Catcalling: it’s a term we’re familiar with in the UK. If you’re from India, ‘eve teasing’ seems to be the chosen euphemism, according to the BBC; ‘wolf-whistling’ perhaps, if you’re American. And all of this leaves me wondering: if wolves are whistling at cats in a teasing manner in the evening, what the fuck has happened to the animal kingdom?
Like most young women (and many not-so-young), I find basic street harassment a part of my everyday life. In my student days, I walked home from the university library, laden down with books, and a man pulled his car up alongside me on a main road in central London and proceeded to follow me down it at about 10mph. All the while, he was shouting out the window at me croakily (croaky because he was at least sixty years old and smoking a cigar): ‘Hey baby! Hey. Baby! Want a ride? Get in, I’ll give you a lift home! Come on!’
At what point did this man genuinely imagine that I would turn around and cry: ‘It’s you! My knight in shining armour! All my life I’ve been waiting for a half-pissed man at least 45 years my senior to pull up beside me in a beaten-up old Polo and invite me for a ride! TRY AND STOP ME, BIG BOY!’
Similarly, a female roommate and I were walking home a couple of years ago when a teenage boy walked past us and, barely turning his head, shouted over his shoulder: ‘Hey, sweethearts! Wanna come home with me, yeah?’
What the hell would lover-boy have said if I’d tapped him on his fast-disappearing shoulder and said, deadpan: ‘Yeah, actually. Where are we off to? You seem like an upstanding young man and I’ve been waiting for a proposition like that all night.’ A tenner says he would have run away with his tail between his legs – that same tail that apparently prompted him to ‘eve tease’ a couple of women he’d never in his life met, and knew before he opened his mouth that he never would.
These men, the wolf-whistling eve-teasers, didn’t catcall because they thought there was a chance of getting what they ostensibly wanted, and that’s the problem with catcalling in the first place. It’s not actually a raucous but ultimately harmless way of propositioning an attractive woman, or the inevitable consequence of that ‘out of control’ sexuality we’re supposed to believe men possess so we can forgive them when they do fucked up things and blame ourselves for not dressing modestly enough. Their catcalls are just another shitty social construct that exists to put women in their place: walking home alone? With a female friend, together? Being all independent in the clothes you bought from your pay-cheque with the Oyster card you paid for and the keys to the flat you rent with your Very Own Wage? Think you’re all big and clever and equal and safe, do you? Let me remind you whose streets these really are, before you get a bit too used to your 21st century freedom.
Catcalling is a way of putting someone in their place. It has no aim apart from intimidation, and it’s not about sex. If you think I’m hot and you reckon you’re in with a shot (it rhymes! Badly), chances are you’ll speak to me or perhaps drunkenly lurch at me in a bar. I’m not going to pretend that that will necessarily entail a pleasant experience for me (although if you look like this, all offers welcome!) but hey, I’ll know your intentions were genuine. While I wouldn’t specifically condone that sort of behaviour, it’s the sort of human stupidity that everyone does and that I can pretty much get behind in a round-about sort of way.
But if you’re shouting at me over your shoulder or from across the street – or, if you’re particularly snazzy, following me in your car at a snail’s pace – I have even less time for you than the tipsy idiot who’s trying to convince me he’s related to Elvis while I queue for another anger-reducing pint. Because you’re part of something bigger, something cultural that still sees some audacity in a woman walking around on her own, without a big bad man to own her and protect her from other horny chancers. You saw something in that woman, and you wanted to remind her of the superior social space that you believe you inhabit. Well, catcall away, but be warned: next time, I’m taking you up on your offer.
Image credit to hinnamsaisuy