Sticking Sex Where It Doesn’t Belong: Cat Calls

2009 October 18
by Lizzzzzz

Sticking Sex Where it Doesn’t Belong is a series I started with this post.

I deserve to be able to walk down the street without having sex or sexuality be a part of that walk. Any desire someone else has to let me know their sexual opinion of me does not trump my right to be left alone. (some phrasing borrowed from this post.)

A typical cat call, whether it is “Hey Cutie” or something more vulgar, says basically this: “I have noticed that you look female. I like to have sex with females. I am letting you know I have noticed this.”

Cat calling (especially “Hey Cutie”) might not seem so bad to many people. But it is. It is degrading, stressful, unfair, and lacking in basic human decency. Here are some of the reasons why:

1) See italics above.

2) Cat calling (as far as I can tell)  is disproportionately done to women by men. Any phenomenon which is lopsided in this way should be examined and discarded unless it is found to have a valid purpose. Cat calling does not have a purpose except perhaps to see what kind of reaction can be provoked.

3) The history of sexual violence against women in our world makes it almost impossible for women to be anything but defensive and/or scared when they are cat called. Cat calling can also be a trigger for someone who has survived past sexual violence.

4) No one should have to worry their appearance will cause them to subjected to violence or abuse. It is a pervasive stereotype that women “invite” advances such as cat calls by the way they dress. So, in theory, if I dress conservatively, then I will not need to worry about cat calls or sexual violence. Based on my personal experiences and the experiences of many of my friends, dressing conservatively does not prevent you from being cat-called. There is no apparent way to signal that you are not interested, so the default should be for everyone to assume they do not have consent to cat call.

Over the years, I have tried various ways of responding to cat calls. Usually I ignore them. Several times, I have screamed obscenities at the person who cat called me. Sometimes, I try to politely inform the person that I do not appreciate their words. As far as I can tell, the purpose of cat calling is to see what kind of reaction you can provoke, and, on a deeper level, to make the person feel powerless. So, any reaction is actually a win for the cat-caller. However, ignoring cat calls is a bad idea because people who harass others should be told it is wrong.

The best thing I can think of is for a third party to step in. If observers of cat-calling let perpetrators know their actions are wrong, then the victim of the cat-calling is able to ignore it. If you feel safe doing so, stand up for someone else. You can do this either by addressing the situation in the moment (use caution when doing so) or by recounting the situation later and explaining why you think it was wrong.

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