In Bullying Facts, Harassment

To Catcall or Not to Catcall, What is a Catcall?


I’m sure a lot of women – especially those who live in bigger cities – have been the target of this kind of thing. The catcall is an act that a person will do – generally a male person – when he wants to get the attention of another person – generally an attractive female person. This kind of behavior is generally considered to be rude, offensive, and potentially threatening, in spite of what defenders say, that the behavior is in fact intended to be a flattering compliment to the woman that they are focusing their attention upon. The problem with this is that women do not necessarily wish to be accosted on the streets by compliments or whistles from strangers. Read in further to understand the history, the defense, and the damage of the catcalling behavior.

Catcalls definition

The word “catcall” has two definitions for which it is most known. The first is an older and currently less-used one:

1 – a shrill whistle or shout of disapproval, typically one made at a public meeting or performance.
While this was once a common use of the word, people generally recognize this definition as being the modern usage of the word catcall:

1 –
make a whistle, shout, or comment of a sexual nature to a woman passing by.
“they were fired for catcalling at women”

Here are some examples of terminology involved in or related to the word catcall:
• Cat call whistle
• Wolf whistle

These are both described as a sharp whistle, typically performed by men at women while they walk by on the streets. The whistle is as shrill and loud as it is annoying, and is generally viewed as poor behavior, no matter the kind of person that you are. Not only can it be viewed as disruptive, it’s often considered to be disrespectful. It used to be a lot more common and widely accepted – media would often portray it as a “positive compliment for women” – but more and more, it’s being revealed as what it actually is.

Why people tend to catcall

Generally, people will catcall others because they want to get their attention. This is most commonly observed as behavior performed by men at women when they pass by.

Why people consider catcalling to be offensive

As much as people want to say that catcalling is meant to be flattering, many people – women who have been catcalled in the past in particular – consider it to be offensive and highly misogynistic. A lot of people who feel that catcalling is not offensive argue that the behavior is not an attempt to objectify women, and that the people who catcall are – in large part – trying to be friendly to passersby. The rebuttal to this argument is largely that if that were so, they would not be so strongly focusing on women like they do. If the culture of catcalling was indeed not focused on cisgender women, people would not so disproportionately discuss catcalling as a problem that women experience on the streets.

A study that a woman conducted, wherein she walked around New York City for 10 hours (off and on) showed over 100 men had cat called her as she ignored them. Various situations shown in her video documentation of this behavior shows a variety of things, including – and perhaps most creepy of the video – was a man who walked right by her side, silently, for 10 minutes straight.

Violence and harassment associated from denial of cat callers

Of course, the words are not quite the biggest problem with catcalling. It is not uncommon for a woman who ignores an attempt at catcalling might experience a violent attack or further, far worse harassment. In recent years, women have been assaulted (both sexually and physically), raped, and sometimes even, murdered. The reason for this is often due to toxic masculinity in men, where they feel an adverse reaction to being denied. Often, that feeling of denial leads to a feeling of rage, effectively that they had not been given exactly what they wanted. To them, that catcall was intended to be a flattering compliment, and how dare she deny him the satisfaction of a response.

Physical violence is not the only thing that can occur, of course. When this person is denied, they might follow up with an attempt to guilt trip the person. They will say things such as –

• “What, am I too ugly to get your attention?”
• “So I guess you’re just a lesbian.”
• “Are you too good for me then?”
• “You’re too ugly for me anyway.”
• “If I wanted to have you, I could have you whether you wanted it or not.”

These kinds of comments are emblematic of why they interact. It’s typically a shield for their ego. The first one is an under-handed way of criticizing the person who ignored him, suggesting that he believed that he was ignored in spite of his behaviour, and that she was just superficial. The second one focuses on the belief that the only way for women to not care about him is because they are actually just mentally disinterested in them.

The problem with this, of course, is that people who are gay or lesbian do not generally ignore people casually based on sexuality, and implying such a thing is profoundly homophobic! The third comment implies that the person feels that he is generally being denied what he feels he deserves, and the question in and of itself implies that the woman is not actually good enough to be “too good for him”.

The fourth, of course, is obviously offensive, and it generally exists to sooth a massive ego of a man who pretends that he was doing the person a favor by offering her the “opportunity” to be acknowledged by him. The final comment is awful and horrid for obvious reasons. He’s trying to instill a fear in her – a fear that, if she ever denied a man acknowledgment, she would suffer for it.

A lot of this kind of thing seems like it could be exaggerated, but it really is not. I know people who have ignored people calling for their attention because they were in an injury, simply because they felt that the person was trying to catcall them. While one might immediately think “well that’s her own fault,” it begs the question, if the catcall may cause people who are seriously injured or in great peril to be ignored because their yells are being lumped in with the yells of people checking out a woman’s body, catcalling hurts more people than just the person being targeted, does it not?

The behavior creates a more anti-social approach to others, in a society that already encourages people to mind their own business when walking around in big cities. People tend to overlook others, while others who do pay attention to others are only doing so not because the person is interesting to them, but because they are attractive. This kind of bad attention that a woman can get only furthers the desire for women to not engage with people, and creates a society of people who simply want to get onto their merry way and never interact with one another. It’s depressing is what it is.

Further examination of toxic masculinity in men

Masculinity is often the behavior that inspires men to perform things such as catcalls, and toxic masculinity – as discussed – is a large part of why people become aggressive when their attempt at getting their attention. Now, the question is why toxic masculinity in men is as common as it is, and what all it can inspire in men. Well, the popular theory of what causes toxic masculinity to manifest in people is that from an early age, boys are taught that they can get whatever they want due to their status as boys. While a lot of the opportunities are given to them as a result of incidental societal circumstances, it cannot be denied that education, jobs, and generally any high statuses in society favor men more than women. While women are given a certain degree of priority in certain professions such as health sciences, other jobs – such as management jobs, non-health science jobs, technology jobs, math positions, and the like.

In closing

Despite the defense for catcalling as simple flattery, cat calling is generally considered to be anything but. As demonstrated in the above sections, women who are catcalled or who receive a wolf whistle have a lot more done to them than simply made to feel annoyed, they actually have to fear for their lives. So the next time you or one of your friends decides to toss out some catcalls at women, considering how they might feel about it, having likely experienced either mental or physical abuse from the people they have already ignored in the past.

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