Erin Kelly explores the dangerous consequences of catcalling people with disabilities.
By definition, privacy is “a state of being in retirement from the company or observation of others.” It sounds simple enough—and seemingly even simpler to do. Yet, society has proven time and time again that it’s not.
The very definition lends itself to the notion that privacy is more of a physical state than a mental one. If such an argument can be made, however, I think one has to explore the question of morality—or at least ponder it. When does privacy get violated the most? Who is subjected to getting their privacy invaded the most—not counting celebrities? Furthermore, how far is too far?
Some may argue that the answers to these questions are based solely on opinion—or firsthand experiences. If you trace the history of catcalling back to Civil War times or The Great Depression, however, you’re likely to find evidence that invasion of privacy was almost the norm. In fact, privacy was a novel, nonexistent concept.
Numerous reports of catcalling show even further proof that it’s just as disturbing and alarming in 2014 as it was back then. The biggest—and perhaps most undisclosed, underrated difference between then and now is simple—disability.
According to an article published earlier this month by CTV News in Toronto, catcalling has been taken to a new, uncomfortable level.
The Nov. 8 report revealed that Andre H. Arruda, a disabled comedian in the Toronto area, caught random derogatory comments being made by strangers on tape. He at first thought the comments being made were directed towards the disabled community in general, but soon realized that he himself was the target.
Arruda—who had reportedly spent a few hours in the city while a fellow comedian filmed a skit—was caught in a sea of glaring stares, laughter and stereotypes. Some of the comments he heard and recorded were “Hi, Baby!’, “He’s so small!” and “Hey Mini-Me, can you tie my shoes?”
The article also stated Arruda has grown accustomed to this kind of treatment, as he’s used a scooter as a form of mobility his entire life. While he didn’t comment on his reaction to being treated in such a degrading manner—or why he recorded what had happened—Arruda did say that the constant belittling “gets old sometimes.”
News and footage of this particular scene quickly spread when Andre posted a video on YouTube as it unfolded. The video was posted soon after the viral success of a recent catcalling piece featuring aspiring actress Shoshana Roberts simply walking the streets of New York City for the span of ten hours.
Roberts’ two-minute video has sparked much-needed conversation about sexism—and with any luck, Andre’s will do the same for verbal harassment of those with disabilities.
I find Andre’s story disturbing—not just as a writer and journalist, but also as a disabled individual. This is not only an invasion of privacy, but I think it’s unfortunately well on its way to becoming acceptable to “catcall” the disabled—unless we take heed in the real message behind these videos, particularly Andre’s.
It’s important to note that there’s no hard and fast law against catcalling of any kind. That said, it’s legitimate to assume Andre and Shoshana made their respective videos to raise awareness. Issues that seem small have escalated into violence, and that’s the direction Andre’s situation could be taking without proper action.
The fact that society—people—would stoop so low to essentially “call out” someone because of the characteristics of their disability is way passed the point of degrading. It’s the equivalent of calling someone out because of the way they look—or worse, listening to someone as they point out unflattering features of that person, when that person already knows they possess those features.
It’s like rubbing salt in a wound. The more you expose it, the deeper the wound gets. There’s little to no room for healing because all you’re showing others is the negative side. If there is a positive slant—as there are in Andre and Shoshana’s stories—you can use it to perhaps raise awareness or take action that will hopefully benefit everyone.
It’s true that a disabled individual’s differences may be more prominent or noticeable than an able-bodied person’s or even that of another disabled person. However, that observation makes that demographic of nearly 80 million people more accessible to experience some form of harassment.
I think catcalling has been considered OK for so long—perhaps even “normal” to some degree—because many already base their opinions on physical appearance without thinking or even knowing they’re doing it. It’s difficult to fully correct because the demographic of disabled individuals is the same as everyone else in the fact that they’re different.
Women have long been the target of this growing issue—but many men are now finding themselves the victim. With the addition of that 80 million people, it only widens the field—proving that anyone and everyone can be a victim.
There comes a point in life where one needs to ask themselves, “Am I doing enough?” I think it’s high time we as people—as a nation—step up and do more than what’s expected or asked of us. It’s never too late to start treating others the way we’d like to be treated.
Photo Credit: Andre H. Arruda/AP