This morning, I was walking down the street when someone called to me from his car: “Hey, Big Butt!” This was meant to be a compliment of sorts. I don’t mind people saying that my butt is big (I mean, it’s sizeable, that’s just a statement of fact), but what bothered me is the absolute lack of rational thought that went behind this approach to getting my attention. OK! You approve of my big butt! You would probably like to touch my big butt. Stating the fact of my big butt as if it’s my name doesn’t exactly bring me around to your cause.
I’ve always thought that the best way to get someone to pay attention to you isn’t to just compulsively screaming out descriptions of body parts at strangers. Yes, it’ll get their attention, but my impression is that the point is to hold attention, too. That being said, I’d like to propose a list of catcalls that would get to the heart of my motivation as a person and keep my interest in the conversation moving along.
1. “Hey baby, want some food?” Mad props to Diana Saez for making me aware that this has actually happened to a person, because really, I almost never feel violated by offers of food. Like, if the drives for food and sex are our basic instincts, I will pick someone offering me food by someone offering me sex literally every time. If my boyfriend said “Sex or tacos?” I’d be like “Tacos, then my taco.” If a stranger asked me if I wanted dick I’d just be like “NOPE,” but if he asked me if I wanted food I’d be like “…What do you have?” This is masterful.
2. “I’d like to take you out to a tour of a gin distillery.” Pro tip: Sex/dick is super common and pretty uninteresting. Telling a woman that you’d like to take her to a restaurant, a movie, or your bed is boooooorrrriiiinnng. Most women have Netflix, a refrigerator, and a vibrator. Have a novel suggestion on hand! It would be hard for me to turn down a trip to a gin distillery.
3. “Can I buy you a book?” Because no, random stranger, I do not want to get inebriated with you. But shit, homie, you could spend $10 buying me the fifth Song of Ice and Fire book and I’d think way, way better of you. And if you’re afraid that buying nerds nerd books is unsexy, you obviously have not read George R. R. Martin’s valiant mastery of softcore porn and you should get on it.
4. “Girl, you should come to slam poetry more.” I don’t generally appreciate being told I should smile more. Why? What good does that do me? If you’re going to deign to tell me what I “should” do, give me a suggestion that is genuinely something that would benefit me to do more often. I should go to slam poetry more. I can’t argue with that!
5. “I know what you need — a puppy to play with.” Similar to #4, I do not appreciate being told what I need. I’m a grown woman with a brain and I’m capable of assessing what I need, and it is strangers’ dicks infrequently-to-never. So if you’re going to tell me what I need, I suggest that it be something that only horrible, horrible people would ever hate doing. I would be thrilled and really quite charmed if you had a puppy for me to play with (so long as it was genuinely a young canine and not your dick that you named Puppy).
6. “I’d like to take you home, because I live in an artists’ collaborative and we’re having a show tonight.” What’s with dudes thinking that if they propose to a stranger that she come to his private residence, she’s ever going to think that sounds like a good or safe idea? The only way that I’d think, “Yeah, that sounds cool!” is if there are going to be lots of people there doing something interesting and non-sexual. Otherwise, please don’t even bother.
7. “Ooh, that Felix Gonzalez-Torres tattoo looks good on you.” I was thinking to myself, “What could a man say about my appearance that wouldn’t bore me to death?” and this is the only answer that came to mind. I don’t dress for other people because I don’t care what other people think about the way I dress, and my body is just kind of my body to me and after 27 years of being a woman and having to hear one assessment or another of the shape of my body I am uninterested in hearing other people’s opinions about it in a way that is vast and deep. I get lots of comments about my tattoos, though, and I don’t mind that because I quite enjoy talking about them, but the only way I could be convinced to take interest in another person on the basis of a quick compliment on my tattoos is if he happened to get the reference to either my Felix Gonzalez-Torres tattoo or my Lynda Benglis tattoo and could talk about them easily. Cat’s out of the bag now, though, so I guess this is moot — but the point remains that if you’re going to compliment my appearance, you’d better have something really insightful to say.
So, basically, guys, what I’m saying is to stop talking about your dick and what your dick wants. Have you considered the fact that there are millions of penises in the world and that straight women aren’t all that likely to choose the penis that’s attached to the rando yelling “Hey, Big Butt!” at her from his car? Of course, all of this is assuming that the stated intent of catcalling — complimenting a woman or expressing interest in her — is the actual intent, and that the actual intent isn’t to harass and intimidate women until they leave the public sphere so that we can go back to a male-run, pre-1960 American culture. In which case, you know, good luck, guys.
[Photo by photographer Ruth Orkin]