Today I came across this video from Mic on why men catcall women on the street:
Unquestionably, reading about this is uncomfortable, yet experiencing it in daily life is so commonplace it doesn’t even provoke a second thought. Every interviewee defends themselves honestly and proudly – they really don’t see the problem. They don’t even think there is a problem. That’s even more problematic, but let’s stop and think about it for a second. Is it fair to men that they don’t see the problem with harassing women on the street?
The honest answer might be, yes, it is sort of fair. It’s not a man’s fault that he was raised in a society that teaches him to see women as a property that belongs to him, in the same way that it’s not a sick person’s fault for catching an illness. However, where the fault lies is with the complicity of men to refuse to see the issue for what it is – sexual harassment – and reject any possibility of change.
That is frightening.
Look at the people interviewed, everyone from an old man to a young boy on the street. “You have a beautiful body. Why can’t I say something?” This is completely logical for this man and he sees no reason to question it. Another boy is disgusted by the suggestion that this could happen to his mother or sister, but another explains it wouldn’t be his business if it happened to a woman close to him.
Let’s break this down.
Sexual harassment is any unwanted activity – including anything from physical contact to verbal remarks – forced upon someone without permission.
That means anything unwanted.
Most of us understand this to a certain degree. We generally agree that you shouldn’t run up to someone and grab them, although near the end of the video one man does exactly that – creepy – but we can recognize that he is being creepy. I wouldn’t do that, we think. At least I’m not that guy.
He’s obvious. Catcalling? Not so obvious. It seems more like a mating call, no? You know, those weird noises and rituals we see wild animals do to attract a mate. Catcalling, compliments, they’re just human mating calls, right? No. You know what a human mating ritual is? It’s called dating, and even then we’re pretty bad at it.
Dating has rules though, and it’s reciprocated.
Catcalling, shouting out “compliments” to women on the streets when they have never asked for it, have given no permission to receive it, and don’t even want it, are not acceptable. Why don’t we know this?
Perpetuation via complicity is dangerous. Also sometimes called the bystander effect, this occurs when someone goes along with an action just because… someone else told them to, or it never occurred to them not to. One man harasses a woman, and everyone around him does nothing. Then another man does. Then another. Still nobody does anything. After a while you can’t expect women to even bother trying to defend herself – she’s basically a living human trying to sneak past a zombie horde without being noticed. Doing anything to defend herself only puts her at further risk. The bystander effect compiled into the silence of an entire population. How did we end up here?
Yet we keep doing it, we keep saying it’s okay, or rather we keep not saying it isn’t okay. We love our ignorance, don’t we, because it means we don’t have to take responsibility for someone else’s pain at our gain. Why do we even give compliments? It’s not to brighten up someone else’s day, it’s to get something in return – a smile? Compliments really are selfish, but most of the time that’s okay, pretty much everything we do is in our self-interest. The problem is when we forget that and start abusing it.
Social activity promotes happiness and survival, we know this. Ergo, making other people happy makes us happy and helps us get along. Our society is built on this. Sexual harassment, however, cuts out the happiness of others and serves solely to reaffirm ourselves, completely negating the whole point of interaction and becoming nothing more than a form of ego stroking.
Is it a man’s fault for thinking it’s okay? No, I don’t think we can just put the blame on someone for accepting a behaviour they’ve simply grown up around. We can and should however blame men for the actual act of catcalling. We should put pressure on them to stop. Trying to explain that women don’t like it doesn’t seem to be working because we’re ignoring the root of the problem. These men simply don’t see how it affects women. They’re completely blind to it. You can’t point out the fault in someone’s behaviour if they don’t even realize they’re doing it. You have to show them what is happening.
So how do we do that? How do we evoke each other’s empathy, ask each other to put ourselves in a woman’s shoes? We can start by talking about it. We can start by helping women to speak out and by helping men to listen. We can share our stories. We can be understanding.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s possible.
As well, in what world is it even remotely okay to blame a woman for attracting unwanted attention by what she’s wearing? How on earth did we arrive at that conclusion? There is absolutely no justification for this. It’s atrocious.
We seem to think a few things:
- women are objects that men can use to derive pleasure
- men are not in control of their actions
- women are only in control of their actions if they act the way men want – ie. women don’t get to have agency
- men are inanimate sex robots
This doesn’t speak kindly of anyone in the human race, and yet we adhere to it like it is some fundamental aspect of our lives. We ignore it, yet embrace it. We refuse to confront it, but we complain about it all the time. We use it as a defence, and we use it as a weapon.
First of all, women are not objects. This should be a giant sign that says “duh.”
Women are people, just like… wait for it…. PEOPLE.
Second, men must take responsibility for their actions. In every other arena we know this is true. If you kill someone, you go to jail. If you do something stupid, it’s your own fault, silly. If you hit on a woman? Oh, suddenly you weren’t in control? Bullshit.
Come on, we know this is true.
Third, women are exactly the same, which means if they do something stupid, that’s stupid, but they did it on by their own personal choice. Likewise if a woman does something awesome then she gets the credit for it. If a woman gets angry at you for catcalling her, that’s her damn right to do so. She can. She should, after all, you’re doing something stupid.
Fourth, the sexual double standard cuts both ways. Society says that women basically cannot be associated with sex while men cannot be unassociated with sex. Neither is fair and both are completely arbitrary. So let’s stop it.
This is pretty brief of course, but it’s worth going over. We can trace all of these prejudices down through our social history, it’s not that difficult. For the most part we know why we do these things and we know that they are only harmful.
Alright? Did we learn something today? Good.
Now go out there and be a nice person.
But wait, I’m not done.
There’s one more problem, and this is probably the worst of all. I can’t actually tell you to be nice. You’d think that would be simple and easy, right? It’d be a great place to end this post. But I can’t.
Because most of the time, sexual harassment just ends up getting brushed off as, “I was just being nice.”
It never ends, does it?
Sexual harassment is not nice. Can’t we figure this out? Can’t we realize that unwanted sexual attention is the exact opposite of nice? Flagging down people on the street, asking them to smile for us like it’s some sort of obligation, like that person is in charge of whether or not we have a good day, is not nice.
Getting angry at someone for being confused, like they totally should, when a complete stranger interrupts their day with a demand to perform like a circus monkey for our personal gain is NOT NICE.
It is infuriating that we still have to explain this.
Stop it, just stop. Please, be a human and utilize your strength of empathy. Understand what it’s like to be someone else. Understand why you can’t place sexual demands on women just because you’re a man and you somehow are entitled to it, because you’re not. You are not entitled to the access to anyone’s body, anyone’s mind, anyone’s behaviour.
The world does not revolve around you.
Maybe being nice isn’t the answer. Maybe our linguistics have failed us and it just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe kind is a better word, maybe not. Somehow we’ve got to get through to each other. Somehow we’ve got to communicate that these behaviours just aren’t okay.
So maybe I can charge you with this: Go out there and be a person. Be all that a person can be. Be good, be kind, be gentle, be caring, be aware, be smart, be cool, be understanding, be sympathetic.
Then maybe we can be people together.
That would be pretty awesome.