Monday, October 29, 2012

class and catcalling

This video about catcalling is both funny and a fine illustration of the ineffectiveness of Social Justice Warriors:



The advice? Men should talk to their friends about how women hate catcalling. The ineffectiveness? Catcalling has an enormous class component. The men who will talk to their friends about catcalling are not the problem, and neither are their friends. They're usually in a social class that doesn't catcall.

The problem is recognized in Catcalling and Connections to Class at Sustained Enthusiasm. The writer doesn't have room to explore the connection, maybe because exploring it calls for exploring US capitalism, bad schools, and the lives of men who don't have work. Some of those men catcall in the way poor people buy lottery tickets, knowing it won't work but, for a moment, being able to dream that it will. Others catcall because, for one brief moment, they're more powerful than someone else.

A proper study of catcalling would explore the class dynamics. Do poor women and middle-class women respond the same way to catcalling? Do they get the same kinds of catcalls? Do they get them from the same kinds of men?

I'll keep looking for answers. But right now, I'm glad I was able to find someone who saw the problem clearly enough to acknowledge that this is yet another issue with an enormous, rarely acknowledged class component.

19 comments:

  1. I'm a bougie middle class person. I don't mind when men catcall on me as long as they don't get graphic or start calling me names.

    As you suggested too, I think that catcalling isn't about really luring women. It's about assessing one's presence in the public space and that he's watching you. I assume that the success rate is 0,00001% so I don't see other reasons for doing that.

    That's not, or at least in my experience, class related. It's not unfrequent being honked and catcalled by a guy in an expensive car and CEO-esque attire.
    I'm in my early twenties and I noticed that many younger girls catcall too. But just when they feel safe from being in a small group with other girls. If they catcalled a guy when alone, and the guy responded, I bet they would be petrified and wouldn't know how to handle the situation...LOL.
    I really wonder what if I responded positively to a catcall as an experiment. I bet the guy would think something "whoa, this is just...wrong. She's not supposed to appreciate!" :)

    In conclusion, I think that catcalling is no such big deal, it's just something stupid to do and most times also very gross. But some other times, if they say gentle compliments to you, it can be really nice. One day one man told me I had beautiful deep eyes and this made my day (I was awfully blue in that period).


    PS: I found the show hilarious and I sincerely hope the part "discuss the issue of catcalling with your fellow males as the girls are getting uncomfy about that" is ironic. Because I'd rather go for an "hey sexy baby" than a "I want to stick my tongue in your mind" as a catchphrase :P

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    1. +1.

      Agreed that some rich guys catcall. But its much rarer.

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    2. from my opinion, they're maybe a bit less, but not so outnumbered. I guess it depends much on different cultures and what's considered acceptable and what is taboo in different places.

      http://www.pathconscious.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/american_girl_in_italy800.jpg
      I laugh when I think this situation has reversed. Nowadays it's not rare seing american female students (especially in Florence) catcalling italian guys and hit on them. Go figure... :)

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  2. What do you mean by "works"?

    It probably doesn't work to obtain sex very often. It works to get a little conversation pretty frequently, though. There's a very human tendency to remember success and forget failure. If I catcall 50 women in a day, perhaps I offend and irritate 48 of them who respond mostly with silence and occasionally with angry responses. Perhaps I get a little amusing and barbed repartee with two of them, who leave with laugh. I will remember this as 'I make women happy by catcalling them, I make them feel good about themselves.'

    I will also remember that this works fine, because I got to have a little fun trading barbs with two women, at zero cost to me.

    NB: I don't catcall, at all. I essentially never interact with people I do not know on the street, beyond "excuse me" and "you dropped this".

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    1. I meant pretty much what you elaborated on: I wonder if there are women, perhaps from the same background, who respond well to catcalls, and maybe even end up marrying their catcaller. And I wonder if it's like spamming: it doesn't matter how many misses you get or people you annoy, so long as you get enough hits to want to keep doing it.

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    2. If the catcaller said something weird (in the good sense of weird) or interesting or particularly nice why not starting a conversation in a nearby bar? But this seldom happens. usually they say the same trite innuendos.

      loved the part comparing catcalling to spam :)

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  3. I find it unlikely that catcalling would lead directly to mating, but there's certainly the possibility that it might provide an initial contact. Suppose I have a little repartee with some nice looking woman on my street a couple times, and later see her in a more normal social context. We "know" each other a little, so now we might actually socialize a little bit, and from there things might move on in the usual way. The street banter could be said to have led here, but it's likely that 10 years down the road we don't even remember that. We met at that one party.

    Quite apart from this, I suspect that for some women (and I have nobody specific in mind, only that it is a big world, and that all things are possible) the men they are NOT attracted to "catcall" while the men they find attractive are "friendly".

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    1. I wish someone would make a serious study of catcalling. Your first paragraph seems reasonable; your second seems even more likely.

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    2. You could be that guy! Design the preliminary study, and go do it! You might need a video camera (or video-capable camera - a good phone might do it these days) and a notebook!

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    3. That would be a hoot, but catcalling isn't as much of an issue in the midwest. Hmm. Now I wish there was a big budget for it, because it would be interesting to also know how it varies in, say, New York, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and L.A.

      Is this a Kickstarter idea? Hmm. Prob'ly for someone else.

      Maybe I'll suggest it to Kyle Cassidy....

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    4. How are we defining catcalling? I live in the midwest and I've never had anybody yell "Hey, girl!" or the equivalent, but I have had them offer me money for a blowjob (below market value so it was a double insult) or otherwise mistake me for a prostitute, abruptly start up a conversation about sex ("It's like scratching an itch... but friendship is better. Will you be my friend?"), ask me if I'm dating anyone with the strong implication that I should be dating them and possibly all of their friends, pop up repeatedly on my walking route in order to ask me out for a drink (I changed routes), and yell random things from their cars that may or may not have been complimentary. Also, every single time I leave the house without my hair tied back, some guy (but never the same one twice) will tell me that I have beautiful hair. It happens without fail. I'm at the point where I always tie my hair back just so I won't have to have one more conversation about my beautiful, beautiful hair. (Don't get me wrong. I like my hair and I'm not utterly against compliments. It just gets... tiring.)

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    5. Catcalling might turn out to be the same across the nation. Or it may be that it's the same for certain kinds of populations, regardless of location, and Minneapolis has fewer of them. Or I may be completely wrong about Minneapolis, because I spend very little time on the street here, while I was on the street for hours most days when I lived in New York.

      Hmm. Another way to do the study would be to get teams in different cities to collaborate on a systematic approach.

      Do I remember correctly that you're in Detroit? I suspect big cities with hard-hit populations are going to be very similar in the US.

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    6. Uh, that's "on the street other than in my blue-collar neighborhood." We don't have many apartment buildings around here, though we have a fair number of rental homes.

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    7. Lansing, actually. (So many politicians...) I'm originally from the Flint area. The two cities are about on par for size (Lansing is a little bigger) and obnoxious interactions (except nobody in Flint was that impressed with my beautiful, beautiful hair).

      I was about to say that I've never had anybody in Detroit bother me in any way, possibly because I don't generally walk around there alone, but then I remembered this one school trip to the DIA and a drunk guy who wanted to talk about the racial balance of my school (at least I think that's what he was on about) and er- oh, never mind. In any case, I've never experienced any catcalling in Detroit.

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    8. And, having now read some of those "stop street harassment" links from the article you posted, I'm inclined to think that it's either a lot worse in places like New York or there's a bit of exaggerated fear going on. (Online/feminist community feedback loop maybe?)

      On the other hand, ask any teenaged girl who goes to school on the public bus or walks alone if they've ever been harassed in that manner, and I'm betting they'll say yes. The vast majority of men are perfectly polite in public even when they're standing around people-watching with their friends, but it doesn't take very many jerks to ruin a nice walk.

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  4. Thanks for the blog shout-out, Will! For me, the connection is so complicated, so tied to personal experience, I feel as though the only way I can explore these connections is through the lens of my own race, class, and gender. As a white, privileged woman mostly catcalled in areas entrenched in poverty and limited by residential segregation, I agree that catcalling is probably connected to power. You said that, “others catcall because, for one brief moment, they're more powerful than someone else." That rings true for me.

    As for region, the most I've ever been catcalled is while living in NYC and living in Manhattan, Kansas. Truly, the catcalling in Kansas was almost criminal in its frequency. I can never quite figure out why that is, but I can't blame it on the college campus. I was almost never catcalled when I went to UCONN. Does it make a difference that the NYC catcalling happens in urban poor areas? That Kansas was rural and poor with a nearby military base? That one area is racially diverse and one is predominantly white? I have no idea—but someone should figure it out.

    And SerialBabbler-- it's really freaking bad. Walking to the subway yesterday in Queens, I had to wait to cross the road with a group of five very tall, very large men making lewd comments. I actually crossed before I really should have because they had started circling me and I got scared. (Once I got to the other side of the street, some younger guy said, "Don't pay any attention to them, Miss." I was grateful.)

    Getting off the subway that same day, I got confused about which exit to take. I unfortunately did not follow everyone else getting off the train and ended up wandering to a rarely used exit. The only people in the subway... me and two men walking towards me. They positioned themselves so I had to walk between them, and as I tried to pass them one of them got in my way and said "You want some?" I ducked beneath his arm and jumped through the emergency gate. I'm pretty sure he was just trying to scare me, but it still stunk.

    So, for me, catcalling is only a big deal when it’s a group of guys and I’m all alone and I have to walk through them or by them in some way. Yell at me from a car? Who cares! Yell at me while I’m with a group in a well-lit area surrounded by people! Nbd. Yell at me at night when I’m all by myself? Chase me after catcalling me? (that happened to me once in Cleveland. I outran them.) Now it’s a big deal. And as a girl who works late and takes public transit, unfortunately it happens a lot. Like, every day. I’m pretty confident in my ability to pepper spray or outrun whoever I need to, but why should I have to? Can’t we work towards a world where men and women experience equal amounts of terror on a daily basis? Please??

    But then as I say this I’m worried my fear is exaggerated by a sensationalist media invested in creating a culture of mass fear. Ah! See how impossible this is?

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    1. Well said, and I'm comfortable with concluding that "impossible" is right. My suspicion is that when women are alone, the men catcalling divide into two groups: the ones who can't imagine why anyone would be scared of them, and the ones who delight in fear.

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    2. Hmm. I think New York could probably support a group dedicated to reducing catcalling through public education campaigns.

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