The Vagenda

Catcallers: Just Pussies in the Street


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

12 thoughts on “Catcallers: Just Pussies in the Street

  1. A great article highlighting something very close to my heart! Changing the context slightly, I’ve worked in hotels and bars for a few years now, where dealing with innappropriate, derogatory catcalls accross the bar is apparently part of the job. I’ve lost count the amount of times a balding, middle-aged ‘gentleman’ has passed me his room number with all seriousness, so that I can join him after my shift. This is usually accompanied with him telling me how he is going to show me what a ‘real man’ is in front of all his employees. My all-time favourite ocassion though has to be while working in my University bar. In this hub of liberal thought and intellectual debate, a fresher’s father shouted at me at me accross the bar “Do you do a bed-warming service with the beer, love?” Of course, no-one batted an eyelid at this commment, but told me I needed to lighten up when I objected. (Good banter.)The derogatory catcall, on the street or in any other public sphere, is used to intimidate and humiliate and attempt to assume control over the receiver – yet, it considered completely acceptable to do so by far too many people.

  2. I recently posted an update on facebook about a man who wolf whistled at me, and how disgusted I was. Surprisingly (or maybe not so) the response i got from my female friends and family was largely ‘aw, he was just paying you a compliment, don’t be such a bra-burner’ or ‘men are very inarticulate, and it was just his way of appreciating your beauty.’ WHAT? Do people really believe this? I was shocked by the responses to say the least…

  3. Eddie Izzard does a skit along these lines. It is similarly hilarious.

    ‘Oi darlin’! Oi darlin’! YOU AND ME, YOU AND MEEEEE!’
    And if the woman said ‘Ok, let’s go now!’ it would TOTALLY freak them out. ‘She said yes! What do I DOOOOOOO?’

  4. On a similar theme:

    I had just finished a meeting, of necessity in a hotel coffee shop. As I was walking away I heard someone shout “Hey!” so thinking I’d forgotten something I turned around… at which point a suited man with no discernible appealing features saw my error (he was in fact greeting someone else) and said “Ha Bet you thought it was your lucky day?”. I mumbled an answer along the lines of “Well that’s not quite how I perceive the situation” but it unnerved me. As I drove home I thought “Am I so ugly that someone as awful as him thinks he is in with a chance?”. Then I thought “Is he so arrogant that he hasn’t noticed how unappetising he appears to be?” But of course I had not considered the third option, that I as a woman in a suit with a briefcase I was being put in my place…returned to the unthreatening category of plaything rather than potential business rival.

  5. One of my best was at 10am on a Monday morning when i was walking to get the tram into town. I passed what looked like a mummified corpse propped up in the doorway of a bar (aptly named Legends) clutching a pint of Carling. He muttered “oo alright darling! Want to join me?” Hmmm let me think…it’s 10 in the morning on a Monday and you’re pissed on Carling, i’ll decline your invite thank you. More recently i was walking with my 4 month old daughter through our local park when we passed a gang of loitering teenage boys. They clearly felt not to say anything would some how damage their ‘street cred’ but the best they could come up with was ‘hush little baby.’ Who heckles a baby for gods sake? Actually they were right on the money she was sparko.

  6. In order to get from my place of work (v un-glamorous small town industrial estate) to the nearest sandwich shop, I have to walk 100 yards along a busy A road with a narrow pavement. I have never managed to do this short walk without being honked at by lorry drivers or yelled at by male passers by. When I get honked it scares the crap out if me and I tend to throw myself into the wall as for a split second I (stupidly) think about my safely and that I am about to be mown down by a lorry and this is my warning. But no. I get waggly tongues between fingers or something equally delightful. If I had a bazooka – believe me I’d use it. It makes me so angry. Why the hell can’t a female just get her flipping sarnie without lame-arsed intimidation?

  7. Personal highlights:

    1. Walking to a friend’s house with another girl early one Saturday evening, passed by a group of guys who shouted: ‘show us your hairy axe-wound you fat cows’. (We aren’t fat…)

    2. On the same road: passed by a group of guys in a car, one of them leans out of the window and shouts through a MEGAPHONE: ‘slaaaaag!’

    3. Waiting at the bus stop, a car pulls up and another bloke leans out of the window and makes the request: ‘get your minge out!’

    4. Being followed by a group of older guys having a very audible conversation about how they want to ‘fuck’ me.

    Could go on…

  8. Next time someone hands me their number and tells me that they will show me what a real man is, I’ll reply ‘let me know when you’ve found one’