The Modern-Day Mating Call (And Why Women Aren't Responding)

I’ve written about catcalling before. Let’s be real: basically every modern feminist writer ever has written about catcalling before. It might sometimes feel as if the topic is overdone, but there’s a reason we keep writing about it. The answer is simple: it’s still a problem.

The topic has resurfaced with the viral video by Hollaback!, an international movement to end street harassment. In the video, a woman silently walks down the streets of New York for 10 hours wearing a crew neck shirt and jeans. Within that time period, over 100 men called out to her. One man even followed her silently for five minutes, despite her generally offish attitude.

You may think, “Yeah, that’s crazy, but it’s New York. It’s a different story there.” But the thing is, this isn’t just something that happens in big cities. Ask any woman you know, whether or not they’ve experienced street harassment, and I can promise you at least half will have some story. It doesn’t matter what they were doing at that moment or even what they were wearing. I know that a lot of my own experiences with it occurred when I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and just walking up Massachusetts Street. I wasn’t tempting anyone. I wasn’t doing anything to warrant the attention. But I got it anyway, and instead of being flattered, I was completely uncomfortable. Honestly, I felt a little unsafe. Because, while I know it's just a comment, it feels violating, and I never really know if it's going to stop with just a catcall.

Another video that has brought attention to the subject was a segment by CNN responding to the Hollaback! video. What was supposed to be a discussion between comedian Amanda Seales and author Steven Santagati quickly became a heated debate about catcalling. It was a train wreck, and if you don’t believe me, just take a few minutes to watch it yourself.

The difference in the perception of catcalling is amazing. What Seales sees as threatening, Santagati sees as complimentary. I don’t think Santagati speaks for all men, just like there are some women that don’t feel the same way Seales does. But I do think their viewpoints encompass quite a large number of people and demonstrate the gender differences pretty clearly. Let me just say, I think Seales hit the nail right on the head.

Do you know what I’m tired of? As a woman, I’m tired of people telling me how I’m supposed to feel about the whole situation. I’m tired of people telling me that I need to learn to take a compliment. And I’m certainly tired of people telling me that I “need to stop being such a feminist extremist” when I voice my opinions about how much I dislike catcalling. It’s like people don’t even listen to the problem before trying to find a solution, and usually this “solution” is about keeping with the status quo.

That’s the problem with a lot of issues that contribute to rape culture. Instead of asking, “What can we do to help? What can we do to change? How can we create a constructive environment to make everyone feel safe and comfortable?” people are telling women, “You shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that, and you shouldn’t feel this way.” Just look at the comments on both of these videos. (Actually, don’t. They’re infuriating.) Quite a few that I read had to do with the idea that women were exaggerating their discomfort and needed to learn to take a compliment; many argued that women only dress up and look nice for the attention of men, anyway. Don’t even get me started about the ones that talked about how it’s just men’s biological sexual needs. Perhaps catcalling is the modern-day mating call? If so, I’m sure not answering.

The point is this: catcalling may seem like a small problem in relation to other issues, but it’s just a fragment of a bigger picture. We’re so busy telling women what they want and what they do wrong and what they can change that sometimes we forget that we’re completely ignoring a huge part of the problem. So how about instead of invalidating the feelings and unease that women experience when they're faced with street harassment, we start invalidating the right men feel they have to treat women like this? Because maybe if we stop saying “boys will be boys” and start saying “boys will be courteous people who respect other people,” we won’t have to watch any more of these videos anymore.