Verbal harassment toward women is about control and the assertion of gender discrimination
Overall, 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment or assault in their life, according to Stop Street Harassment. This comes in the form of unwanted touching, being followed, being hollered or whistled at or vulgar gestures.
People often minimize the effect catcalling has, usually through now-tired and almost memetic clichés.
“What were you wearing?” some might ask. Or, “How late was it?”
Some may attempt to advise the recipients of such advances to simply ignore them. Such advice ignores cases of women being killed for doing just that.
As explained by HS Insider of the Los Angeles Times, the downplay of the effects of catcalling reinforces rape culture.
“Although catcalling is street harassment, it can be really difficult to report the perpetrator, which also creates the mindset of getting away with something and trying to see what else one can get away with, which can be more violent forms of sexual harassment,” author Karen Rodriguez wrote.
Even if catcallers claim they’re simply having fun or messing around, they demonstrate disregard for the safety and rights of women.
Men who catcall use the institutional power they hold that protects them from behaviors that should be seen as inappropriate. They reinforce the idea that men should hold a level of control over women and that women should be subservient. They see resistance to such unsolicited advances as a negative reaction to their exercise of that power.
“The issue of catcalling and street harassment isn’t an issue on security and protection,” Rebecca Meluch wrote for The DePaulia, the student newspaper at DePaul University. “It should be an issue on the way society shapes people to view groups of bodies as accessible and degradable.”
HuffPost published a video in which men attempt to explain why they catcall. Most of their responses can be simplified to a man finding a woman attractive and the man instinctively calling out to her. The same men who defended their behavior instantly said they wouldn’t like if women they personally knew were victims of harassment.
The attitude that men are simply having fun as long as they’re personally and emotionally removed from the victim, reinforces stereotypes of gender inequality and power dynamics. The asserting of one’s power is the real intention behind catcalling, regardless of what perpetrators claim.
These actions are far from harmless, and they are damaging to women in the long run.
“Having to double-check the people walking behind me shouldn’t be routine for me,” Paula Ortiz Cazaubon wrote for The Beacon, the student newspaper at the University of Portland.
This is why education on street harassment is necessary. It starts with holding men accountable for their behavior. Rape culture is not something to be fetishized or taken lightly.