattering! Deal with it."
Then my stomach sank. It wasn't The Onion at all. It was the New York Post. And it wasn't a joke. It was a shamefully sad commentary written by a very misguided young woman.
She delights in the catcalls she receives, happy to be out of college and into this "brave new world, where guys tell it like they see it."
What she considers truth telling is actually shitty old objectification of women. They are telling it not as they see it but as they want it to be. They want your existence to be about them. You exist for them. Your beauty is for their consumption, to appease their desire. You are fuckable to them. Congratulations.
"I realize most women with healthy self-confidence don't court unwanted male attention. In fact, most women seem to hate it."
We sure do, especially those of us who identify as lesbian or queer or otherwise uninterested in being seen as sexual objects by men. Of course, I don't want to be seen as an object by anyone. I want to be respected as a sexual person, and that is certainly not what's happening when some creep is whistling at me or sucking his teeth or calling me "babe" or "mami" or whatever the call du jour is.
"It's not brain science -- when a total stranger notices you, it's validating."
No, actually, it isn't. It's actually the opposite. It doesn't validate your worth. It devalues you as nothing more than a shiny thing to look at.
"Oh, don't go rolling those sanctimonious eyes at me.... Enjoying male attention doesn't make you a traitor to your gender."
Yes, it does. By saying this crap is OK, you're saying to every woman that her worth is only skin-deep. It is only in the eye of the beholder. It only exists if some guy on the street says so. Fuck that. I exist and am valuable regardless of what some creep thinks of me. And, yes, men who call out random shit to women are creeps.
If you're the kind of guy who does that and you're thinking, "Come on, what's the problem? I'm just telling you what a pretty little thing you are," let me translate for you: You think I'm fuckable. Just two questions for you: Do you kiss your mama with that mouth? And do you want other men talking to your mama the way you talk to me?
"Isn't feminism all about self-empowerment, anyway...?"
Yes. Self-empowerment. There is nothing in catcalling that's about self. It's all about other. It's all about making you into nothing more than body parts. It's why violence against women proliferates. It's easy to violate an object. It's easy to beat or rape or otherwise brutalize someone you don't see as human. And that's exactly what catcalling does: It makes women into things instead of people.
"Besides, hard hats need something to look at while they're on their lunch break. I can be that objectified sex thing for them! What's so wrong about a 'You are sexy!' comment from any observant man?"
That's just gross. And calling them "hard hats" dehumanizes them too. And God knows we don't need that any more than we need women being dehumanized.
"Of course, not all catcalls are created equal. The good ones are innocuous, not crass or obscene."
Yes, of course, and herein lines the problem. Once you give the green light to catcalls, you don't get to choose. You don't get to choose what they say to you or call you or anything else, for that matter. You give the green light to all catcalls. And, ultimately, you give the green light to all objectification and harassment and dehumanization and, ultimately, violence against women.
It's a slippery slope, my friend -- a very, very unfriendly slippery slope. Even the well-intentioned shout-outs are misguided ones. No matter how you cut it, it's invading a woman's personal headspace. And for a lesbian or queer woman the trespass is perhaps even greater.
Once you say, "It's OK to look at me as nothing more than something to fuck because I am nothing more than an object for your approval and desire," you don't get to decide how you are going to be treated. That's the whole thing: If you hand over your power, then you have nothing left to fight back with.
I know what some of you are going to say: I'm getting all radical-feminist on you. Maybe. But I'm about to get all radical-lesbian on you too. I don't want men to look at me like I'm roast beef, because I'm not on the menu. It makes me feel threatened and unsafe. It makes me feel disrespected.
It's hard enough carving out a space for ourselves in a world that constantly marginalizes us and our very existence. And having strange men assume that we want to hear what they think of us when there are very few things we want less in the world just adds to the burden. It's just unfair and shitty.
I'm guessing that most catcallers wouldn't want a gay man yelling "Nice package!" at them. It would threaten their manhood. Same thing here. You're threatening my pussyhood, and I don't like it. I don't deserve it.
"For me, it's nothing short of exhilarating, yielding an unmatched level of euphoria."
My friend, you need to take up sky diving or scuba diving or rappelling or something, because some random guy yelling at you on the street should not be where you're getting your high. You need to give that thrill to yourself. That's self-empowerment.
"Before I know it, winter will be upon us again. And it's not easy turning heads when you're up to your neck in Gore-Tex. Maybe I'll find self-worth and validation somewhere else...."
Apparently it's a tragedy that you'll have to put your flirty little sun togs back in the closet -- where women will have to start hiding if girls like you keep promoting such a hostile world for women.
I think finding your self-worth and validation within yourself would be an excellent idea, because you're missing the point. I know you think this is just some silly little thing: "Oh, look at the cute little construction workers admiring my adorable little sun dress."
But that's not what's going on, my sweet, simple, young friend. What's actually going on is that you are being looked at as a thing, a thing to use, to have sex with, a thing that is nothing more than the sum of her parts.
Let me ask you this, Lewak: Would you want some guy telling your teenage daughter how hot she's looking, leering at her as she walks by? How about your mom? Your sister? Your best friend?
Look under the hood. These aren't just catcalls. These are bullets, and they are aimed right at the heart of what women have been fighting to be seen as for decades: people.