"Hello" or Sexual Harassment?
I watched a video of a social experiment where a woman walked for ten hours through the streets of New York. She was dressed in black leggings, sneakers and a form fitting black t-shirt. She was not showing cleavage. In the video, over a hundred men catcalled and made suggestive comments. I found it incredibly rude and I felt offended and disgusted. As a woman, I am worried about today’s society and how men view women. Why do some men feel like they have the license to harass a woman?
Then I saw another video of the same experiment where a pretty model walked the streets of Auckland, New Zealand for ten hours. In that time, she did not receive a single catcall. She was only stopped twice, once for directions and once when another a man asked politely if she was Italian and then was told that she was pretty. He apologized for stopping her.
Then I saw a third experiment where a girl wore jeans, a white tank top and a cardigan and walked the streets of New York for five hours. Then in the next five hours she wore a Hijab, the traditional Muslim garb where the hair and neck is covered. The first five hours, the woman was catcalled and followed like in the first experiment and in the second five hours, she was left completely alone and was not hassled by any man.
Catcalling: a Cultural Phenomenon?
I found these two other experiments very enlightening. Could catcalling be a cultural phenomenon? In New Zealand, the population is 55% European (Predominately English descent), 8% Maori, 13% Pacific Islander, and 8% other. In New York, the population (in 2010) was 33% White, 26% Black, 26% Hispanic, 13% Asian.
The video showed that it was predominately Hispanic and Black men that were catcalling. Could catcalling be linked to Latin and African cultures? Where were the Asian men? Where were the white catcallers?
According to an article by Brian Fey, “Why is Catcalling More Popular in Latin Countries/Cultures?" he discusses the social acceptance of Catcalling or “Piropos” in certain communities as a way of breaking the ice in small towns. He writes, that now in larger cities Catcalling is becoming “less popular”.
The Video showing the woman in the hijab being left completely alone was also interesting. What messages did a woman’s dress play in a man’s assessment of a woman that would open her up for being verbally harassed on the street? Does the Hijab actually send the message of modesty to men and prevent them from catcalling? Why would a woman dressed in western garb be targeted?
In a fourth video, two mother’s from Lima Peru were given a make-over and dressed up as young women. They walked in front of their sons who immediately began catcalling them. They were mortified to discover that they were catcalling their own mother. This is in a city where 7 out of 10 women are sexually harassed. This shows that men seemed to catcall indiscriminately at any woman of child bearing age. Socially accepted? Not even in Lima. The women in Latino countries are rising up against verbal harassment.
Catcalling: Male domination over Women?
In another article, writer Kate J.M. Baker, discusses Catcalling as a primal message of greeting “second-nature street harassment is to some men - hello.” And a subconscious way of asserting men’s inherent physical power over women.
This moves away from the idea of catcalling as a cultural phenomenon but as a gender issue and Man’s perceived superiority over women.
In the book, Rights and Respect: What you need to know about Gender Bias and Sexual Harassment by Kathlyn Gay writes of Catcalling as “Sexual Hasslement”. If women feel discomfort and intimidation by men’s rude sexual innuendos then this build-up of embarrassment and fear can lead to low-self-esteem and loss of freedom.
Katy J.M. Baker counters in her article that in many cases, the Catcallers “aren’t “bad men” – they don’t fully realize why their actions are hurtful or disrespectful to the female population. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are harassing the women at all.”
In conclusion, if a man catcalls and a woman feels offended and embarrassed. I don’t believe men have the right to say that they did not offend her. A man should be educated on empathy and learn how to better communicate with a woman. Because in the end, we’re all humans. And we should all learn how to get along.