Hands up for my ladies that have been cat-called at, at least once in their lifetime.
The very first experience I can remember of being cat-called happened when I was barely fifteen, in a foreign country, on holiday with family. I’d just been walking a little behind the rest of them, when three young men who were about to walk past me paused in their steps, and offered a couple of winks and a few supposed words of flattery.
I remember being weirded out by it, but not much of anything else.
It was only as I grew older, as my womanly body developed, that I started getting more of this unwarranted attention. And my initial feelings of discomfort mingled with curiosity eventually morphed into a mixture of disgust and rage at the gall of these men who believe that cat-calling should be considered as a compliment.
Obviously, not all men believe this to be the case. But this doesn’t excuse the ones who do.
If it’s not clear yet that cat-calling should never, in any lifetime, be considered as a compliment, let me attempt to convince you with five simple reasons.
1. It’s not flattering
Do not tell me that calling me “sexy thing” and wolf-whistling at me as I walk past you is supposed to be taken as an actual compliment. Do not tell me that you were merely trying to make me “smile” and do not tell me that I should be grateful that somebody even took notice of me.
I did not ask for your sleazy, lustful, unsolicited attention. I did not ask for you to comment on any part of my appearance. I did not ask for any of your seemingly flattering opinions regarding what I chose to put on my body.
2 It’s humiliating
I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but most of the time, I put on an outfit that makes me feel happy, and not as some sort of tool to seek attention, especially unsolicited attention. Personally, I find it incredibly humiliating that you would single me out and make me aware of your presence, as you holler disgusting words aimed to make me feel, what, wanted? Lusted after? Complimented?
Your cat-calls were unwanted from the very moment you thought to open your mouth and scream obscenities you claim are praises at me.
3. It dehumanizes
Cat-calling dehumanizes the person that’s being called to attention. I am not my rear end, or my chest, or any part of my body that can be reduced to a mere piece of flesh. When you call out a part of my body and attach a seemingly flattering remark to it, you reduce me to become lesser than human, like I’m simply a piece of toy used for your viewing pleasure.
4. It takes away control
I have never felt more helpless than when I have to walk past a group of men and wonder, “Will they stare at me? Will they leave me alone?” even as I speed up my pace and keep my head bowed, completely conscious of the stares.
When men cat-call, they’re issuing a notice that my body doesn’t even belong to me anymore. That my body is now a tool to be used at their own convenience. Cat-calling effectively takes away whatever control I had over my body, because it pushes someone else’s opinion about my appearance onto my thoughts without my permission.
5. It’s terrifying
It’s a bucket of iced water sluicing down your back.
Once, I was walking back to my apartment after some grocery shopping, and as I was standing at the edge of the street, ready to cross it, a car stops directly in front of me.
The window rolls down, and an unfamiliar face decked in a cap and sunglasses turns to look at me, and says something along the lines of “Hey, *insert disgusting pick up line/pet name*.”
And I stood there, rooted to the spot. Unable to move out of sheer, blank terror.
After a long few seconds of silence from my part, the man drove away, but it took me the rest of the evening to recover from that situation, until my limbs were no longer shaking.
For all of my bluster, the aloof front that I put up in stressful social situations, that was possibly one of the most vividly frightening moments of my life. And perhaps it was incredibly stupid of me to not just walk the other direction as quickly as my legs could carry me, but I don’t even know what or who to blame anymore at this point.
Myself, for standing still like a moron? Him, for thinking he had the right to do that? Society, for conditioning him to think it was okay to do that and for me to think I had no choice but to take it submissively, silently?
Let me reiterate: Cat-calling is not a compliment, not by a long shot.
To my ladies, a true compliment for your appearance does not masquerade itself in lustful attention. It comes in the way someone appreciates your worth as a person, your successes and your passion; how hard you work and how compassionate you are towards those around you, not as a mere set of curves you possess.
To my brothers, the next time you even think about pushing your thoughts about a woman’s body on her, take a step back, and maybe try to entertain the idea that she didn’t actually ask for your opinion.