From time in memorial one form of catcalling or another, is something women have had to endure. It is however apparent that in recent years catcalling has become more aggressive, more vulgar, and more offensive.
While the definition of catcalling varies from dictionary to dictionary within the context it can be defined as:
StopStreetHarassment.com defined gender based street harassment (catcalling) as “unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent, and is directed at them because of their actual of perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. It goes on to state that street harassment includes unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no.
Statistics show that 65% of all women and 25% of all men experience catcalling. Statistics also show that this is an issue that mostly affects women, especially women of color and members of the LGBTQIA community.
Catcalling is extremely complex and controversial in that many don’t seem to understand the seriousness behind it. Some view it as simple flattery; while victims of it know all too well that this is far from the truth. It is a practice that has left many women feeling objectified, sexualized and often times victimized. Many believe it’s harmless because it’s so deeply ingrained in cultures
If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve been subjected to these unwanted/unsolicited comments. From suggestive commentary to vulgar words being thrown your way, the reality of being objectified is evident.
Of course we have to be objective. Not all women find it offensive. Some actually don’t mind it or find it flattering and empowering. Whether you find it flattering or offensive, catcalling is a subculture in many societies.
As many of my readers know I recently embarked on a weight loss journey and I’m 12 months in now. Gym, healthy eating, I’m doing it all. In addition to this I also decided it would be beneficial to walk or jog daily to further improve my fitness levels. I usually do about 2km per day.
This was all good until I began encountering various acts of catcalling. Being victimized by it was what it was really.
First it was the occasional group of men hurling sexual comments my way accompanied by whistling. Then it was the predatory men slowing their cars down beside me to grace me with unsolicited details about my body and what they would do to me if they had the chance to.
“HEY BABY! LOOK AT THAT ASS”
“I COULD FINISH YOU IN MY BED TONIGHT”
“LOOK AT THAT BODY. COME OVER I SHOW YOU WHAT I CAN DO”
“EY! MAMI! WHAT’S YOUR NAME? MY GOD THAT BODY”
“COME HERE I GOT SOMETHING TO SHOW YOU!”
“FOOLISH GIRL. ARE YOU TRYING TO IGNORE ME? OR MAYBE YOU’RE DEAF AND DUMB… EVEN BETTER: SHE CAN’T SCREAM”
“YOU DON’T NEED TO RUN. YOU’LL LOSE THAT SEXY BODY”
I was shocked, then I ignored it. But ultimately I felt genuinely disgusted and victimized. All I wanted to do was exercise, but instead I got a huge dose of sexual harassment with a side of disrespect. It also left me kinda fearful. I even resorted to baggy clothes praying these men would leave me alone. They didn’t.
Through all this I wondered what these men got out of this. What cognitive process occurs for one to think it’s okay to victimize someone and then call it admiration? Some even go as far as to call it flattery.
“It’s just a compliment, relax!”.
Sexualizing someone to the point of making them feel like an object isn’t okay! Let’s also acknowledge that this isn’t just happening to women, but young girls too.
According to researchers with anti-harrassment group iHollaback and Cornell University, 84% of females have been catcalled by the time they reach age 17.
13% of women are exposed to it by age 10.
From a young age it’s implied that girls are sexual objects to be preyed upon. Society tells them it’s okay, it’s flattering, and it’s all part of being a female. You should want men to want you! But here’s the thing, there’s a difference between a compliment and harassment. If a woman is going about her business she should not have to fear or dread “attention sessions” from the opposite sex.
In hindsight people seem to forget that street sexual harassment is a part of rape culture because it can and often times has escalated from a few comments to stalking, harassment, physical harm, and even murder when women choose to ignore advances.
A number of social media anti-catcalling campaigns have been established to help raise awareness about the issue but few of which (to my knowledge) came from African countries. The one country that seems to be vocal on the issue is South Africa. But, 1 out of 54 countries? Not great. As African women we experience just as much heckling as women elsewhere, but so few of us are willing to speak up against it.
Why? Because we have the extra pressure bestowed upon us within a patriarchal society which gives men a pass to say and do as they please because it’s said to be in their nature. While women in general are told we should be flattered; as African women it’s even more so because culture dictates that it’s an expression of admiration which is may come in handy for finding a husband among these so called ‘admirers’. The ultimate goal right? Yeah… I think not.
An extensive Cornell University study in the US found that nearly 80% women reported changing their clothes out of fear of being catcalled. That’s 80% of women being forced to be accountable for their own sexual harassment. All of the sudden the anxiety kicks in. Not only do you have to change your clothes, but now you have to assess your surroundings, avoid eye contact and basically do anything in hopes that maybe you can get where you’re going without being objectified.
Catcalling essentially establishes dominance; leaving the woman to either take it in her stride or be victimized. A position no woman should really be put in. It’s a clear display of misogyny putting the woman in a powerless position. A fearful position. What does a woman do? Fight back? Take on a group of men and risk being harmed? Why should she even have to?
There’s a saying in South Africa that goes “Manwana o tshwara tipa kabogaleng”. Translated this means “women hold the sharp end of the knife”. This saying clearly depicts the power play between women and men, and how women are forced to the disadvantaged side of things. This applies heavily to the sexual assault of women. Being forced into a painful powerless position, and being forced to endure. What many people fail to realize is not only is catcalling an annoying form of sexual harassment, but its psychologically damaging. The more we tell young women and girls to ignore it; the more we place their hands around the sharp end of the knife.
My experiences with catcalling left me extremely frustrated. I didn’t realize just how much it affected me, until I was inspired to write a free verse poem about my catcallers (refer to previous blog post Dear Mr Catcaller…). It was then when I realized- you know what, this is unacceptable.
In a world that’s becoming more “woke” and progressive, why are we still condoning this? How is this okay.
To be honest I don’t know if things will ever change. I’ll probably continue to be catcalled every day as I go out for a jog/walk but one thing is for sure I will speak up. This African woman chooses not to accept that her objectification is normal, but instead chooses to raise awareness. Why? Because I dream of a time when women can just go about their business without being told to smile or how nice their ass is. What a wonderful world that would be!