In collaboration with Veronika Potylitsina (CC of University of Toronto).
It’s the reason you’re worried about walking alone at night. It’s the reason you memorize small self-defense techniques from videos just in case, and it’s something we can all relate to, but absolutely hate talking about: street harassment and catcalling.
In a 2014 street harassment study, researchers found that 65% of women and 25% of men reported experiencing at least one type of street harassment. What’s even scarier is that about 50% of those who reported experiencing harassment reported experiencing street harassment by age 17. It seems like catcalling has become normalized, but there’s no doubt that such street harassment can affect the emotional wellbeing of those who experience it.
Often enough men will defend catcalling, saying that it’s simply a compliment or “they can’t help themselves.” We’re here to give you some theories as to why men catcall and continue to do so; some more funny and some more serious.
Men’s speech isn’t as advanced
We probably all thought about it at one point. Maybe men’s speech isn’t as advanced and they simply can’t think of anything to say. Well, scientifically, this might actually be a plausible theory as to why men catcall. In some studies, it was found that women’s brains contain more of a protein called Foxp2, known as the language protein. Higher levels of Foxp2 was associated with more communication. Scientists and publications were quick to make the assumption that this meant women talked way more than men did (13,000 words more, to be accurate). However if we flip the script, we can infer that one of the reasons men catcall is due to the lack of this protein in their brains, and they simply do not have the capacity to interact with women past hollering and shouting obscenities.
Another way to theorize why men cat call and think it’ll get a positive reaction is to compare it to why people buy lottery tickets. If one’s odds of winning the lottery can be something as outrageous as 1 in 292 million, why do so many people continue to buy the tickets? Robert Williams, a professor of health science and gambling studies at the University of Lethbridge explained to Business Insider that people experience a “near miss” effect after purchasing a lottery ticket and finding out the winning numbers: when you feel you’ve almost won and want to try again, even if you weren’t even close in the first place. If someone were to get one or two numbers out of six winning numbers, they’re compelled to try again just because they may get all the numbers next time. With catcalling, if someone gives so much as a blink to a catcaller, the cat caller might think “well if there was a response, then, it’ll definitely work the next time.”
Well, here’s the answer to your lottery-like attempts: no, women do not appreciate you catcalling them.
Men need constant attention
Many women can relate to having had an experience with a guy that tries to get their attention. Men enjoy the chase of a mysterious woman he doesn’t know anything about, besides the fact that she is easy on the eyes. If a man is giving a woman his attention and is giving her a “compliment,” they expect that favor to be returned. More often than not when a man is cat calling a woman, returning the “favor” is the last thing she wants to do. That man will feel hurt and maybe even a bit embarrassed which is why a catcall can turn into a one-way yelling match. Or the catcalling will just grow louder because he thinks he wasn’t heard the first time. Men want to be acknowledged for taking the time to recognize a woman’s beauty. But is catcalling really the way to go? There’s a fine line between a sincere compliment and intruding a woman’s personal space, making her very unsafe/uncomfortable.
Women like the attention
Another way to look at it is that some women actually enjoy the attention. A lot of women grow up being very insecure, and not being told they’re pretty can feed into that insecurity. When they finally feel confident (maybe they lost a considerable amount of weight, or their face cleared up), they want someone to notice this positive shift in their look. They want to feel that all the work that went into looking and feeling their best didn’t go to waste. A lot may argue that even if those women aren’t catcalled, it wasn’t put into waste because the acceptance of the woman herself should be her first priority. But, there are also many confident women who don’t suffer from self-love deficiency and they still enjoy the occasional catcall. At the article link above, the author states, “People who are oppressed participate in their own oppression all the time.” This isn’t so much a bad thing as it is a true statement.
Lack of bystander intervention
“Forty-three percent of cases of verbal harassment in the United States occur when a woman is around a large group of people, according to a 2014 study conducted by Cornell University and anti-street harassment nonprofit Hollaback. But most onlookers fail to take action, acting instead as passive bystanders.”
Catcallers are aware that it is highly unlikely for other people walking by to stop them from catcalling. Because most catcallers haven’t been “caught” yet, they continue their disrespectful antics. If they are not told what they are doing is wrong, they’ll never change.
Unfortunately there are many bystanders that notice catcalls, but don’t intervene. This is understandable because maybe the bystander isn’t sure if the catcaller knows the woman and is playing some kind of weird joke, or if the bystander will be put in danger as well. Bystanders are more likely to intervene if they know for sure it’s a dangerous situation. But catcalling isn’t really considered “dangerous”, yet it can be psychologically dangerous to some. Many women can become paranoid or even afraid to walk down certain streets. They can even start to confuse a compliment from what most people will see as a disrespectful catcall.
Catcalling can even lead to the man getting in the woman’s way, not even letting her walk through until she gives him what he wants. This can be a scary situation, especially if it’s late at night. If more witnesses to catcalls intervened, this can prevent further street harassment towards women. It’s definitely easier to be a bystander, but one person at a time can decrease the amount of disrespectful yelling towards women all of us have heard walking down the street.