I’m not flattered: The problem with catcalling

Every once in a while when I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, I see troubling things. However this past week I stumbled across a friend’s status that troubled me more than your run of the mill annoying selfie would. I saw the status of a friend–let’s just call him Joe. Now Joe, like a lot of people, watched the video that the anti-street harassment organization produced that went viral last week, and his response was essentially that the behavior displayed in the video was in some way complimentary.

When I made the rookie mistake of reading the comments on the video I realized that what my friend, along with a lot of people with a Y-chromosome, seemed to be missing is that what women are objecting to is not a simple “hello” or “you look very nice today”.

Like Joe, the consensus seems to be that “catcalling” is a form of flattery or as a commenter on the video put it, “the burden of being a beautiful woman.” Over half of women have reported experiencing street harassment or being followed in their lifetime. One in six women will be the victims of sexual violence. From whistles to the outrage over being “friendzoned,” we live in a culture where some men think that they are entitled to women’s bodies and time, and they react horrendously if they don’t get either.

Why is it considered overly sensitive to want to walk through the world without dealing with unwarranted comments about one’s body from total strangers? Why is having a total stranger follow you and tell you they’d like to see you naked supposed to be considered romantic as opposed to what it really is: uncomfortable and sometimes downright scary?

For the record, I don’t know a single couple that started with catcalling. This kind of behavior is a symptom of a larger problem, but that probably should not be all that surprising. We grow up in a world where an entire genre of movies revolve around love stories where women who say no just need to be won over with behavior that borders on stalking.

We live in a world where women’s safety is threatened for saying no. If you think I’m exaggerating, I could tell you the story of the night a group of young men followed me for two blocks because I wouldn’t give one of them my number. Although it definitely didn’t feel that way at the time, I was lucky in comparison to 27-year-old Mary Spears who was shot and killed for doing the same thing, or the 26-year-old woman whose throat was slashed for refusing to talk to a guy, and sadly so many others.

Comedienne Amanda Seales debated Steve Santagati on CNN and said, “Catcalling is not complementary. Guys think that by letting you know that they would be interested in sleeping with you, that it’s compliment, and actually it’s really just objectifying me when I’m trying to walk in my daily life.”

Instead of telling women how to dress, saying, “boys will be boys,” or encouraging young women to fluff the egos of men who are pursuing them for the sake of their safety, why not try to create a culture where men have respect for others’ humanity and can take no for an answer?