Society needs to stop normalizing catcalling

It is clear from the car honks and off-pitch whistles that have almost entirely replaced genuine conversation-starters that chivalry, at least in public, is dead. The phenomenon of “catcalling,” in which admirers find it acceptable to harass pedestrians until a positive response ensues, is a common occurrence nowadays, one deemed normal and societally appropriate by many. Whoever this unwanted attention is directed toward is beside the point — catcalling is verbal harassment and should be treated as such.

According to U.S. Legal, verbal abuse or harassment is “the use of words to cause harm to the person being spoken to.” In relation to this, catcalling has two clear stages: the first, in which the perpetrator attempts to engage their person of desire in a seemingly harmless manner, and the second, a more aggressive and graphic remark immediately following rejection of their initial pursuit. Some men skip right to the second step, explicitly stating why the women walking past him deserves his scrutiny. Catcalling blurs the lines between flirtation and aggression, makes the victim feel unsafe and takes away their right to construct social boundaries and parameters they feel comfortable with. It is in no way a compliment or token of appreciation. When catcalling crosses over from solicitation to invasiveness, it constitutes grounds for penalty.

Men can be victims of verbal street harassment, but the vast majority of victims are women. A recent study reported that 65 percent of all women have been harassed on the street, and among these women, 23 percent had been touched sexually, 20 percent were followed by the perpetrator and 9 percent were forced to engage in a sexual act. Catcalling is only the first step in a slew of inappropriate and sexual misconduct that can follow. In order to stop this habit from progressing, we must ask ourselves why we do it in the first place.

Catcalling is a clear symbol of how society views females as objects. It is hard for me to believe that these men think the idiotic propositions they make to unfortunate passersby are actually going to be effective, so why do they make the effort? It is a predator-prey relationship and the man’s way of asserting, whether to himself or to his peers, that he has the power and authority to make comments about a woman’s appearance without her consent.

But this need to objectify is not inherently ingrained in every male psyche; it is a result of how society treats women and portrays them purely as a means of sexual gratification. While men are seen for their intelligence, successes and personalities, women are commonly first valued for their physical appearance before anything else. Even women in positions of power such as Hillary Clinton fall prey to the media’s obsession with her fashion choices — God forbid someone acknowledge her foreign policy or political prowess.

This objectification of women can even be proven scientifically. A study from the journal Psychological Science showed that when participants were shown pictures of men and women in sexualized attire and positions, some turned right side up and others upside down, the pictures of males, which should have been harder to recognize based on their angle, were identified correctly, but pictures of females turned upside down were significantly harder for the audience to identify. Subconsciously, the participants were looking at women as objects and men as human beings.

This is exactly the kind of subconscious feeling that is manifested through catcalls. Although it might be too lofty a goal to attempt to eradicate this verbal harassment completely, it is our responsibility to avoid treating it as a commonplace piece of society. Catcalling is not admiration — it is a blatant disregard for one’s personal space and can quickly turn into a violent or aggressive verbal and physical attack. Continuing to make light of this subject and ignoring its worrisome origin and serious implications will only further create an unsafe environment on the streets of our communities.

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