Cat Calls: Harmless Flattery?

Eyes straight ahead. Hands at your sides. Walk straight ahead. Don’t look up. Don’t smile. Just walk.

If you’re a girl or a woman, and have ever walked by yourself somewhere in a densely populated area through a group of boys or men, chances are, you’ve subconsciously repeated these steps to yourself in your head. Chances are, you’ve felt the blood rush to your cheeks and your vision become foggy as you count the seconds, maybe even minutes, until the whistles, names, and so-called “compliments” cease.

Excerpt from “We need to take street harassment seriously.” Read the rest here, (and vote on how you experience it):

I was a high-school feminist

Today I am SUPER excited to feature a guest post from the brilliant Sarah, one of my most awesome former students and a kickass feminist.

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Sarah wrote this editorial for a New York Times contest, and as much as I’m a little bitter that she didn’t win, I’m glad that I can post it here for you. Click below for her article.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 9, 2014, in feminism, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. handsomelustrousblackladbrad

    As a boy (albeit a 63-year-old “boy”),I don’t believe in cat-calling women,which seems demeaming of their personhood (and,frankly,beauty,since,being a man,I am objectifying them to the point of creepiness.)

    • Guess there is some good news and some bad news in there. I’m glad you don’t catcall. But most men seem to appreciate feminine charms without being creepy. I have faith that you could, too!

  2. That was posted on the internet:

    [Check, check, check it out:

    You’ve likely been told you’re beautiful, hot, etc. by men and boys from a young age. You’ve seen men and boys blatantly check out your body from a young age. Men way too old to be looking at you that way saying things they shouldn’t be saying. And while the media bombards you with the message that unless you’re a 5’10”, 115 pound waif, you’re fat; unless you wear Maybellene, you’re ugly; men will tell you and show you that you are, in fact, attractive. It’s been going on so long that it’s just annoying now, but it happens.

    Now, imagine if no man ever looked at you your whole life. No man ever told you how pretty you look today. You can count on one hand how many times a man has looked at you or complimented you in that way. But, dig this, the media’s still telling you you’re unattractive. The difference now is that you have constant reinforcement that they’re right, they’re absolutely right. No man truly finds you attractive, your boyfriends and lovers just told you you are because that’s what they’re supposed to do.

    That’s what being a man is like. Women don’t tell us we’re attractive out of the blue. Women don’t stare at us. And the media tells us that without P90X we’ll forever remain unattractive. And we don’t receive any contrary experiences. Girlfriends and lovers tell us we’re attractive because that’s what we want to hear, not because it’s true.]

    • That’s what being a man is like.

      And that’s what being a woman is like. For most of us.

      Why do you think nearly 80% of young women have poor body image? I’m not sure how many of those women are told they are attractive and it goes in one ear and out the other. But there is a very short time when that happens. Roughly 20s and 30s at best. And even then, an awful lot of women in their 20s and 30s still don’t get those kinds of looks and comments.

      Some, because they don’t want to be treated that way and make an active effort to avoid getting that kind of attention because it creeps us out. And we don’t like the kinds of guys who behave that way. Others, because they would be unlikely to get that sort of attention even if they tried. Many of them end up feeling bad about themselves (unless they are like the women I just described).

      Or, we have to watch ourselves being ignored while we watch the men around us look at other women that way. When it’s your partner, or someone you see as a potential partner, it’s not real fun. I’ve broken up with every guy who has behaved that way around me. Luckily, that was only four guys. I know that I have had a more positive view of men than a lot of women I know, and sometimes I wonder if it’s because I rarely attract that kind of guy — men who objectify women.

      For some reason guys with your mindset think that if they were born female they would have the sort of looks that would attract the kind of attention described in that first paragraph. It reminds me of Dustin Hoffman when he transformed into a woman to play Tootsie. He said to his make-up artists, “You made me a woman. Now make me an attractive woman,” and was told that this was the best they could do. And then he realized all of the women he overlooked and didn’t pay any attention to because they were not hot. And that he could never be hot. And he thought that Tootsie was a woman who was very much worth getting to know. After that, he decided he should expand out and try to get to know a wider variety of women.

      I very much appreciate your comment. I’ll have to write about this topic sometime.

  3. Why are there no “cat calls” from women to men?

    • From what I’ve read, guys who cat call are really doing it for guys, and not girls. There is very little chance he will get positive feedback from women. So actually, he’s demonstrating his manhood to other guys: I’m a man who likes women, I objectify women (and in that way assert my dominance — me as subject, her as object).

      Women have no similar motive. That’s not a way to prove your womanhood. And women are under no pressure to prove their womanhood, anyway. Because who needs to prove that they aren’t the superior, dominant ones?

      Thanks for the question. I’ll have to write about this.

      • A rare occasion where the case is reversed.
        In strip clubs men are very disciplined, they make no comments at all and of course no cat calls, they are pretty much silent. They don’t touch a stripper unless they get permission.
        But women in strip clubs make cat calls and scream at male strippers and they are free to touch the strippers.
        Why when some women go to strip clubs they change their behavior so much?
        Are they trying to prove their womanhood?

      • The men and women going to strip clubs are having completely different experiences. Although there is some overlap in motive. And of course, not everyone is going for the same reason — which is more true of the men.

        Men going to strip clubs may want an erotic experience. They may want to feel close to a woman sexually, in a way that they can’t in real life. They may feel lonely and want some womanly contact. Some of these guys aren’t in relationships. Others are, but their wives’ bodies no longer create a fetish effect. And it’s not that the women’s bodies have changed. The fetish is created through tension between wanting something and not being able to have it. Selectively hiding and revealing. When you have been with the same woman for a while it goes away. And that is part of the downside of objectification for women. Now her partner is finding other women more interesting/erotic than her. The strippers give her husband something that she can’t any longer, and it sucks. Other guys are doing male bonding. And in doing this, many are creating a sense of male superiority by going to a place where men are clothed and women are nude (more vulnerable), men are subjects and women are objects that exist to pleasure men.

        By contrast, a lot of women going to a male strip club are going for that last reason. They aren’t proving their womanhood, because in our culture we rank men above women. Why would you want to prove you are inferior? It’s more like they are proving their manhood — really, saying, “I can demean men, too.” Now I’m subject and he’s object. I’m wearing clothes and he is naked. A lot of other women are just doing female bonding with the girls. Your friends are doing it and so you’re going along. It’s not that erotic.

  4. This is one of the areas that easily is taken for granted. Is it a compliment if a woman feels uncomfortable, violated or anything negative? Who is the compliment for the benefit of, the recipient or the person giving it? Important to think about and be aware of. (btw- did u see the recent article about how the Tour de France winner tried to kiss one of the women on the podium and she rebuffed him and she is being called a bitch. But the US soccer player rebuffed a hug from a male fan and he didn’t seem to get any flack about it at all). Not street harassment, necessarily, but it is something.

  5. This reminds me of a single experience at the convention I just went to. I was dressed up and looked awesome. People kept wanting my picture and and I was having a blast. As I walked past a group of guys, one called out the name of the character I was dressed as and asked for a high five. I was happy to comply, thrilled yet again that my cosplay was so recognizable. As I walked away, I heard one of the guys whisper to the other, “you should get a picture of her butt.”

    I don’t know if it was the way it was said or what, but it suddenly made me very uncomfortable. They could have asked for a picture and I would have been happy to strike a pose in character. That whisper just seemed so backhanded. But I had girl friends who told me they’d love if someone said that to them and that I should take it as a compliment. I know there is street harassment that is far more serious than that, because I’ve taken the walk described at the beginning here many times. How can we differentiate between compliments and harassment when the words used for both are often the same?

    • Yeah, I’ve done the walk she describes, too.

      You mention the attitude, which makes a difference. 90%+ of communication is tone. Plus, being outnumbered, as often happens, can feel threatening.

  6. Critical Matter and we need to do the necessary!

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