Catcalling is a Cross Cultural Annoyance

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

[Note: Please read this post after reading Racism as a Lifestyle Choice. While the two posts are independent, it helps to understand how this post started, and why it is on a race blog and not a gender blog.]

Men, please grab your pencils and take a few notes.

I am about to outline the reasons why women hate being catcalled – What Women Are Thinking 101.

I know that for many of you, this lecture does not apply. More than a few of you are respectful and polite. You might think of one drunken episode where you behaved like an ass, but for the most part you approach women in bars, at speed dating, at work, on CL, at concerts, and other appropriate venues. You leave women in public in relative peace, and we thank you for that.

But we know you have one or two (or a few) ignorant friends.

Please pass this information along to them.

In a post titled On Thursdays We Grab Titties, TAN attempts to call Kim Klinger to task.

The source material comes from Kimberly Klinger, racist, who has been keeping some sort of cat-call spreadsheet in the interest of launching a two-part attack on the neighborhood heterosexual immigrants who harass her with come-ons once or twice a week. First Kimberly confesses she’s a racist (agh, aren’t we all sista-girl?), and explains why sexism trumps racism in her Court of Minority Offenses. Her dilemma: Kimberly went to college, so she knows she shouldn’t hate brown (excluding the hunky UPS guy of course), but what’s a pretty white girl to do in the face of such aggressive misogyny? Just lay out her vagine in a chalupa or bucket of fried chicken? In part two of Kimberly’s Mein Kampf she lays down the gauntlet and shares her Top 15 Hollas, so that we can get a little glimpse into her personal Holla-Hell (hella?).

[...]

These aren’t f’ing gorillas on the discovery channel sparring for a mate. More often than not, these are guys hanging out cause they got nothing better to do. This is a citified version of fishing. Just casting out the net and seeing what gets stuck. Maybe have some beers while you do it. You don’t need a sociology degree to know this (congrats on that, btw!). Just pop your head out of your ass for ten seconds. They’re just saying hello (and also letting you know that if you wanted to have sex or something they wouldn’t necessarily disapprove).

As TAN has pointed out, yes, most you are guys hanging out and trying to have a good time. Unfortunately, men’s ideas of what “saying hello” constitutes vary widely. For TAN and other guys, hollering at girls is just recreation, sport, a little fun. For the most part, the worst you’ll get is a girl who decides to catch an attitude and curse you out. No real problem there, especially when the payoff is a cute girl’s phone number.

What men fail to see is that women do not see a group of men as people who just want to say hello. A group of leering men is a potential threat. Rebuffing just one guy’s advances is difficult enough – rebuffing a man in front of a group of his friends is going to cause a situation – the guy feels like he has to save face in front of his friends, which means embarrassing you.

Try thinking about it this way:

You are having a bad day. All you want to do is get to work quietly, do your work, and then go home. In the morning, at 7:30 AM, you put on your headphones, you start your day. At 7:35, 7:50, and 8:00, people tap you on the shoulder and tell you to smile, try to engage you in conversation, or ask you where you are going. They ignore the fact that you are giving one word answers and take every opportunity to turn your headphones up louder. You make it to work, deal with that, and start on your way back home, anticipating a nap. You are interrupted four times on your 30 minute trip home. None of these people knows that they are one of eight people to randomly harass you that day. If you tell them this, they will not care.

And tomorrow, you look forward to the same thing – hopefully with a better start.

How friendly would you be on a day to day basis?

Don’t forget, many of these interlopers are not practicing the best of hygiene. The hottie with the shape up is engrossed in the Wall Street Journal. The cute college student is shuffling through his Ipod. The attractive guy with the bicep tattoo and a YouthWorks staff member tee-shirt is trying to catch up on his sleep.

But the guy in yesterday’s clothes, with horrible morning breath? He wants to say hi.

TAN continues:

You can’t casually throw in “grabbing and groping” like we (society) just find that acceptable these days. From minorities no less. When the Puerto Ricans have their National Grope Day Parade in NYC, guess what? There are arrests made. In record numbers. I’ve never heard a girl say, “oh, watch out for 125th street today, apparently on Thursdays they be grabbin’ titties.” Come on, that’s assault. People don’t do that. Even the negroes and papi-chulos.

Actually, men do just that. This is where the fear element comes in.

After trying to explain the reason why women “can’t take a compliment” to my boyfriend for months, I finally realized that he does not see beyond his experience. If my boyfriend and his boys are hanging out, they may holler at girls just because. They don’t mean any harm. They just want to talk to you.

What my boyfriend did not consider are the men who do mean harm. There are men who will actually grab you and try to force you to speak to them. It has happened to me multiple times – I tell the guy I am not interested, try to continue on my way, and suddenly, I feel my wrist or arm being restrained. Other men just feel like they have the right to touch you. (Check out the full length video on the Washington City Paper website – at the very end, you see a guy reach out for a passing woman).

And worse has happened. I’ve been through an experience where a guy was so insistent that I speak to him that he actually became irate when I started looking out of the window. He began screaming at me on the metrobus and pounding on the glass. He caused such a scene that the driver had to stop the bus and forcibly put him off. Since he was removed close to my stop, I elected to wait until the bus ran all the way to the end of line before journeying back toward my home.

I’ve had another guy follow me six blocks out of his way because he was convinced that he could out-do my boyfriend in anything. He did not respond to my polite “no thanks, not interested comments” until I finally got to a more public location and screamed at him to leave me alone.

He narrowed his eyes at me.

“Bitch,” he spat before leaving.

I’m the bitch because I want you to leave me alone after I told you multiple times that I am not interested?

Apparently so – when I lived in PG County, I got called “bougie bitch” so many times I almost made a tee-shirt.

While Klinger’s comments are somewhat racist, it is undeniable that most of the street attention comes from Black men and Latino men. I am sure that Asian and White men also catcall, but I have never personally experienced it. My friends and I don’t freeze up walking past groups of Asian guys hanging out in Adams Morgan. However, the last time we walked down Georgia Avenue, we passed a group of young black guys in an alley around 11:00 PM. We walked past them swiftly and silently. I started taking inventory of our group – one slightly drunk white girl in a long skirt, her two invest banker looking friends, three gay men, and two black girls – all dressed for the night of clubbing that was ahead. We walked past, and a voice wafted out of the alley.

“Hey…psst…girl in the black dress!”

Fuck. I was the girl in the black dress. My friends tightened their circle around me and we quickened the pace. The guy called out again from the alley, but did not make a move to follow us. We didn’t slow down until we had reached the club, which was on the next block.

So yes, I and my friends tend to profile. It isn’t strictly confined to race. I work near Capitol Hill, so a group of black men near Union Station in business suits do not get the same reaction as three men who are just sitting on a park bench. A group of Latino men hanging out near the Smithsonian Commons is not the same experience as a group of Latino men lined up in front of a liquor store.

While a component is based in race, this type of profiling is based in fear. Women want to limit potentially dangerous experiences. It isn’t as if men are walking around with a tee-shirt on that says “good guy” and “bad guy” – it’s completely random. So, let’s say 10 guys approach a woman. On average, three guys will be sweet nice guys who want to pay a compliment. Three more will just be looking for a quick score. Two guys will be drunk/homeless/unsavory. And one will take your rejection personally and try to make you pay.

And you never know what the guy who approaches you is trying to accomplish until you are already in striking distance.

Most women try very hard to discourage daily advances. We avert our gaze to avoid eye contact. We carry books, wear headphones, make fake cell phone calls. Unfortunately, some guys refuse to be deterred. It is exhausting to have to deal with the constant onslaught of male attention.

Now, I know many of you are thinking “Oh, poor cute girl who has to deal with all these men who want to date you. Wish I had that problem.”

Dating is one thing.

When a man feels like he has the “right” to force me to stop and speak to him, it is a whole other game entirely.

Complicating matters are the risks faced by women in our society. One in six women will become the victim of a sexual assault. Most people (men and women) do not recognize what is defined as sexual assault. According to Byron Hurt’s documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes reveals more statistics: Black women are 35% more likely to be assaulted than white women. Only 7% of black women report being assaulted.

I have been sexually assaulted. The majority of my female friends have as well, running the gamut from being groped and restrained to molest to being raped at 13 years of age.

What men think is a game has completely different stakes for women.

So while it may be unfair (and racist) to avoid certain groups of men, please understand that while men are just trying to score, women are worried about survival.

Try not to take it personally, and do us a favor – curb your more ignorant acting friends.

Class dismissed.