It seems that certain themes hit the internet in waves. Perhaps a news story triggers it, or perhaps an event in someone’s life. Then there’s a blog post, then another. Next thing you know, it seems like everyone has to let the world know their opinion on the subject. For the past week and a half, perhaps two weeks, street harassment seems to be the theme. Specifically, the subject has been catcalling. I can’t say that I like it and I agree with most of the evaluations that feminists have said about it. On the other hand, as someone who has been groped on multiple occasions, who has had high school teachers come onto me, who has been told that I couldn’t do certain things, like math, because I had the wrong genitalia, who has received career counseling in which I’ve been given advice based on my gender, who’s constantly being told that I don’t have the sexual feelings I do have, and who knows on the global scale of things I’ve had it pretty easy, catcalling falls pretty low on my list of priorities.
However, I was looking at all the responses about catcalling and I do have to say one thing stood out. Regarding a video that came out showing a woman being catcalled as she walked down the street, a guest on CNN, Steve Santagati, said, “The bottom line is this, ladies, you would not care if all these guys were hot.” Actually, he has a point. Now, he blew it after that statement by going a little too far in trying to explain how women think. He continued, “They would be bolstering your self-esteem, bolstering your ego. There is nothing more that a woman loves to hear than how pretty she is.”
I don’t know about how other women feel, but there are a lot of things I love more than hearing how pretty I am. For instance, having a really hot guy on top of me, thrusting in and out, is definitely something I love more than hearing how pretty I am. In fact, if I like hearing a hot guy tell me how pretty I am, it’s probably because the possibility of having the hot guy thrusting in and out some time in the near future has just increased.
Now, the thing that I, as a woman, have never really understood about catcalling is why men do it. Exactly what are they trying to accomplish? My own suspicion, and since I’m not a guy it’s just a guess, is that they are trying to get a woman’s attention because it’s a cheap thrill. Now, to be frank about it, I have no problems with cheap thrills when I’m the one enjoying them. The other day, I wore a plunging neckline and I caught a very nice looking man’s eyes looking at my breasts. He didn’t say anything and the glance was brief enough to remain well within the bounds of socially acceptable behavior. It didn’t “bolster my ego.” It gave me sexual thoughts and a not unpleasant feeling between my thighs. Now, I walked by quite a few other men that day, and many of them glanced at my cleavage. For better or worse, it was only when “hot guys” looked at me that I had a sexual response.
Now, no one said anything, and if they had it would have suddenly turned from a light, cheap thrill to something uncomfortable. I’m sure if I had said anything, the men would have felt uncomfortable, too. For better or worse, there are social codes about when you are, or are not allowed to say anything, how long you are allowed to look at someone before we call it staring, how much eye contact is acceptable. This is all culturally embedded and varies from one culture to another. It’s something that we internalized and act on it in a nearly subconscious fashion.
In another cleavage related story, on New Year’s Eve there was this absolutely adorable bartender. He had a cute face, and every time he turned around I couldn’t help noticing that he had an even cuter ass. Really, I’m not an ass woman, but this was one that even I could appreciate. I was wearing a dress with a deep v-neck. At one point, the adorable bartender was pouring cheap bubbly directly from the bottle into my mouth. A bit ran down my chin, then dropped onto my chest and rolled down my breast. The bartender’s eyes followed the droplet. I wanted to make a comment about how maybe he’d like to lick it off. Despite the vulgar things running through my head, I said nothing because, after all, he was at work and just as an attractive female bartender is not sexually available to every guy who comes into a bar, neither are male bartenders. So, I had my cheap little thrill, which would have been a little less thrilling if the bartender was less handsome. I can only speculate that it might have been more of a thrill for him if I had been closer to his age rather than nearly old enough to be his mother.
Part of the skill of flirting, when it’s done right, is that the level of engagement is slowly escalated, leaving the other person the opportunity to end the situation gracefully, without a conflict or hurt feelings. The right type of smile or a raised eyebrow, and perhaps I would have made my lewd comment to the bartender. Even still, I’d have to be aware that I would have been running the risk of a cold response. And I think we’ve all made the occasional misjudgement and we should be forgiving about honest miscues.
So, it’s an itty bitty thrill when we get a bit of attention from a member of our preferred gender, and it’s a little disappointment when we find someone attractive and he or she does not reciprocate our attention. It’s perfectly normal to walk down the street and have sexual feelings when you see an attractive person. At some point, however, when you become aware that you’re making the other person uncomfortable, you just have to back off. But I think maybe the best way to get men to be less verbally aggressive on the street is to frankly acknowledge that it has to do with whether or not we find the man in question sexually appealing. If a you’re man on the street and you tell a woman she’s beautiful and she doesn’t even acknowledge the compliment with a smile, well, maybe she’s not that into you.