I’m not one of those ‘crazy feminist lasses who think every man is the spawn of satan himself,’ but lately the concept of guys verbally abusing gals has been circling around my brain. The older I grow, the more I notice the position of women in society and how sometimes the relationship between the two sexes is simply an inherent part of our culture. Something that I can’t even begin to understand, however, is the notion of cat-calling.
Just last week I was walking to my car one morning and was still in my clothes and makeup from a chill gatho the night before. When some guy whistled at me from across the street, I ignored the call and continued walking- head up, eyes ahead. On the inside, I couldn’t help but immediately feel embarrassed, a little bit frightened that I might have to respond if the person pursued, and even a hint of anger. Thinking back, I realise that the anger stemmed from the fact that this stranger felt a need to comment on my physique as though I was nothing more than an object to be dehumanised and broken down by my physical limitations, without individual thoughts and loving friends and favourite songs.
And that is not OK with me.
I wondered whether other people my age had the same experiences and reactions, and when posing the question I was greeted with a mixture of responses. One gal agreed with me exactly, lamenting over when a group of guys drove past her at the bus stop, winding down the windows just so they could shout their unwanted opinions about her body at her. Another friend, however, was surprised when she saw my nose screwed up in annoyance after a group of men called out to the two of us walking by a bar under the story bridge. When I explained that I felt it was disrespectful and objectifying, she seemed to have to think it through a bit, saying she had always secretly enjoyed the attention. It’s easy to take cat-calls as praise and laugh off the slight tinge of embarrassment hiding in your gut, but are they actually compliments?
According to good ol’ google, a compliment is defined as a “polite expression of admiration.” Please note: POLITE. Waiting on tables full of boys my age and having them tell me I was ‘really pretty’ is a kind of interaction that falls into a different basket to the cat-calls, considering the polite intent of the comment without any means to make me feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes I do feel confused as to what exactly I should be feeling… Should I feel OK accepting the remark from the guy at table 3? Do I really have a right to be annoyed at that guys who whistled at me? After all, that’s all it is- a thoughtless whistle.
Thanks to my legendary journalism lecturer last semester, I know the answer to that question. My lecturer set up a ‘Women in the Media’ panel full of working journalists who taught us how to deal with gender inequality in the journalism industry. A really inspiring statement that stuck with me was, ‘If you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, then it can instantly be labelled as sexual (including verbal) abuse, and you have a right to defend yourself.” I really love this tip, because it can be a struggle figuring out what’s right and what’s not.
In terms of defending yourself, while I imagine ninja chopping the guy’s head while shouting words of female empowerment at him, all I ever do is look straight ahead and keep moving confidently. What I could do, should the situation arise to more than a whistle and a few words, is throw them the finger or say a simple, ‘Don’t speak to me like that, it’s disrespectful.’
You have a right to feel however you want to about it, just remember that cat-calling is not always (cl)awesome (yeah I know, I’m hilarious).