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The In’s and Out’s of Catcalling

Catcalling– creepy or a compliment? You know I have yet to experience catcalling that felt the least bit complimentary. In fact I generally find myself wondering what possessed the guy to think the comments would net good results, or I get annoyed enough to tell the guy off for being disgusting. On occasion (like when they say this nasty shit while I’m walking with my kids) I contemplate violence as a response. I’m having a hard time buying the idea that these guys don’t know catcalling is a bad thing. They know it, they just don’t want to stop acting this way because they enjoy making women uncomfortable. I’m also a little perplexed by the women that feel the catcalls let them know they’re attractive. Is that low self-esteem, lack of functional men in their lives, or something I’m missing completely? Talk to me about catcalls and how they make you feel. How do you respond? If you’re a guy, do you catcall? Why?

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

114 thoughts on “The In’s and Out’s of Catcalling”

  1. Lisa says:

    sorry for all the typos in my post.

  2. Mia says:

    I think this is bullshit and being hyped up way more than it needs to be by some. I mean I’ve walked out the door with a kid in one arm and in a sweat outfit and im still getting hollared at. Yes it gets annoying but it’s pretty much always going to happen so get over it- just ignore it like I do. And fyi some women are looking for that reaction- and its not SUCH A FREAKIN BAD THING to be checked out. It’s not when they’re looking thats the problem, it’s when they stop looking- thats when you can worry.

  3. woman from NOLA by way of Detroit says:

    Rhonda is speaking of a cultural charm. I miss it from the south. I miss eye contact when I walk down the street and I miss greetings.
    I miss people acknowledging the grace/god/light/spirit/humanity in me.

    Most males (& females & GLBTQ have been guilty of it too) know when they are being charming verses when they are being offensive.

    When making comments to a passerby, one presents as either a charming person or a predator. In some cultures it’s more natural and a lot more charm occurs. In others (like Detroit) it’s not common to speak to people you don’t know as you pass by them. You’re less likely to get or expect charm….

    Reactions vary from person (perception) to person.
    The elderly Italian man serenading is music to one persons ears and terror to another’s. In most cases the difference between harassment and sweetness is pretty obvious (to me anyways).

  4. Angel H. says:

    Why are black women so nuts(Yes, I do have black female friends who are kind, gentle people), but more often than not black women have this nasty, evil streak.

    Yes it gets annoying but it’s pretty much always going to happen so get over it-

    Hello, Monday.

  5. Veronica says:

    In fact, there is tremendous power in being feminine, kind, and ladylike — in fact, men are afraid to degrade or cat call such women.

    So if men mistreat you, it’s your own fault for not being feminine and ladylike enough. Victim-blame much?

    Imagine the startlets of golden age of Hollywood — who held themselves with dignity, class, and respect. Men wouldn’t dare.

    You don’t know much about the golden age of Hollywood, do you?

  6. Angel H. says:

    Imagine the startlets of golden age of Hollywood — who held themselves with dignity, class, and respect. Men wouldn’t dare.

    You don’t know much about the golden age of Hollywood, do you?

    Two Words: Fatty Arbuckle.

  7. Lisa Hanson says:

    I get mistaken for Indian all the time, and it confuses me how only black and hispanic men single me out for cat calling only the street. If there are scantily clad white women, black women or even latin, they target me.

    It would be an exercise in futility to say its my “lack of confidence” or “clothes” I’m convinced its my skin color, which is a light tan.

    One possibility is that they think I am latin and latin women are not as upset by it but it is really embarassing for me being singled out amidst all these half naked ladies, then they the women start to leer and- if there are females around they stare at me and not at him.

    Most of the time (greater than 50%) there is so much resentment and aggression in their voices and eyes. I wonder if its because I am a professional.

    I don’t know why its just these two races, the only exception is when its in a professional environment it shifts to Jews but then again my superiors are rarely black or hispanic and I rarely work with them and I am harassed by any doorman and security guard on my way up!

    -I am not racist or anti-jew, these are facts. If any one has had similar experiences please write them here, I would love to hear about it.

    These are my feelings I’m not trying to hurt anyone BUT I wish at least these men would respect a conservative woman who doesn’t have all her goods hanging out and call out the others who do – at least stay away from someone who is making an effort to avoid your eyes.

  8. invisiblegirl says:

    Catcalling is interesting. First off, I never get cat-called (I live in Indiana) and I feel so unattractive. I lived in NYC and modeled, was an NFL cheerleader and I still look the same as when I did that (at least that’s what people say). Then I see other women getting attention and it makes me feel like, “what do they have that I don’t”? Do I not have any appeal? I now realize that it’s not about being attractive or pretty. I was walking down the street behind Nicole Aire Parker (the girl from Soul Food with light eyes married to Boris Kodjoe) and not ONE man said anything to her or so much even looked her way, and she is 10x more beautiful in person. I also saw a former Miss USA and the same situation. So I don’t feel so unattractive but it is embarrassing when the very women who try to put you down get the attention from men.

  9. Arielle says:

    Wow. I just spent a really long time reading this.

    Clearly, ignoring men doesn’t work. That’s what most of us do, and I think it only goes to create further barrier between positve male/female communication. A man whose feeling powerless and ignored will only step up his attempts to get power and attention, and That is not safe for anyone. So on the street, I figure, body language and nonverbal communication count, and if I’m dressed nicely, I expect and try to be mentally prepared for comments. If they are nice comments, I smile, maybe laugh, and say thank you; if they are borderline and make me feel on edge, I flash a peace sign. If they are dis-resectful, but not threatening(like he’s putting on a show for his buddies) I try to think of something quick to put him in his place(“I’m telling your mama” “Expect a sexual harassment lawsuit tomorrow” “I don’t swing ugly”. The vast majority of comments/catcalls that I receive fall under one of these categories, and I try to respond with something that doesn’t encourage him to keep up agressive or threatening behavior, so obviously my response varies with the situation.

    In rare occasions (and they definetely do happen) when I feel very threatened, I try to leave the scene as quickly as possible, or alert someone else that I’m being bothered.

    But in larger society? your bets as good as mine.

  10. Katharine says:

    I know it’s way after the fact, but I feel like the discussion here is one of the best I’ve found on the internet about the subject.
    Some interesting tidbits from my own experience:

    I am a very north-European young woman. I generally dress fairly conservatively but fashionably, simply out of my own preferences and because of my own comfort limits.

    That said, I often eat lunch and buy groceries in a lower middle-class black neighborhood near my office — things quite literally cost half as much there. Men of all ages give me a non-leering ‘I find you attractive’ look and a “How’s it goin’ miss?” I feel comfortable chatting with older african-american women at the lunch counter because everyone just seems to talk to each other more, and in general perceive the increased contact with strangers as positive and a sign of community. However, it perplexes me that the same young man who can oggle me politely feels compelled to shout “Hey, HO! nice jugs!” at the woman of color down the block who is dressed exactly the same way as me. Do I somehow deserve respect more than her? Is there some sort of fear that if you treat a white woman wrong, you’ll pay, but it’s OK to disrespect a young black woman because she’s ‘yours?’ I am very ignorant about this subject and honestly want to know, because it just doesn’t fit together for me. Why isn’t this hostility aimed at me?

    Note 2: I walk/ride my bike quite a lot, and I definitely experience what an earlier poster called ‘People Shouting at me That I can’t See.’ It happens MOST when I am dressed professionally (Read, dark jeans and buttoned-up shirt, pocketbook rather than backpack), and is generally angry and threatening from the get-go. I get ‘Slut’ a lot, and ‘Cocksucker,’ but more often repetitive honking. (I thought honking meant ‘You’re obstructing traffic’ or ‘Get out of my way.’ or ‘Danger!) The man in question is always speeding away as he does this. I’d like it if one of them slowed down so I could give him a piece of my mind.

    Another thing about demographics: I live halfway between some apartment complexes with a lot of poor people of all colors, and the ocean-front property with yacht yards. Most people in my neighborhood, however, are simply middle-class — and yet it is never the guy in the late-model sedan who does this.
    It is pretty much always a bunch of guys in a rustbucket, or a single male in a nicer car — mostly guys in their 30’s from what I’ve been able to tell, some with prepubescent daughters in the passenger seat.

    I honestly take a pretty lighthearted view about whistles and even a carload of teenagers saying ‘hey beautiful,’ but the fact that the VAST majority of these calls are either overt, undisguised insults or hostile-sounding shouts convinces me it is, in fact, some sort of power issue; that the goal of these men is to attack me or put me down in some way to reinforce their own floundering self-image.

    I’m still hoping for a fortuitous red light so I can put a brick through some asshole’s tinted windows, though. It would do wonders for my sense of personal security.

  11. Golden Silence says:

    but I’m wondering why so many of my sistas get annoyed at brothas who look at them, or even say hello to them? I’ve been close up on situations where a brotha simply greets a sista, and she barely says a word…

    Sometimes us “sistas” want to be able to go about our days without some random “brothas” getting in our space and imposing themselves on us. Personally, I know I look good and don’t need random men on the street telling me such. I don’t need their opinions of me. What I do need when I’m out and about is to be left alone.

    Catcalling is disgusting and vulgar. I don’t want nor do I need to know what’s going on in these men’s minds. They need to keep their nasty thoughts to themselves.

  12. Golden Silence says:

    However, it perplexes me that the same young man who can ogle me politely feels compelled to shout “Hey, HO! nice jugs!” at the woman of color down the block who is dressed exactly the same way as me. Do I somehow deserve respect more than her? Is there some sort of fear that if you treat a white woman wrong, you’ll pay, but it’s OK to disrespect a young black woman because she’s ‘yours?’

    I don’t know why this happens this way. I’m a Black woman and the bulk of my most aggressive harassers are Black men. I rarely get catcalled that badly by White men or men of other races. In the rare moment that a White man catcalls me on the street, all I need to do is give a scathing look and he gets nervous and intimidated. With my Black harassers, they don’t back down when I respond back…they get loud, violent and aggressive. I do sense that a lot of Black males who harass Black women think that we’re on par with the women in vulgar rap videos and that we’re not worthy of any form of respect. We’re the lowest rung on the totem pole to them.

  13. Lisa says:

    I just wanted to give a shout out to Katherine 6/17 in her thought provoking and deeply insightful post in what she noticed about the differences between herself and women of color. I too have witnessed this myself but not many people have. In fact I see it as sort of a reverse racism

    The men engaging in this behavior most likely see themselves as not deserving of respect, hence, they see colored women in much the same way as they view themselves. If they only knew it.

    Now if we could only get gay black males to harass heterosexual males and let them see how good it feels, oh and this includes the colored males “getting it” worse.

    Just a thought.

  14. rissa86 says:

    WOW all this information was intensely interesting.

    I hope I’m not to late to add my two cents but I got a pretty good history with cat calling.

    As a young teen, I would go places where I knew I would receive this treatment because to me it told me if I looked attractive. Growing up boys didn’t write notes or or talk to you personally, The would holla from across to the street. If you where a bad ass you’d holla back ” meet me half way”, but if you didn’t respond you would get cussed at. I always equated it attractiveness because I would receive more of it when I would press my hair or wear a weave, but the same natural styles that got me called ugly in school didn’t get it as much.

    Also I have very curvy figure. So when most young girl where stuffing there training bra I had a solid c cup with the hips to match. All through my teens I received a lot of sexual attention that made me uncomfortable. While I wanted to be considered attractive, It would straight fucking scare me to have a guy all over me in that manor. I have never been abused but to this day I find it very threatening when men come on too strong even if they aren’t intending to harm me. Fortunately for me, my mother required me to dress conservative and that held a lot of it off, but I have often been followed by men in cars, and had to deal with men masturbating while watching me in publi( twice ) as well the cat calling.

    One crazy time I was 17 and feenin for a cheese stake at lunch. I was cheerleader and had to wear my uniform to school that day. I figured that I could hop on bus and walk back so I wouldn’t be late. After getting off the bus I stood next to an older gentleman waiting to cross the street and out of nowhere he screamed ” PUT YOUR EYES BACK IN YOUR HEAD!” I was terrified!! He quickly apologized and explained that he was talking to this truck driver that was staring at me like was gonna get out the van and come at me. The man told me that had to daughters my age and he hoped that someone would do that for them if necessary. That day I walked back to school on the backstreets and I never wore my cheer skirt to school again.

    I never thought of catcalling as abuse or harassment, just disrespect until I got older. It was like “aye we ain’t in middle school anymore. MAN UP!” When I lived in Miami it was much worse. There it was harassment. Often I would order food to not have to leave my apt because of it. for 4 months I was being followed by a young Cuban guy. I think he was on drugs and maybe homeless. The last time I saw him he kissed me while my head was down stepping on to the train. I felt totally violated. When I reported it to the police, they said because I didn’t know his name or where he lived I couldn’t file a report, and was told to call 911 if he bother me again. I was rattled. I didn’t go to work the next day and walked a back street to get to the bus to go to work or school for quite some time. One Latin woman said it was just how Latin men were, but this discussion makes me question if it’s just how they are allowed to behave?

    On a happier note I had good experience around 14. I was walking home from the grocery store when this group of boys sitting on the porch decided to start calling at me. As you usual I sucked my teeth and ignored them, but then out of nowhere a little boy popped out of the crow an started singing at the top of his lungs. I stopped and watched him dance and sing the song “I like” by Sammie. He was sooo cute! When he was done I blew him a kiss and he looked at the older boys like ” Now what bitches?!” and proudly walked back in the house. To add insult to injury I laughed hysterically at the older boys. It was hilarious!!

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