Here I am, breaking my once every couple of weeks/diarist rule to say something about that catcalling video. The video is one thing – I watched it with a mixture of “been there” and “ugh, the world is the worst.” But that was just my experience. Then I saw a bunch of Facebook comments about it, and these made me feel two things:
1- Relief that the majority of my friends – including the male ones! – seem to understand why it became a thing in the first place, what catcalling really is, and why it sucks.
2 – A sometimes uncontrollable fury, disappointment, and exhaustion at my friends’ friends who don’t, especially the ones who say they’re just being polite and will not stop doing so just because of “some girl’s video,” or because it’s unfair when women complain about catcalling but also think it’s rude that no one holds doors for them anymore.
A friend of mine recently thanked me for not unfollowing him after all of his liberally-charged political posts (he meant in general, not involving this catcalling video). I replied that they didn’t bother me because we had the same views, I just expressed them differently. By that, I mean that I simply defriend people whose views I find offensive, backwards, or racist, but I also acknowledged that this is easier for me because I no longer live in the same city as most of these people and don’t feel as pressured to keep them on an imaginary Internet friends list in case I see them at a party or something. I’ve also begun muting people because of their friends’ comments, which sounds extreme but my god…some of you? Have terrible friends. Terrible mouthy friends who apparently surround themselves mostly with people who share their crazy ass views and that kiiiiiiiind of makes me worry about you guys.
I haven’t had to defriend anyone over the catcalling video yet, but I have seen enough comments from friends of friends to make me feel that aforementioned fury, disappointment, and exhaustion. Here’s why, taken almost verbatim from a comment I made on a friend’s page and then immediately turned off notifications:
People saying hello and asking “how are you” is just fine.
But, personally, I don’t think this is really about people saying hello or genuinely complimenting another person. It’s about the catcalling outweighing the polite sentiments by an overwhelming amount.
It’s not the polite sentiments that we [women] hear the most clearly or most often, and because of that, we get the idea very early on and on a daily basis that our bodies are public property to be commented on, and when we don’t respond in exactly the way a guy wants us to (and it happens ALL THE TIME), we’re told we’re bitches, or that we need to smile, or that we should feel grateful that we’re getting the attention.
The imbalance of unwelcome/gross comments vs. polite sentiment is so pervasive for women (starting when I was about 13 because that’s when I got boobs), I feel that we’ve conditioned ourselves to be defensive, exhausted, and creeped out.
And then I saw this compilation of tweets from Jessica Williams on Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr today, and I did the “YEAH, PREACH” nod at my computer:
Guys. Everyone. Planet Earth. Please understand this – we just want to be left alone. Please just leave us the fuck alone. Don’t insist that it’s about being polite. Don’t say that you’re just being a nice guy. Don’t ask why it genuinely upsets some of us to see a fully-clothed woman walk through New York and be shouted at by dozens of strange men. I suppose I can see why you’re confused, but please do not fucking argue with me or any other women when we tell you this:
This bothers us. It enrages us. It violates our privacy and our personhood when someone we don’t know a) feels he is entitled to our fucking attention, b) feels entitled to our fucking time, c) feels entitled to comment on our appearance or supposed sexual experience, d) feels entitled to a flattered response from the woman they’re harassing, and e) becomes angry when that woman doesn’t provide the desired response as if f) WE OWE JACK SHIT TO THAT RUDE MAN IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE.
You might think you’re being nice, polite, or considerate. And maybe you are. Maybe nothing in your brain made any connection at all to the leering apes out there who started spitting comments at me when I was a fucking child who happened to have boobs (these are the same leering apes who have laughed at “if it’s old enough to bleed, it’s old enough to breed” and should consequently be castrated with whatever rusty implement I can find in their garages). But this isn’t really about you. It’s about the women who have been conditioned to think that we have to listen and respond to whatever a man says, no matter how disgusting or intrusive it is. And let me tell you, that conditioning is lifelong. It starts early and it never fucking stops. And we’re usually afraid to challenge it, because as Gavin DeBecker points out in his book “The Gift of Fear,” “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.”
Because it’s not about being nice, or polite, or considerate. It’s not about romantic sentiment. It’s about entitlement and power. As women, we are taught that if we do not respond in exactly the way any man, whether he be genuinely polite or a repulsive pervert, wants us to, we should fear for our safety and we deserve that fear. I consider myself lucky to have never been sexually assaulted, and I consider myself lucky to live in a city where nobody speaks to anybody, thus making catcalling fairly rare. But isn’t “lucky” a fucked up way to describe that? Shouldn’t it just be “normal” to live the way a guy does, without fear that an entire populace is out there, making meat of our bodies because they think they deserve to?
This is what society tells women. This is why it is so upsetting to see people – mostly men – come to the defense of the dudes in that catcalling video. Nobody is telling you to be less polite. Nobody is telling you that you’re not allowed to talk to strangers. What we’re telling you is that we’re tired of the whole fucking world treating us like targets, we’re tired of being chastised for not patting you on the head and thanking you for the privilege, and we’re tired of you making this about what you should be allowed to say and do to women who aren’t fucking interested.
The next time you’re struggling with this, try and imagine a world in which your opinions, abilities, and privacy are less than someone else’s purely by virtue of your chromosomal makeup. Imagine that you have spent all of your years from puberty (sometimes before) and outward being belittled because of this. Imagine that you are fearful every time you leave the house. Don’t you feel devalued? Isn’t that sad? Aren’t you tired?
There. Now you’ve got it.
We just want to be left alone.