I'm a straight guy who doesn't catcall, but I can understand the impulse that drives it. Or at least I'm better equipped to understand it than feminists who claim the authority to say that every catcall is an effort by the man to sexually humiliate and dis-empower a woman. That may be the effect of the catcall, but that doesn't mean it's the motive. We men have a deep-seated urge to get the attention of a prospective mate, and those efforts are not always informed by a coherent calculation of the most tactical course. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, "Wherever there is a woman, we have a man working on it. Now, he may not be our best man, but our organization is very thorough." On other occasions, I imagine it's just a reflex, like saying "Wow."
Mostly, a catcall is a failure of empathy. The man is ignorant to or uninterested in the effect of his catcalling on the woman. And shame on him for that. But for women to apply such a far-reaching and cynical motive to the practice is also a failure empathy.
Alright, I don't want to sound like I'm victim-blaming here, but the reader who complained about dressing skimpy whilst on a bus and being eyed … how was she not expecting it?
Teenage girls pull crap like that all the time because they want attention. I don't buy that they are often that bothered by it. Yeah, maybe as they get older, it gets weird. But every time I'm walking home late on a Friday night (invariably, from the library, such is the life of a graduate student) and see half-naked girls drunkenly giggling, I don't really feel sorry for them being checked out, because why else are they dressing like that?
This isn't to say I'm a complete prude. I'll go out and have a night of fun and drunkenly hook up with boys too, if I can. But I can tell you exactly one time in my life I've been cat-called, and I didn't mind it. I was 17, it was a construction worker outside of a grocery store in Boston, and I had some witty thing to say in return that made him laugh.
Like many women of below-average looks, maybe I just assume that it's pretty girls getting called out and they deserve it for being pretty. I'm the girl who's always carrying piles of books, wears glasses, doesn't run in a bra but a tshirt, is perfectly average-size and absolutely nothing remarkable in her looks, who has been called one of the "bros" or "lads" more times than I care to count. But I'll say this, I'd give almost anything to have men of any sort look at me. I seriously doubt the women who have written to you would be willing to go without the attention like I do. It gets lonely after a while.
Update from another:
Your two latest missives on catcalling are instructive, I think, but not in the way that their authors intended. They both bring up elements of the usual answer for why catcalling is so pervasive: the idea that men's attraction to women is so innate and powerful that anything they do under its thrall is understandable, if not always excusable. That's just resentment masquerading as an argument. Sexual attraction is a powerful force, no doubt, but let's not deny that it can drive people to violent or threatening behavior. That's the central problem with catcalling. It's not anything that women do or don't do.
The times I've been catcalled have made me furious, and in situations where I've felt safe enough to do so I've yelled back in order to shame the guy. I don't know if it always works, but often enough the catcaller in question is taken aback, and it makes me feel less like a victim. Men on the street have also given me sweet compliments, or told me friendly jokes, and boy do those guys get a big grin from me. It ends up being a pleasant interaction for both of us. If guys happen to want attention from a woman, why can't they try charm? Since that's always an option, it seems most likely that catcalls that hurt are intended to sexually humiliate someone else.