Catcalling is an issue that all women know all too well. It’s what makes you feel unsafe when you’re walking down the street; it’s what makes you circle around the block to make sure you’re not being followed; it’s when you take different ways home so no one knows where you live; it’s when you cross the street to avoid a group of guys.
Whether men know it or not, it’s how they assert their dominance. It’s not something we should take as a compliment, nor is it flattering.
Rape culture is often misunderstood by the male population. I once had a male friend who claimed that it wasn’t real because he doesn’t sit around and talk about rape with his friends. The reality is that while some men do this, it’s much more covert than that. It’s “locker room talk,” catcalling, saying things like “I’d hit that” and much more. Some claim this kind of talk is harmless, and while behind closed doors it may seem harmless, it can have catastrophic ramifications.
Rape culture can manifest in violence when women reject men, especially transgender women and women of color. It can manifest in the “nice guy complex”–where a man thinks that if he is kind to a woman and supports her emotionally he will receive sexual gratification. It’s also the “friend zone”–where men are there to support women emotionally expecting sexual gratification but when she is not interested the man has been friend zoned and they believe that they’ve been used.
It has actually been proven that most men confide only in their partners for emotional support while women confide mostly in their friends. This is a factor of the friend zone mentioned above. Men feel that if they confide in someone emotionally, it must be a relationship. This is because of toxic masculinity. They’ve been conditioned to think that this is not something friends do.
Pop culture and media have a heavy influence on this, too, which can be noted in the fact that the “friend zone” was first mentioned in the show Friends and became so popular that some men genuinely believe that this is a way that they are oppressed.
Toxic masculinity is not just a term conjured up by feminists to feminize, degrade or change men. It is a legitimate sociological concept that affects both genders negatively. Women are abused so that men can show their “manliness,” while men suffer from mental health issues and grapple with suicide alone. This explains why men have higher rates of suicide and often struggle with communicating their emotions to their partners, leading to situations where both parties can get hurt emotionally and even physically.
One day I was walking home from class on a busy street where I’m used to the occasional catcall. I had passed a couple of men fully expecting them to catcall me as they eyed me up and down, but surprisingly I made it all the way to my building without an incident. As I was about to walk into the lobby, I saw a bright yellow school bus with kids hanging their heads out the window. I’m not a fan of kids and generally avoid them at all costs, but just as I was thinking one of them with a red lollipop in his hand was actually kind of cute, I heard him yell something across the street. It was along the lines of “hey babyyy” and I was honestly taken aback. This kid couldn’t have been much older than eight and he was already hollering at women from across the street.
This is why it matters how we raise kids, how we act around them and who we allow being in our political offices and on our TV’s. Catcalling, toxic masculinity and rape culture are all learned behaviors. I know this kid didn’t know the ramifications of what he said or the social complexities of it, but I do know he has already internalized the very behavior that needs to stop.
Cultural and structural change are both needed to combat sexism. That’s why voting is so important, because even if you don’t feel it can make much of an impact, you can at least say you tried. Kids can learn not to do everything they see on TV, but when a public figure is normalizing and modeling this behavior, one who is supposed to be respectable, that is when there is an issue.