“American Girl in Italy.” Photograph by Ruth Orkin, 1951. pic.twitter.com/27lx4IFkCy
— Wayne (@Toaster_Pastry) September 16, 2014
A bunch of commentary still remains from last week’s popular thread:
I am a 31 and I’ve been getting these so-called “hellos” on the street for about 20 years (basically since I started to get breasts). Let’s stop pretending that women everywhere cannot distinguish between (1) the casual friendly “hellos” people sometimes give when walking around town and (2) the form of greeting that is really just a form of “I have decided to pass judgment on your appearance and I am very offended when you do not thank me as a wise and respected judge of your sexual appeal.” This is a power dynamic. These cat-callers tend to get upset when you don’t give them the deference they believe they are owed, and sometimes they are so pissed that women fear for their safety. Even when I am not actually fearing for my safety, I do not enjoy being told that I should be slavishly grateful for someone trying to objectify me. Even if I know that there are witnesses and I am unlikely to be physically harmed by someone, I am not an idiot, and I can sense the power dynamic game at play.
All these feminist controversies miss one extremely important point: in the mating game, it is men who are the aggressors. For all the talk of equality among feminists, there is never discussion of equality in the way men and women meet each other. Women, feminists or otherwise, are quite content to let men continue to deal with the issues of approach anxiety or rejection, or the issue of financing the courting process, which is also shouldered almost exclusively by men. Men approach women they do not know and hit on them as a matter of necessity. The men who do not for the most part, are alone.
As for the racial component, in my own experience, men of color are far more easy with approaching women, and they’re often somewhat aggressive in doing so. I’ve also noticed these men of color usually have girlfriends, while the feminism-aware white guy has a lot of female friends … but no girlfriend. He also probably has a great deal of approach anxiety and probably beats himself up a lot for not talking to women when opportunities arise.
Aggressively pursuing women is a winning strategy for men. Of course there will be rejection, but these men power through it, shrug their shoulders and sally forth. The other poor guys, crippled by their fear of offending a woman – and I was once one of them – spend their Friday and Saturday nights alone. Some of these men spend their weekends out and about desperately trying to meet a woman without being an asshole about it, while the assholes sweep up the women.
Update from a reader, who quotes the previous one:
Men approach women they do not know and hit on them as a matter of necessity. The men who do not for the most part, are alone.
That makes my blood boil. He can’t tell the difference between places where it’s acceptable for men to “aggressively pursue women” (and vice versa!) like a bar, a party, and online dating websites and where they probably shouldn’t (the sidewalk) and still fancies himself socially aware enough to comment on “the mating game”? I’m not sure if you posted it yet but this tweet sums up the whole situation very well:
And how did you meet your husband? “He shouted something sexually aggressive at me from a van and we just went from there really.”
— Rhys James (@rhysjamesy) September 28, 2014
But another responds with an anecdote:
A few years ago, a friend of mine was walking past a construction site in NYC. A worker squeezes through the orange plastic netting and darts in front of her with his arms stretched wide and says “Hey, beautiful, why in such a hurry?” She tries to side-step around him but he moves aside, blocking her path again. “Come on, just say hi.” She says “Hi” and he doffs his hard hat and bows and she walks past.
She intentionally walks by there a couple of days later at the same time and is “greeted” again. They strike up a conversation and have been dating for 6 years now.
She is an early 30s lawyer, Ivy educated, and attractive. (She has since discovered he’s married, by the way.) I think it would be fair to say that his methods verged on assault. But, apparently, sometimes that approach works, it seems. Go figure.
Another offers XKCD’s “great take on this”:
Another reader on the racial angle:
Instead of injecting my thoughts into this discussions, I thought I would direct your attention to a recent episode of Black-ish. It’s a very funny show and I highly recommend it. (In fact, a recent episode chronicled the parents struggle with whether to spank your child, and I think it addresses many of the issues raised by your readers.) In the third episode, available here, the father struggles with his son, who is growing up in an affluent white neighborhood and not understanding black culture, including the face that a black guy makes when he sees a woman with a nice butt. The episode ends (go to about the 20 minute mark) with father and grandfather high-fiving after the son makes the face and says “damn” after looking at a woman’s behind. I was a little shocked by the scene myself and I don’t know whether it is really reflective of black culture. However, I was surprised when the episode aired and there was little if any backlash.
Another turns the tables:
As a straight woman, I am constantly objectifying men I see on the street and on the college campus where I work. I am admiring their bodies (sometimes specific parts of their bodies), mentally unclothing them, imagining touching them, imagining having sex with them. I do not stop myself from doing this, and I do not feel shame or guilt about it – because it’s natural.
Yet I also recognize that these are my private thoughts, and that the men I am objectifying may be offended or feel sexually violated by me were I to tell these men that they are beautiful, hot, have a nice ass, etc. I also want to respect their personhood. For that reason, I stay as discrete as possible (though I am sure I’ve been noticed at least a few times). In my opinion, we shouldn’t pathologize the sexualization and objectification of other bodies; we should recognize that to do so is human instinct, for both men and women. We should instead seek to bring more civility into our culture – to recognize that it is the voicing the objectification, not the mental act of objectification itself, that is problematic and dehumanizing.
Another circles back to class:
I just want to respond to your reader on the updated Catcalling post, who wanted to point out this behavior doesn’t happen on their upper-middle-class streets. I’m sure it does happen there, if more rarely than in a heavily populated city; they just aren’t aware. Teenage boys will always find ways to let their female peers know if they like what they see – and I say that as having grown up in areas that sound very similar to this reader’s neighborhood, where once my friends and I were old enough to drive ourselves, rolling down car windows to shout “compliments” at girls and young women became frequent enough. It seemed like harmless fun then, but I’ve known for years that it really wasn’t. I carry no small amount of shame for having participated, even if I can chalk it up to being a hormone-fueled idiot. The phenomenon really shouldn’t astonish me, then, but it still does today when I see or hear of grown men behaving this way.
I work in the very white collar industry of financial products and services, and I hear from my women friends and co-workers that they get sexually harassed on some level on a near-daily basis while at work, in the same office I share with them. I don’t see it because these men have learned that behaving openly like that will get them fired post-haste, but it happens. Married managers, single interns, executives with grandkids. I’ve heard about them all, though never with any names attached to the stories, because these women are afraid of rocking the boat and would rather “deal with it” in relative silence than cost anyone their livelihood (including, especially, themselves).
No, it definitely isn’t all men, or even most men. Not even according to the harassed I’ve spoken to. But when it happens to them, or they witness it, every day, the unwanted attention becomes unbearable. How could it not? Videos like Hollaback are clearly striking that same nerve.
So your aforementioned reader wants to make this a class issue, but he’s using the word incorrectly. It’s not about economic class structure; it’s about a person’s, a heterosexual man’s, level of maturity. It’s about showing decorum, to know that catcalling or trying to get a woman’s attention through disrespectful means is wrong. Always. Period. It doesn’t matter where you grew up or where you live now. Or how you raise your kids. My father certainly didn’t teach me to catcall, but I did it anyway through some combination of peer pressure, cultural osmosis, and those damn hormones.
“Catcalling” can happen anywhere, whether it’s yelled on the street or whispered in the halls of corporations. Your net worth has nothing to do with it.
Another would agree:
I’m the cliche long-time reader, first-time writer. This catcalling business finally struck a deep nerve with me, so after hundreds of started-but-never-completed e-mails, I’m finally mad enough for the “SEND” button.
I’m a 29 year-old woman working in a heavily male dominated industry. My clients and business partners are primarily white, in their late 40s, and making anywhere from $300-500k annually. Some, quite a bit more than that.
These upper-middle-class white men are just as bad (I would say, worse) at this catcalling business … they just do it differently. Your self-proclaimed upper middle class white guy isn’t out on the street all day whistling at girls who walk past. Instead, he’s sitting behind a mahogany desk with all sorts of trumped-up self importance thanks to his six-figure salary dishing out unwanted comments to the occasional woman he comes across under the guise of being complimentary. Frankly, I prefer comments from strangers to what I deal with on a daily basis at work.
The most insulting “compliment” that I receive on the regular is the classic “you know, there’s more to you than meets the eye” – as if I, walking into his office on my initial visit, received low marks just for the fact that I’m a size-six twenty-something. I straighten my hair, wear limited amounts of make-up with almost exclusively black suits and almost no jewelry. I’m a straightforward, aggressive, business-focused woman, desperate to hide the three biggest hurdles in gaining their respect: my age, gender, and shape.
A sampling of the repeated “compliments” I get fall along these lines: “It’s so nice that young women today don’t look like the butch girls in the industry when I was young.” … “I bet if you had a boyfriend or husband he wouldn’t be letting you do this job with so many men.” (I have one, actually) …”You came with such a great recommendation – I was surprised when you walked in the door!” … “A pretty girl like you couldn’t find someone to take care of you so you could stay home and stop traveling so much?” … And, one of my personal favorites: “I bet a ton of the other guys out there hit on you, don’t they?”
These men appear to be committed family men when they’re back in their white, middle-class neighborhoods, but in the office, they feel entitled to comment on (and touch) young professional women’s bodies and general appearances just as much as the men in the video. So please inform your middle-aged white reader that his group is boorish, too.
Another woman complicates matters a little:
I’m 66 years old. I remember the catcalls of the 1960s – girls walking down the street were often called broads and cunts and asked if we wanted to fuck. (Compare that with the overall good-natured and respectful language on the video!)
However, to muddy the waters; here’s one thing I miss about the catcalls of my youth. I was only average looking, but I had nice long legs. In the days of short skirts, it was common for guys to whistle when I got out of the car. I loved that!
Another older woman with mixed feelings:
I’ve listened and watched all the comments people have about that woman walking the streets of New York and subjected to catcalls and whatever. Takes me back to the last century – it really does. Much has not changed.
The same stuff was going on in the streets my city back in the ’60s and ’70s and all the decades since. I remember it well. I hated it when it happened back then; the comments and whistles and gross come-ons made me feel cheap and diminished somehow. I was a 20-year old from the farm country, new to the city, trying to get on with my career. I’d steel myself to the shouts and keep on walking. Some of those comments were the reason I became a “feminist”, way back then – still am, truth to tell. Fighting for equal wages, equal rights, they called us “bra burners”. Yeah, sure.
Back then, I got special prices at the butchers, extra bits of meat thrown in at no cost but with a sly comment that sounded much like “wanna meet me out back? I got some short ribs that are really meaty”. I took the short ribs, but never went “out back”. I got extra oranges and apples in the bag from the fruit market because I looked good. There were little extras at every turn. Bartenders would say “we just got this nice white in, thought you might like to try it – this one’s on the house.”
I took it all and said thanks very much! I knew it was just because of how I looked – young and attractive.
Now, at the age of 70, I can walk the sidewalks and markets downtown with no comments from anyone at all. I don’t recall when I actually noticed that I’d become one of the “invisible women” on the street, probably around the time I hit between 50 and 55. That’s about the time I noticed a few other things.
I don’t get deals at the butcher’s anymore – I’m still slender but a bit thicker through the middle, my hair is graying and I have a few wrinkles, I‘m still “good looking” according to my men friends, still dress stylishly, still have good legs but high heels have been traded in for boxy heels for comfort – it’s just that nobody ever whistles anymore or invites me “out back”. Or offers me deals on short ribs. Or offers me a nice white on the house. I don’t miss it – I just note the absence.
Part of that absence makes me feel a little sad – yes, I’m old now. The juiciness of life has passed me by. Still, part of being “older” makes me feel a real sense of freedom; I’m accepted as just another human being, female by birth. Nobody notices us older gals. But we pay our way.
I kind of envy that gorgeous woman in her black slacks and black t-shirt. Part of me wants to say you’ll only have to put up with this for so long, and then it’ll be done. Guys are guys, the cat-callers are mostly just dumb jerks being led by their hormones, and they’ll be old and fat and gone in no time. And soon you’ll be older and heavier and nobody will notice you ever again. You just might miss it when that time comes. Not that I miss it all that much – but I DO have memories. :-)