Search ‘cat-calling’ and Google will instantly bring up thousands upon thousands of articles about the issue. Click on one or five and you’ll most likely find the same vein of thought – a woman’s experience in being cat-called, their feelings about it and most notably, why it’s terrible.
"How did I meet my husband? Well, he made kiss noises at me for 3 mins while I was pumping my gas… and the rest is history!" #NoWomanEver
— mäther! (@carlysintothat) June 19, 2016
In the wake of #NoWomanEver and #MeToo, the latter of which has sparked a global movement with laws deeming cat-calling as illegal in countries like Belgium and France, this social phenomenon hasn’t seemed to have gone away, to be honest. And there’s no downplaying the significance of discussing this topic; it’s a regular occurence in many people’s lives, particularly women’s – which might be one of the reasons why the issue isn’t talked about as much among men.
(Among other reasons we’ll explore, in due time.)
Full disclosure: I am a woman.
And being a woman doesn’t automatically mean I’ve gotten cat-called, but with the number of other women I know and female strangers on the Internet who have shared their own experiences, it might as well be.
In contrast with the amount of articles detailing a woman’s encounter of experiencing cat-calling, there’s a telling lack of men’s views and opinions on it. Women cat-call, undoubtedly, but while some view it as something inherently playful and harmless, there are others who seem to take it as a revenge-filled clapback at men – “If guys can do it, why can’t I?” is the underlying thought in the latter action.
This conversation has hugely revolved around like-minded women who have shared a semblance of my experiences. It’s not often enough that men are included in this conversation, when they are arguably just as big as a part in this, but rarely in the same way that women are.
That’s why I sat down with four men whose ages ranged from their 20s to late 50s, and asked them a number of questions related to cat-calling. Their names are undisclosed, but their opinions are their own. Male voices are severely missing in this discussion, and while these four men below will not come close to representing every single man in Brunei, much less the rest of the world, it’s four more male voices than before.
In your own words, describe what cat-calling means.
“Someone who cat-calls is anyone who whistles, hollers or makes a sexual comment towards an opposite sex.” – J, 27
“Cat-calling is usually the act of sharing sexual remarks or whistles that are suggestive in nature, taking form as harassment. Women are most likely to be victimised compared to men.” – A, 28
“It’s when someone tries to get a stranger or anyone’s attention by using inappropriate noises in public.” – F, 35
“It’s a gesture to attract attention by using words or phrases, which are usually flattering (‘Hey beautiful, sexy’), but can also be uncomfortable for the person they’re directed towards, like ‘Be my girlfriend, my wife!’ or ‘Wanna go out with me?’
“While it’s more common for a man to do it towards a woman, women do it as well, even if there are lesser occurrences of it. It’s also more common among younger men, but older men do it too, especially if they’re in a group of friends. Is it bad or rude? Yes and no, depending on the context and how it occurred.” – S, 58
What’s the difference between a compliment and a cat-call?
“The difference is that cat-calling can come off as aggressive, and makes the opposite sex feel intimidated.” – J, 27
“While compliments are meant to boost someone’s confidence, I feel cat-calls can make a person feel insecure or even uncomfortable. Compliments are usually personalized according to the recipient, whereas cat-calls are most often sexualised and also dehumanising.” – A, 28
“The delivery of it, as well as the context and timing.” – F, 35
“In the context of our culture, I don’t see much difference. In our community, complimenting someone isn’t always considered as something good; one, because of superstitions that say a compliment might bring a curse on someone or bring them bad luck (a lot more common among older folk). Second, a compliment isn’t always innocent either, especially because sometimes there is a hidden agenda behind the flattery. Even if we might hand someone a compliment, if there is no proper context, for eg. it’s not within your circle of friends or family, the recipient can still consider it as a cat-call.” – S, 58
Have you ever been cat-called?
“Yes, a couple of times. 90% of the time it happens at a bar and I felt pretty creeped out. The way the women did it was borderline harassment, in my opinion.” – J, 27
“I don’t think I’ve ever been cat-called before, but I have been called out on the streets due to the colour of my skin and my looks. The experience is probably similar to being cat-called, since both actions are intended to harass and instigate a reaction from myself, or a victim of that harassment. I don’t tolerate racism, so I do feel angry and upset when it happens to me. Eight out of ten times, I’d definitely react to it.” – A, 28
“Oh yeah. I just brush it off, though.” – F, 35
“No.” – S, 58
Have you ever been with someone and they were cat-called?
“Yes, especially when I’m hanging out with a female friend who is attractive.” – J, 27
“No, I’ve not been in that situation where someone I was with was cat-called. Probably because I look strong, and I assume women are probably less likely to be cat-called when they’re accompanied by a real man, lol.” – A, 28
“Yeah, totally.” – F, 35
“No.” – S, 58
Have you ever cat-called anyone?
“No, I have not. I’d feel like I was uncivilised.” – J, 27
“No, I’ve never cat-called. My mama raised me right, and I don’t find pleasure in discriminating anyone, or making them feel uneasy and uncomfortable.” – A, 28
“Not really. Momma told me to respect women.” – F, 35
“When you’re young and filled with boyish energy, there’s not much of an escape from doing the cat-calling, and the only reason for that is to be able to fit in with our friends. But there’s definitely a limit to it; there’s a difference between a friendly gesture, or purposefully demeaning the recipient.” – S, 58
Why do you think some people think cat-calling is okay?
“I think there are a lot of factors, and we can’t really pinpoint to a single source. However, things like upbringing, street culture and peer influence come into play when influencing an individual’s outlook on cat-calling. Instinctively, I also feel it’s very similar to how animals would call out to mate, but that’s a different topic altogether for another day.” – J, 27
“I guess some people, namely men, who are less civil, probably find pleasure in provoking a reaction in other people. Men are also pretty easily aroused by nature, and cat-calling might be a way for them to vent out their sexual urges, especially in a public space.” – A, 28
Cat-calling not a crime?
Although cat-calling is a form of harassment, it’s not enough to be labelled as a crime, so it can be forgiven. I think a person will only feel victimised if they take a cat-call seriously. So, perhaps the easiest way to handle a situation like that is to not make it personal. But that said, this also allows the cat-caller to continue their actions, because they can get away with easily, thanks to society’s conventions in accepting it. I mean, nobody likes mosquitoes, but they’re always going to be around.
“Because they’re uneducated sleazebags.” – F, 35
“For some people, cat-calling is a positive gesture to them but again, it depends on the context of the situation. They might think it will lead to a friendly conversation, an ice-breaker of sorts to get to know the other party.” – S, 58
Accepted as a norm?
Judging from their answers, there’s a couple of things that are common between nearly all the men above. Their definitions on cat-calling more or less echo one another, and some of them have been cat-called before. They’ve also pointed out the nuances that might lead someone to believe cat-calling is harmless, even when many (including a couple of them) feel it otherwise.
But while their answers have helped me to better understand a man’s perspective and allowed men to involve themselves in this discussion, it still doesn’t erase the inherent disgust and fear I feel when someone “makes inappropriate noises” at me and how it makes me feel “intimidated” because of their supposed “compliments”.
It still doesn’t make me feel better knowing that “society’s conventions” have accepted it as a norm.
It still doesn’t erase the fact that there are “uneducated sleazebags” who genuinely take perverse pleasure in harassing other people, to exert their unneeded opinions on an unsuspecting individual.
While I genuinely believe that more people, men and women included, are aware of how demeaning this particular brand of harassment is (not to say that any form of harassment isn’t demeaning in itself), the fact that we’re STILL having this conversation goes to show that this isn’t an issue that will be swept away easily, even with laws banning it and all. It’s rooted in the way we think and in the way society has allowed it to go on for so incredibly long; it’s reminiscent of the media we consume and the things we talk about with our peers and the lessons we teach our children.
And there’s a couple of reasons why this article is the first part of two; one, because at this point, it’s probably gotten longer than it was supposed to be, and two, because a conversation is a two-way street, after all.
Now that you’ve heard the men’s side of the topic, look forward to the second installment of this ‘Cat-Calling’ series soon, where women share their own views on the issue, and talk about their own memorable experiences with regards to being cat-called. After all, there may be a thousand articles on it, but every woman’s story is one that deserves to be heard.
Have you ever been cat-called?
What happened and how did you feel about it? We’d love for you to share your story with us in the comments below, or on our social media.