I wore a dress on my walk with Sir Godwin today. Apparently that’s more exciting than it sounds. Not even 500 metres away from my home, I was catcalled once, honked at thrice, and stared at by men more often than I was comfortable with.
Street harassment, also known as catcalling, is something that makes many women feel uncomfortable. While you are just trying to get on with your day, you are constantly being sexualised on the street. And that sucks.
Personally, I just get pissed off. I wonder what gives men the audacity to whistle or shout at me just because I’m a woman. Just because they think I’m hot. What are they even expecting? That I’ll run over there, all wet, to hand them a napkin with my number written on it with lipstick?
I once tried speaking to someone who catcalled me. I actually replied to the sounds he was making, literally as if summoning a cat. He was sitting on the doorstep with a beer. I walked over there and asked him what he wanted from me. “What do you expect? What is it that you want from me?” He didn’t have an answer.
So if not that, then what?
I don’t want to believe that men do these things to purposely make us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I don’t want to believe that they shout at us with the single aim of disrespecting women.
And so I tried to step into a man’s shoes. Do they really think we take catcalls as a compliment? Are they simply trying to let us know we’re attractive? And if so, why do they feel the need to shout it across the street?
Now that I have Sir Godwin, though people still catcall, at least there is some sort of a reason to strike up an actual conversation. On the same walk, two guys that walked past me started chatting with me. And believe it or not; I actually appreciated it.
I don’t owe you my time or attention, but if someone is sincerely interested in speaking to me, I won’t say no. If someone respectfully asks me about my dog or the weather, I’m a lot more willing to speak to them than if they shout at me like I’m a customer at a fish market.
But maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe catcalling isn’t because men want to speak to you, but simply because they want to assert their dominance.
It is worth mentioning that men almost always do this when they are surrounded by other men. Rarely have I been catcalled by a man on his own. It’s almost like even men are thirsty for male validation.
A middle-aged man commented on one of my articles on Facebook. It was in the Malta Independent, titled “How bipolar disorder changed my life - for the better”. He wrote: “Whatever changed your life, you’re pretty! :)”
I replied to him that this wasn’t the compliment he thought it was, and that it was frankly quite disrespectful. The point of my writing is that I share my thoughts and ideas, not that there’s a good looking girl stuck to it. Women are so much more than just a pretty face. (He removed his comment after my explanation.)
When I asked my friends and followers whether they had been sexually assaulted, the large majority of them were women. I wasn’t surprised, and you probably aren’t either. But the few men that told me about their sexual assault brushed it off with “but I didn’t really mind it” or “I actually secretly enjoyed it”.
Which made me wonder - how come that we perceive these things so differently? How come being catcalled as a woman can range from being slightly annoying to really scary? How come sexual assault leaves girls traumatised, while men say they didn’t actually mind it?
And so I came to the question: are men undersexualised?
Is it, perhaps, that you appreciate being sexualised, because it is something you are not used to? Do you find it appealing when women sexualise you, because being viewed as a sexual object doesn’t often occur?
I, for one, know that I’m offended more than anything when someone degrades me to the way I look - as if that is all I have to offer. But while women are sexualised everywhere, from the streets to high-end magazines, men rarely get to experience this. They aren’t approached with lust and desire. They are usually seen for what they are: a whole human being.
Men, how would you feel if I were to catcall you and told you you’re hot shit? Would you feel uncomfortable, or would you be riding that ego high for the rest of the day?
And if you happen to feel good about it, would you do the same thing to a woman, or would you understand that that’s considered sexual harassment?
As a woman, I want to be taken seriously rather than being valued for the way I look. Meanwhile men might crave the idea of someone saying “hey, you’re hot and I’d like to have sex with you”, because that assertiveness is something they aren’t used to.
My question remains: is it difficult for men to empathise with women because women complain about being oversexualised, when that is something men desperately want more of?
I'm genuinely curious to hear your thoughts. Drop me a message and let's have a chat.