No, Catcalling isn’t a Compliment and Here is Why…
Fairly recently I decided to take a stand against objectification of women — specifically catcalling. I used to think, like many other women (and men!), that having a random stranger commenting on the appeal of my ass to them, is a compliment. Phrases like “Sexy body!” or “Gorgeous baby” and others, would almost always be followed by a dirty head to toe scan of me, or a kissing noise. I would leave the whole staring-on-the-public-transport-and-undressing-me-with-their-eyes thing for now.
I haven’t asked for their opinion.
As I grew older (and wiser) I realised that actually those comments are demeaning and incredibly sexist — I haven’t asked for those people’s opinion on my ass, face, figure or any other body part. And no, I haven’t asked to be assessed like a piece of meat. I mean… once, while I was in severe pain in a hospital emergency waiting room, a man decided to masturbate while looking at me. If a ‘sexy ass’ comment is a compliment, then I should have been over the moon with that incident. I wasn’t. I had just enough energy though, to lift myself up and move seats so at least, I wouldn’t see him.
The dark street factor
In addition and most importantly, hearing those comments on a dark street from a group of men — made me feel threatened. And no, I haven’t been wearing sexy clothes and full make up — though even if I did — this doesn’t give a right to anyone for this kind of attitude.
Challenging the status quo
I decided to challenge those comments and overcome my own fear. Whenever I would hear those comments I would — often with my heart pounding, aware that although tall, I’m a woman who stands up to an (often physically stronger) man, or a group of men — respond: sometimes simply telling them to f*** off — which would lead to all sorts of surprised facial expressions. Once, after such instance, I was walking away and the man changed his mind and decided it’s appropriate to shout to me that I’m ugly — he continued until I walked far enough not to hear him.
Sometimes, I would ask whether they would want their mother, sister or daughter be commented on the way they had just commented on me. Sometimes, like tonight — I’d say — that I haven’t asked for their opinion. But what I’ve noticed, tonight my heart wasn’t pounding, I felt tired. And tonight wasn’t the worst of comments — it was a simple “You’re so beautiful” on a dark street late at night by a lonely man.
Perhaps it was a genuine compliment, but I worked out an automatic reaction, a defence mechanism. I’m tired to be objectified. I’m tired of feeling that in fact, I can’t wear a nice dress unless I have a man next to me. I’m tired because I know that one of the reasons why I prefer wearing headphones on the street — is not to hear the kissing sounds, and “you’re sexy” comments. I concentrate on the road ahead of me and maybe if I do that long enough, those people would understand that no, catcalling isn’t a compliment.
The other way?
There are ways to give compliments in a non-creepy, threatening way if you are a stranger and you see someone really beautiful. Commenting on an ass or breasts or body — isn’t one of them. After all, I exchange compliments with my friends all the time and none of them ever came across as creepy. Perhaps because they weren’t said in a dark alley and my friends aren’t strangers whose face I can’t see… I don’t know. I’m still figuring this whole thing out. If you have any thoughts on this — please share.
But I would like to ask fellow women — that please consider that being catcalled or having a random stranger giving you sexual comments on a street — isn’t a compliment. It’s not a compliment on your intellectual ability or your sense of humour. It’s not a compliment on your accomplishments. Heck, it’s not even a compliment on your effort with your outfit (not even once it was “Hey! I really like your dress!”)…
…it’s looking at us as a pretty object. Pretty. But an object.