In my previous article “Compliment or Catcall”, I addressed the issues of catcalling, why it is done, why it shouldn’t happen, and its effects on women. Which made me wonder-what happens when the roles are reversed and women are catcalling men?
Do men like the attention and respond positively to it, or do they feel objectified and uncomfortable like many women do?
Earlier this year, a shopping mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, reported 16 cases of sexual harassment of men by women, prompting outrage in the conservative kingdom. Men were followed around the mall and catcalled in a growing trend that is challenging gender roles in the Middle Eastern kingdom. Many said the women should be punished severely, to ensure that this kind of behaviour doesn’t happen again. According to one male shopper, “Women harass men verbally for emotional enticement, especially if the man is handsome.” This issue was unexpected. However, the amount of sexual harassment of women and girls still vastly overshadows the limited harassment of men, and we don’t see that being brought to light every time it happens.
Malaika Norman, a high school student from Nairobi has an opinion on this issue. She brings up an interesting idea about where this double-standard might stem from: “Some men are hypocritical in the way they do things. The same men that you will find catcalling women are the same men that if you ask ‘What if someone did this to your mother, sister, etc?’, they will be against it, as they see clearly it is disrespectful and that a woman is not to be objectified. Yet they are the same people who still do it. Does it start from the way boys are raised? And how does that play into their actions now? Shouldn’t boys [and girls] be taught to be respectful and understanding human beings in general? As the one time a woman stands up for the disrespect that men of this class dish out, we are rude, bossy, crazy feminists.”
Many social experiments have been performed in order to uncover what men think and feel about catcalling. In videos titled “Sons React to Their Moms Getting Catcalled”, “Dads React to Their Daughters Getting Catcalled” and “Men React to Their Girlfriends Getting Catcalled,” we see that the issue can hit close to home, and that most males did not like it when those close to them were victims of this disrespect. However, catcalling shouldn’t only become disturbing when it happens to someone’s mother, daughter, sister or girlfriend. Shining a light on the commonness of street harassment women experience on a daily basis (often when a male friend or loved one isn’t around) can have a powerful impact.
In other social experiments, such as “The Shame Game”, we see that flipping round catcalling doesn’t quite work in the same way. The reactions that the women conducting the experiment get ranged from confused to amused, and – unfortunately – the men seemed to like it.
So, women are in a conundrum; it is hard to explain the combination of shame and being “creeped out” that comes with frequent objectification, especially when you are trying to explain the experience to the opposite sex, and if most people of the opposite sex (i.e. men) seem to like it.
Ivan Coyote, a transgender activist, has a message for men who don’t understand that a woman’s existence in public is not an invitation for male attention. “Just leave her alone,” Coyote wrote in a status on Facebook. “She is wearing her headphones AND reading her book at the bus stop. What part of that says ‘I want to talk to you?’ She’s not dressed up for you…She doesn’t want to smile. She knows she looks good.”
So when in doubt, people of public spaces, just follow Coyote’s advice: “Just leave her alone.” We need more people to spread the word and understand this simple message. You might like catcalling and being catcalled, but that doesn’t mean others feel the same way.