Yeah, I can’t really defend catcalls and I tried. I told myself that this uniquely male sport is harmless fun. That it’s flattering, almost charming. Who else would shout compliments to a woman but a hopeless romantic? Besides, having a construction worker shout “lookin’ good” must appeal to a woman’s vanity, right? It’s not like a catcall has ever resulted in an actual date. If a woman ever positively responded to a man whistling, it would be like a dog chasing a car and catching it. The dude’s brain would be unable to comprehend reality shattering. While trying to craft a defense of catcalls, I found myself blaming women. Why can’t they take a joke? Or deal with a man who just wants her to know she’s hot? Women are so uptight. Feminists must hate romance, because all these roadside Romeos are doing is shouting up at a woman’s balcony. This was my train of thought.
Catcalls are funny. Unless they’re animal noises, then they’re doubly funny. Did you know that “hisssssss” is lizard for “I find you highly attractive”? I once heard a dude shout at a woman, “I want to be that sweater you’re wearing! You can hang me out to dry whenever you want!” Not bad for off the cuff. This is me taking something seriously that I’ve never taken seriously. Isn’t a catcall just a byproduct of the dating power dynamics? Men are supposed to approach women, who have the power to reject them. So a catcall is just a way of evening out the score. Every dude, myself included, has approached a woman, only to have her roll her eyes over us like giant boulders. Catcalls are just part of the fun and games that we call courtship. I even imagined a reality where women catcalled men. In that Twilight Zone, men would welcome the attention. Bask in it. We’d become preening peacocks and would probably buy tighter fitting jeans. What’s the big deal with catcalls? They’re a victimless crime. If you don’t like them, simply purchase snugger ear buds, or just stop being so sexy.
Oof. Like I wrote: I tried. But I can’t be honest about catcalls and not point out their sinister subtext.
Catcalls are a distant cousin of the racial epithet. Racial epithets aren’t inert phrases, or impolite expressions of ignorant opinion. They’re verbal weapons. In the old South, for instance, the “N” word wasn’t just hate speech. It was psychological warfare, an invisible whip and shackle that was a way of keeping a minority in its place. Racial insults are code words that either confirm membership in a specific club or, more insidiously, confirm that someone else is a powerless outsider who needs to remember society’s pecking order. Reading comprehension being what it is online, I’m going to write, for the record, that I am not directly comparing the social tactics employed by Americans to oppress generations of other Americans with what some would argue is just improper behavior between men and women. But I am writing that catcalls are unwelcome advances by men and serve an eerily similar purpose as a racial epithet, which is to subjugate the mind, which controls the body.
The irony, of course, is that power doesn’t need to declare itself. Such gambits are the gnashing teeth of impotence itself. In reality, only sticks and stones break bones. Names only hurt if you let them.
A catcall is a promise of a threat wrapped in laughter. That threat is simple: “I can’t, but I could.” I’ve seen women unleash the Krakken on men flicking their tongues or making kissing noises. These women explode with rage, and are met with men who cackle like jackals at the loss of control. Somehow, the laughter makes everything OK. I know this, because I’ve laughed at this kind of spectacle. I’ve been part of a pack, drunk outside a bar. I’ve patted a friend on the back after he shouted something lewdly clever at a woman walking past us, consoled him when she turned her head, told him to “F**k off,” but kept walking, only faster. “She’s just stuck up.” That’s what I probably said. And we laughed, and fed on her fear.
I’ve never seen a woman react to a catcall with total terror. Normally, women frown and bear it. They look frustrated or annoyed or, as I mentioned, take the battle to the enemy. These are all very human defensive reactions to a potential threat. The only reaction to a catcall is some manifestation of fear: fight or flight. Since romantic interaction is never an outcome, I can only further conclude that catcalls serve the purposes I suggested earlier. Oh, and one other thing: it’s not a “cultural” thing. I’m half-Mexican, and the “culture” defense is the perverse side of identity politics. Men should not be rude to other women. They should not, essentially, bully.
I will undoubtedly get gruff from some men. But, like, lighten up, bros. Most of the emotional Napoleons who will probably take the most offense to any introspection or criticism of male identity by a man are beyond reason anyway. As always, I will leave them to their deep-seated anger at their terrible fathers. I also realize that writing this will probably feed the paranoia of some women that men are hopeless pigdogs who oink and bark and baroink. We’re not. Duh. I am not a fragile man. I am not perfect, and neither is my gender. Catcalls are superficially obnoxious, and substantively menacing. It’s probably one of those behaviors that both genders will benefit from when it’s extinct.
Now staring. I can defend staring …