What’s Sex Got To Do With…Saying Hello?

According to www.stopstreetharassment.org, two thirds of women have been harassed on the street. In one (informal, online) study, 99% of women had experienced harassment, including the following types.

Now some of these behaviors, such as assault and touching, areobviously not okay (at least to me and most people), but some behaviors, such as whistling and comments, are considered perfectly fine and normal by many people. They that women should take catcalling as a compliment and not be offended or upset when it is aimed towards them. The problem is that a compliment is meant for the good of the person it is directed towards (ie, you have a lovely smile), and does not expect any particular response; on the other hand, a rude catcall generally objectifies the subject in an aggressive manner and is meant to elicit a response that will gratify the caller. If a guy came up to me on the street and told me my shirt was a really nice color on me, I would be glad to take that compliment and say thank you, but a wolf-whistle from a group of men would make me feel uneasy, not flattered. Catcalling and harassing women on the street is a way that some men exhibit their sense of entitlement over women’s attention and bodies.

This past summer, a trend on twitter began in response to a man who was making the argument that men who catcall just want to strike up conversations and meet women. If that was the case, men would stop pursuing the women after they show no signs of interest and women wouldn’t feel uneasy walking past groups of men alone. The hashtag #NotJustHello evolved in response to this. Many women have used this hashtag to tell their personal stories of street harassment by men who were not just trying to say hello, and really expected much more.

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Perhaps these aggressive and sexual advances towards women are one way males establish their heterosexuality and superiority. In her article “Guys Are Just Homophobic,” C. J. Pascoe explains that many boys must constantly prove their own heterosexuality to avoid homophobic insults. She asserts that “cross-gender touching rituals” are one way to do this, but they are also a way to “reinforce boys’ dominance over girls’ bodies.” According to Pascoe, “Superiors touch subordinates, invade their space and interrupt them in a way subordinates do not do to superiors…” The need to validate one’s sexual identity as straight is called compulsive heterosexuality. Perhaps this is more than that though, perhaps it has just as much to do with power dynamics. These men assert dominance over women who they view as inferior, someone they can mess with who won’t fight back. In addition, those who are not masculine heterosexual males are at a disadvantage and may be considered inferior by those who are. This includes anyone who identifies somewhere within LGBQTI. Stopstreetharassment.org says, “among men, 25% had been street harassed (a higher percentage of LGBT-identified men than heterosexual men reported this) and their most common form of harassment was homophobic or transphobic slurs (9%).” This ties in with Pascoe’s discussion of the “fag discourse;” that boys will insult other boys because of their “gendered practices and identities.” This means that they are more likely to insult and harass a boy who is less masculine than themselves, again reinforcing the idea that masculine bodies are superior. Those who experience street harassment (from whistles to assaults) are often ridiculed for “making a big deal out of it,” “not knowing how to take a compliment,” or “asking for it” in the first place. The subject is never to blame for the actions of the offender.

 Why does our culture insist on victim-blaming? What can we do about street harassment? Why do some people think they have a right to others’ bodies and attention?

 

The following is a BuzzFeed video, “What Men Are Really Saying When Catcalling Women,” meant to be funny, but also containing a little truth.

 

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