Ever since I had a conversation with my guy friends about catcalling, and they told me it surely wasn't as bad as I thought, and insisted I "should be grateful I'm receiving so many compliments," the issue has weighed on my mind and my heart. It is difficult for outsiders to truly understand the experiences of others, Especially if they are guys. My guy friends dismissed my concerns on the topic, and all because it had never happened to them. They simply don't understand. A few of them even admitted to catcalling and yelling things at women on the street. I want to break it down for all of you who still don't get it. I want to make it clear that street harassment is a display of so-called power and entitlement that elicits fear and establishes a sexist power dynamic. Catcalling is not a compliment in any way, shape or form.
A compliment is the barista at Starbucks telling me they like my nail polish because it flatters my eyes, a compliment is not a man staring at me and making the "psst psst" noises you make when you summon a cat or literally woofing at me as I walk by. I'm not an animal, I don't respond to noises or pet names. So, why do you ask, would someone be so inclined to feel the need to do this?
The street harassers feel entitled to my body, my time and my space. I try to ignore them and look straight ahead, but sometimes by reflex I look at them. Here's the interesting part; sometimes you have the men who know they've done something insidious and they'll look away with a smug grin. They get their kicks from this, they feel powerful making you feel small. This is the best representation of their power, they just want to shake you up, exhibit their control over you. The cheeky grin says "I'm entitled, you're an object for my consumption and I can use you all I'd like... what are you going to do about it?"
Other times, you get the men who will stare back at you. This is especially unnerving because these could turn into the men-who-follow-you-down-the-block. I want to emphasize how incredibly terrifying this is, for someone following you and possibly shouting obscenities and comments about your body while you're just trying to get home. A man on the street once said something about my ass and threatened to sexually assault me while I was out with a friend, tell me why I should be flattered and grateful for a "compliment" like this?
Street harassers and street harasser sympathizers
You are not entitled to my body. It is mine and mine alone. I deserve my space on this Earth just like everyone else, I don't exist to be ogled at, as a joke between you and your friend, whispering to them, "hey watch this."
A compliment makes people feel good, it is given in a positive light and is meaningful. A compliment does not make the other person feel terrified, powerless, and threatened. Street harassment makes me feel violated and as if I had no control over my own body, and the fact that men tell me not to worry because it's just complimentary, minimizes my experiences and adds fuel to the fire that is rape culture.
I'm not saying every man catcalls or harasses women, but I'd venture to guess that at least once in their lives a man has been witness to this type of harassment. If you're with your friends and they say something to a woman on the street, CALL THEM OUT. It is so important to correct this behavior, especially coming from another man because they seemingly respect each other, and there is an equality of power. I realize the constructs of masculinity often prevent males from challenging their friends because they want to appear "manly" and dominant, but we have to move beyond that. We need men to help end rape culture, we need men to speak up and acknowledge the mistakes of others.
Tell me my shoes are super cool or my makeup looks dope, but for f***ks sake, stop telling me to smile!