Catcalling…Courtesy or Crassness?


Generations of men have been socialised in different ways to make amorous advances towards women, starting their “education” very early in the teen years.  Several methods have been promoted from chivalry and flowers, good greetings, exchanging pleasantries to finding the right ice breaker and even…catcalls.  Some would claim their experience and schooling in seeking the attention of the fairer sex came via lessons from older men that they respect or hold in high regard.  This has obviously created a myriad of problems in the midst of seeming success on the part of some suitors.

Catcalling is now the source of discomfort for many women who say they find it offensive and disrespectful and even feel threatened by the responses of men they have ignored.  Many questions abound on the “right way” to approach women, or signal an appreciation for them without appearing to be stalkers, abusive or sexual predators harassing the average woman walking on the streets.  This requires unadulterated truth, facing some realities without seeming to be chained to the macho and patriarchal nature of men.  I will and can only cite the circumstances told to me by many women and men in terms of the daily interaction in the streets.

There are women who say they are harrassed by men, who spew vile and nasty statements while making catcalls, while others claim some men have been pleasant and complimentary in their wordings.  There is a theory that catcalling as a form of…let us call it an ‘art form’ if done right…can be pleasantly accepted and acceptable, however it is clear some men have no real understanding of what appeals to women.  There are men who will defend their crass utterances by stating it has created relationships of one kind or another with the targets of their well wielded words of inspiration.

So we must ask…is it that some catcalling is courteous while others are crass? If so, should we tell men to no longer catcall because some have had bad experiences? Or should we try and retrain the minds of young men to understand what is truly and universally acceptable to most women? Or should we discourage men from using the style known as catcalling altogether?  I was reading an article on the issue recently and a young lady had this to offer as her experience:

“I dressed in a beautiful bright blue past-the-knee slip as a dress and headed out to the bus stop about 6 blocks away. No less than 5 men honked, whistled, and yelled from cars at me. The first one made me feel kind of good, because I had been working hard to create what I considered an attractive body and was proud of it. But by the 5th, I felt vulnerable and afraid, so I walked back to the house and changed my outfit before heading out again”

She took note of the first comment which made her feel good …possibly a very well delivered line or two that any woman would find appealing…then the rest became the typical animal instinct bereft of any gentlemanly overtures.  She moved from a feeling of appreciation to a moment of objectification and mere meat in the hands of primitive man.  There needs to be a very frank and open discussion about how men interact with women on a daily basis.  Add to that the men who are still influenced by the peer pressure, especially when there are more than pairs of men gathered.  We cannot forget the educational levels of men, which can play a major role in how they interpret an overt attempt to get a woman’s attention.  This is not to justify the sayings, statements or staggering things said by men.

Women also need to be taught early what is acceptable behaviour from men.  We have invested in making young boys and teenagers believe the average template is acceptable and they work from a strike rate of what works versus what doesn’t.  This requires a wholesale change in how we socialise and sensitize our young men in their interactions with young women and ultimately, our women.  By the way, let us not believe for a minute that men do not suffer the humiliation of unwanted and unwarranted behaviour from women, but that is really not the focus of this piece.  The critical element we need to address is this…our men need to be told in no uncertain terms that women welcome pleasantries and compliments, but they CANNOT be veiled in derogatory terms and salacious arguments that make them feel disregarded, insulted and even threatened.

Maybe we need to sit at the table of honesty, confession and reality and come to a space and place where certain behaviour is deemed appropriate and others relegated to the rubbish bin.  However, if we sit in our spaces, vacuums and silos of discontent, there is no way we will truly solve the disparity between the well intentioned and stated and the lewd and classless attempts at chivalry and courtesy…catcalling appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place and we need to face and fix it…let’s face it.


Rodney Campbell


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