A reader writes:
You struck a nerve with this one, as I was just discussing this very thing a few weeks ago with a group of high-school freshmen in my English class. We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, "That's disgusting." We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him.
The lightbulb went off. "Oh," I said. "I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you." The boy nodded and shuddered visibly.
"But," I continued. "As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time."
The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked.
"So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn't actually want you to."
I find any discussion of catcalling fascinating. I'm a 25-year-old male who has lived in Washington D.C. for three years. I constantly walk around the city at night with my female friends, often in less-than-great areas where catcalling is supposed to take place. Except for one memorable encounter with a homeless man, I've never observed any of my female friends being victimized by a catcall. At the same time, they all insist that it happens to them on a daily basis.
I've always assumed that the reason for this strange discrepancy is that catcalling doesn't happen as frequently when I am around. I'm a pretty tall, strong looking man, and I'm guessing my presence quiets some would-be cat-callers. For this reason, I don't know if I can even begin to understand what young women are going through. It is pretty common for me to hear about a friend of mine getting cat-called and think to myself, "Man, I'd love for a women to comment on my ass while walking down the street", but I know that the reality for them must be much different.
Since I'm a man, until recently, the experience of women and catcalling was alien to me. Last summer, I was walking down State Street in Madison when a guy called out to me, "Hey, nice shirt!" It totally threw me off, because the shirt I was wearing was a basic, business-casual straight guy shirt.
Me: "Huh? I bought it at Target."
Catcaller: "Well, what have you got planned?"
Me: "Ummm, looking for something to eat."
Catcaller: "Oh yeah, I know this great pl…"
Me: "I think I'll eat here" – and I practically dove into the Qdoba that happened to be where I was, even though I didn't want to eat Qdoba.
I wasn't angry at the guy, but as I ate my burrito, it was a long meditation on "what the hell"? I mentioned it to my wife later and she just kind of sighed.