For today’s Man Up Monday, Carlos Andrés Gómez challenges men to rise up against the street harassment so many of us have become desensitized to.
Before I say anything, let me say this – I have been both a willing and reluctant participant in the many heavy-handed male behaviors that define the gender performance of being a man. For example, I’ve puffed out my chest and used degrading words and tried, on numerous occasions, to be the alpha male in the room. The aforementioned happens a lot less frequently than it did when I was younger, but now and again, I’ll catch myself acting like the machismo robot I have worked hard to unlearn. All of that being said, I cannot help but ask myself – why do guys catcall women?
You know what I mean by catcalling, right? It can be vulgar gestures or comments about a woman’s body, perverse pickup lines, inappropriate grabbing, whistling or moaning, beeping your horn and stopping your car to ogle a stranger minding her own business. Being a guy, you would think I would have a more informed personal insight on this topic… but I don’t. The desire to catcall is one of those things that has forever perplexed me. I’m familiar with the different theories—it’s a competition-fueled performance of masculinity (which is why catcallers will often be in a group of men), a man wants to assert his power over a woman, a guy wants to get any kind of attention (whether positive or negative) from a woman he deems “out of his league” (or beyond his social status), or he is simply grossly misinformed about how to communicate with the opposite sex.
I’ve spent most of my life in U.S. cities, of which most of the last decade has been spent in New York, and I have never once seen a woman respond positively to being catcalled. And, mind you, this is from a sample of literally thousands of occurrences, which makes me think that catcallers neither want nor care about a positive response from the victims of their harassment. Sure, countless times I’ve seen a woman flash that uncomfortable, forced smile that seems to clearly communicate, “Okay, asshole, please stay away from me,” but I’ve never seen a woman turn around and go, “Oh, you like my tits? Thank you so much. Here’s my number.”
I was talking with my partner a few months ago, who was in the midst of lamenting the arrival of warm weather. My immediate reaction: “Who hates spring?!”—which for me connotes sunshine, picnics, basketball, and outdoor concerts. And she responded, “I don’t hate spring, I just hate the harassing guys who are all outside now.
“Like guys on our street?” I asked.
“Well, yeah. There’s this old guy at the corner who always says gross stuff to me,” she said
“What?! Why haven’t you told me? Where does he live?” I was incensed. Of course, my immediate response was to go find this dude and confront him… after I had shamed my partner for not informing me of another (of countless) examples of street harassment.
“Baby, relax. It’s not a big deal. It happens all the time. It’s just the way it is,” and she got up to get a glass of water.
Guys – can we talk for a second? How is this normal? This is a big deal. Over the summer, I was talking with my fifteen year-old little sister and she told me that thirty and forty-year old guys harass and catcall her constantly.
We have to do better than this. I have to do better than this. I can think of multiple examples of men harassing or catcalling women, but rarely have I intervened to say something. On a few occasions I have, but overwhelmingly, I’ve remained silent. Usually I’ll justify it as, Carlos, chill out. It’s 11:30pm on a random street corner in Brooklyn. Bigger picture.
And, sure, speaking up late at night on some dark street corner might be a bad move, but there’ve been plenty of other opportunities where I didn’t speak up and the risk to my life or safety was relatively low. What’s most infuriating is that I continue to hear endless stories from my partner and female friends about how they’ve been catcalled, but, of course, it always seems to happen while they are alone. No one is catcalling my partner while we’re walking down the street holding hands. But the minute she leaves the apartment by herself, it starts up again.
This conversation is not a new one, as women have been having it and already spearheaded movements to combat catcalling and street harassment (like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment), but now I want to engage men. There are a lot of passionate responders here on The Good Men Project. I believe that to create meaningful, lasting change in this world the whole community must be actively involved in the process of brainstorming and then creating a solution to a problem. I am tired of my partner and my little sister and my female friends and women in general being forced to walk around afraid and embarrassed and ashamed and uncomfortable. I am tired of harassing men creating an abusive dynamic that undermines basic social etiquette and human respect.
I think a lot of these guys might not even realize how damaging their catcalling can be. Or the bystanders, like me, have become so desensitized to the destructive effects of catcalling that they’ve fooled themselves into viewing it as an unchangeable and benign reality of city life. Or, like me, you’re a guy whose male privilege has insulated him from realizing how widespread and demeaning this harassment continues to be. I am making an oath, right now, to start speaking out and speaking up against catcalling and street harassment (assuming my life and well-being are not risked by that advocacy).
I am now appealing to this online community. I’d like this week’s piece to be a launching pad for a public forum on catcalling and street harassment. My questions for you, the reader, are:
Why do men catcall women?
What can we do to stop it?