Cat-Calling: Guys Performing For Guys

Men catcalling a woman

Men catcalling a woman

Women don’t catcall men. Well, rarely if ever. Now, why is that?

Maybe because no one really catcalls for the reason that would seem most obvious: to express appreciation for beauty or sexiness.

Turns out, guys are often just performing for other guys.

In fact, in some ways “she” barely matters. As one guy explained,

I don’t know if (women) enjoy it or not; that’s not the purpose of us popping our heads out.

Which explains why these guys don’t care that there is pretty much no chance of getting a positive response from the women.

“Girl-watching” is more about getting manhood confirmed by other guys, says sociologist, Beth Quinn, who interviewed 43 men and women at a workplace and a local college.

Catcalling is a game through which manhood and male superiority is expressed and affirmed as the woman becomes a thing, an object… a sex object — vis-à-vis his personhood.

It’s a game that men teach each other. One born-again Christian was disturbed when a male co-worker brought his young son to the job site and showed him how to catcall both women and effeminate men. (See, it’s not about appreciating a lovely girl. It’s about asserting your “superiority” as a man over women and gay men.)

Women fake catcalling men

Women fake catcalling men

The woman might be a peer — or even a boss — but morphed into sex object, her competence, power and humanity dissolves.

And as guys girl-watch men turn into judges — placing themselves above the “thing” being evaluated.

“Manhood” also arises as guys exhibit their heterosexuality — they’re “real men,” not gay — aiding their bond with “real men.”

But guys must avoid “undressing women with their eyes,” which suggests that the woman has power over the man. You’ve got to keep it light.

It’s not that men have worse character than women. Many — probably most — men don’t behave this way. Catcalling arises from constant pressure to prove manhood — to prove that the high status society has bestowed (by ranking men and masculinity above women and femininity) is deserved.

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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 February 8, 2016, in feminism, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. As someone who’s been the victim of catcalling numerous times in the past, I must agree with others in saying that it is anything BUT flattering! While not exactly the same, this reminds me of a game that a lot of boys in middle school and high school liked to play on girls, particularly the “weird” or “ugly” ones: a group of boys would go up to a girl when she’s alone, and point to one of their friends and say, “Hey hey, this guy likes you!” or something similar, before walking away and laughing after getting her attention. It was absolutely demeaning and insulting, and I would imagine that it made a lot of girls feel really uneasy with themselves just as it did with me.

    Getting back to the point, articles like this make me wonder: How many men who do catcall are actually okay with the action, apart from it being a sort of crude male bonding activity? And if one of the guys were to step back and call his peers out, what would they say? Does he fear being shunned more than he does throwing basic respect out the window? Just some thoughts.

    • Good questions. I can’t say for sure but I know that in many instances the men don’t want to behave that badly. Michael Kimmel found that guys often felt pressured to behave this way. But he suggested that they see if other guys seemed uncomfortable and then talk to those uncomfortable guys and band together so that they weren’t alone facing the group, and it seemed to work pretty well. it turned out that most of the guys didn’t want to behave in hurtful ways toward women.

  2. I suppose I never thought about the exact reasons of why men would cat call. I suppose I only really thought of it as a horrible objectifying act. Upon reading this article, it actually makes me feel worse about the whole thing, that women are just an object to this whole game of who is a “man” and what it means to be a “man”. I think all of us women out there have been cat called. I think I began to start realizing what was happening when I was in middle school. And, my god, how sick for men to be calling out to young teenage girls. Another thing I have noticed, is sometimes men don’t cat call but rather “ogle”. And to me, that is just as bad. I don’t think that has to do with male dominance complexes. I don’t do not think it has to do with female admiration either. It would be interesting to see what is at play in that circumstance.

    • With ogling there can be different motives. Some men just disappear into it without realizing. It’s like they’re hypnotized. It’s maybe a type of female dominance. Other men do it in an act of male dominance — if he is deliberately staring her down. So it depends on context and what is going on in his head.

  3. I agree that cat-calling is partially because men are trying to “perform for other guys”, to seem superior towards women in front of their friends. I feel that a lot of men have this superiority complex, that they need to one-up females sometimes. The cat-calling also has to do with sexism, seeing women as an object that they can just tease and taunt.
    On the subject of cat-calling, I have personally noticed that it’s usually older/mid-aged men that do the cat-calling which is quite insane. You would think that if they’re older, then they would be more educated and realize that cat-calling isn’t socially acceptable, but apparently not.

  4. This post makes a lot of sense to me. I have always wondered why men catcall women while women very rarely catcall men. Men who are in groups typically catcall women and feminine looking men to impress their peers and to assert their manliness. It is kind of scary to realize that men catcall women to show their dominance/ superiority over them. Though it is a small first step, this kind of attitude can lead to very damaging and harmful behavior. The common belief that men catcall women solely to compliment them must be smashed. In my personal experience, I have found catcalling to be frightening and irritating. I feel unsafe, belittled, and devalued as a human when I am catcalled by strange men. I really don’t enjoy being used as an object by strangers to assert their male dominance.

  5. Catcalling has a long history and is still very prevalent in patriarchal societies. It is indeed an obvious and obviously ugly version of the “male gaze,” but one which both denies women any power from sexual attraction and at the same time labels them as sex objects. It has also been, at times, used by men to put women “in their place,” subject to the norms of male-dominated societies and subject to their sense of ownership and superiority. It is a tradition passed on through generations, leading to continued subjugation of women and rendering them incapable of participating in the public sphere as true equals.

    A viewpoint based on intersectionality best helps us understand the problem in a more global perspective. In poorer countries where men struggle for the basics of life, it is perhaps not that surprising that they attempt to dominate women more. Catcalling and its direr consequences such as sexual assault, rape, and forced prostitution thrive in such environments. A similar intersectional issue exists with race and ethnicity too; subjugated minorities will most likely have a bigger problem with gender equality. The solutions hence have to be integrated into the overall equal-rights struggle spanning the many divides of humanity. This does not mean we wait for every such issue to be solved before tackling gender inequality; it does mean we look at the issue in context and work to overthrow patriarchy in conjunction with all the other divides that ail our species.

  6. Cat-calling is definitely something I have face personally. I remember one day i was walking home back from school, and some construction workers where calling for me, but it wasn’t in a nice way, it was very sexual. They used names like ” hey sexy, mami, baby, ect. I felt really uncomfortable, it was like i was getting attacked. But now i know, they were not doing it for me, it was all fun and games for them. “Catcalling is a game through which manhood and male superiority is expressed and affirmed as the woman becomes a thing, an object… a sex object — vis-à-vis his personhood.” In our culture today it seem like men are always try to prove their manliness and cat-calling seem to be one of the biggest ways for them to do that. Same women might do catcalling to but for the most part is always men. We leave in a culture that people are always trying to prove themselves to their, friends, or family. ” One born-again Christian was disturbed when a male co-worker brought his young son to the job site and showed him how to catcall both women and effeminate men. (See, it’s not about appreciating a lovely girl. It’s about asserting your “superiority” as a man over women and gay men.)” The dad felt like he had to show his son how a real man should act when they see a woman. once again he was trying to prove to his son his manliness.

  7. karina maldonado

    Cat-calling is definitely something most women have experienced at least once and it is a very uncomfortable experience. From what you wrote I can see why we feel so uncomfortable when we are being cat-called, it is because we become an object to them. They are not complimenting us, they are trying to prove other men how “manly” they are. I am Hispanic, for a while I told myself I would not date a Hispanic man because most Hispanic men are always cat-calling women. I think it might have to do with our culture, men in our culture seem to always try to prove their manliness. Maybe cat-calling is not a way to show manhood in other cultures but in my culture it is. I have two sisters and from our experiences we always seem to get catcalled by men when they are surrounded by other men. I believe this way of proving their manliness is disgusting, I think compliments are good if they are respectable but cat-calling can be uncomfortable for us. There is better ways of showing their manliness, either way I don’t think men or women should be proving anything to anyone. Let’s just be who we are and stop trying to prove our ability in being a woman or man.

  8. Very good point. I agree. Do you feel it has anything to do with genetics? Seems to me that it might be a manifestation of the impulses to dominate and to validate one’s masculinity both to himself and to others. Seems not much different than when one condescends.

    • Not all societies are, or have been, domination cultures. I’ll write more about that later.

      Of course, some individuals are more dominating than others. But it’s not necessarily tied to gender. I know, and maybe you know, many women who are more dominating than their male partners. Some of them dominate their husbands even though they belong to a patriarchal church!

      Who we are is a mix of culture + social interactions + biology, so that if the woman has a dominating personality (possibly encouraged by social interactions) she can be the dominator in a relationship even if she belongs to a patriarchal community.

  9. Interesting and makes sense that the cat calling is not about the women since often cat calling doesn’t feel comfortable for the woman who has been made the object of attention. Can also explain why it doesn’t necessarily feel like a compliment because it’s not really about her. I myself appreciate being appreciated and there is a distinction.

    • Yeah, this society does things very differently. Shows how gender is socially constructed.

      The motivation behind a beauty contest there and in the US is a little different from the motivations behind cat-calling. But you have inspired me to explore this culture a bit more.

  10. I tried to think of a more innocuous explanation for this behaviour. Couldn’t think of any.

  11. It may be harmless, but it’s an ugly first step. How far is it, really, between catcalling and gang rape. I fear that the difference isn’t audience, it’s “getting caught,” because once you’ve reduced her to an object, you’ve already stripped away the social norms.

    • I don’t think that it is harmless. The men don’t care about the women feelings. The women are pawns in a game by which they try to show their superiority by putting women down. A lot of games can be dangerous.

      I do agree with your points. Thanks for making them.

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