Hey, Ladies -- Catcalls Lead to Gender-Based Violence! Deal With It.

Every time I think of these heroic strangers who declare their hearts' desire, I too, get butterflies in the depths of my loins. The kind that makes me wonder, “What’s next? Is this stranger going to follow me home?"
Publish date:
August 19, 2014
street harassment

Today the New York Post published a ringing endorsement for sexual harassment, entitled, “Hey, ladies — catcalls are flattering! Deal with it.” In it, writer Doree Lewak celebrates and lauds street harassment as “validating,” and “nothing short of exhilarating, yielding an unmatched level of euphoria.”

Oh, the euphoria of that daily barrage of “Can I get a piece of that ass?’ or the very fetching "Hey sexy, check out my dick/my meat/my MANhood" or the romantic and heartwarming intentions of the man who professes his unwavering love for our tits/tetas/boobs/rack/melons/funbags (yep, heard ‘em all). It’s like a serenade of sparrows really, that has us all walking on clouds on these otherwise dull days.

Every time I think of these heroic strangers who declare their hearts' desire to “lick my p-ssy” and “f-ck me in the ass,” I too, get butterflies in the depths of my loins. The kind that makes me wonder, “What’s next? Might he valiantly creep behind me on my way home, cozy up next to me and grab my ass, saying, "I like. Me want," or better yet, admire me from afar, with his pants unzipped, legs splayed and his ding dong hanging out?

These compliments, these wonderful compliments that make us have visions of sprinting home with keys between our knuckles, getting out of the subway car fast enough in order to jump onto the next one, or hey, how about that time when we were 12 and had to cut through the neighbors’ lawn in order to avoid the bus loads of boys who would say, "Damn, check out her tits!" or gesture hand/blow jobs. Those were the days.

Lewak describes the euphoria of street harassment as “female self empowerment.” Winning a debate team championship: empowering. Making a beautiful robot: empowering. Baking a killer cake: empowering.

Street harassment, on the other hand, is the cause of many misogyny-induced mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. People who experience harassment report leaving jobs, neighborhoods, and even cities to avoid harassment. Translation: not empowering.

And it’s getting worse. Over at Hollaback!, an organization that collects reports of street harassment globally, there's been a 42% increase in reports over the past two years. Their global map is almost entirely covered, with more stories popping up daily.

And why this fixation on construction workers? Are we living in a soda commercial? Let us lay this myth to rest once and for all: harassers come from all backgrounds. And repeat, ALL backgrounds - from men in boots to men in suits. For some reason, some folks also love to tell and retell that story about men of color and/or low income men being the big, bad villain/harasser or they are all too comfortable perpetuating the idea that men "over there" (you know, way over there), harass women because it’s a part of their culture and their culture only.

And that’s why Hollaback! has 79 sites in 26 countries on all the continents where you will find people. Because it happens to all kinds of people (mainly women), by all kind of people (mainly men).

Lewak is right about one thing though: Enjoying male attention doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender. But ignoring the structural issues at play with street harassment (sexism, racism, and homophobia, to name a few) makes you ignorant. And let us not forget that Lewak is a white woman -- and that people of color, LGBTQ folks, and teenagers are far more at risk for street harassment, and their harassment tends to be far more severe.

Take Islan Nettles for example, a trans woman of color whose street harassment quickly escalated into murder. Or the brutal gang rape and murder of the young woman in India -- an incident that also started with street harassment. There was nothing “complimentary” or “flirtatious” in the harassment they faced. It was straight-up hate- and power- fueled.

When we accept street harassment, either because we think it’s “flattering,” we think it’s our fault, or because we think that in the face of climate change, economic crisis, and failing schools that it’s just not a big enough deal, we’re paving the way for gender-based violence to continue.