Monday, January 25, 2016

Cat Calling: An International Perspective

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This past weekend I caught up with a close friend of mine who lives abroad and heard about her recent trip to visit family in NYC. Olivia* was full of tales about the wonder of the city of skyscrapers - she raved about her week of glittering lights, fantastic shopping, and forays into the enviable cultural scene.

However, during the course of our conversation, amidst her tales of visits to art exhibits and trips to sumptuous restaurants, it became clear that something wasn't quite right. When I brought it up, Olivia reluctantly mentioned that while she adored New York, it was hard to fall in love with a city when she constantly felt scared walking around by herself. Despite having lived abroad in numerous countries like Austria, Israel, England, and more, Olivia was shocked by the persistent and aggressive catcalling she received in every part of the city she visited.

I found this perspective both interesting and incredibly disheartening. For a woman who has travelled and lived in countries around the world, as well as in the United States, it seems an incredible shame that such a beloved city like New York
should stand out not for it's many assets, but for the intense discomfort it caused in a young woman who came to enjoy everything the various boroughs have to offer.

I'm reminded of a scene in Aziz Ansari's new show, "Master of None" which depicts the harsh reality of the different lives men and women live in New York. In one scene in particular, Aziz and his male friend are walking around the city in complete comfort after a night out, while across town, their female friend nervously heads home while conspicuously stalked by a young male perpetrator. The young woman is forced to walk in the center of the street where she is more visible, has 911 only a click away on her phone, and has to scurry into her apartment building after a few petrifying blocks.


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How many of us have experienced this kind of male aggression, whether it be some form of stalking or intense catcalling from men in a passing car or van? How many of us have felt the need to stay off the streets anytime after dark, or feel we must be armed with pepper spray or rape whistles in case someone approaches us? Because that's what catcalling is: a perceived threat of physical violence. Because even if the calls are lighthearted, there is no way for us to know what these men intend.

Olivia was particularly shocked because she was visiting New York in the dead of winter: so often women who receive catcalls are told they "deserve" it because they are probably dressed in short skirts or revealing dresses. But what if you're in a down coat, boots, hats, and gloves? Personally, I still feel extremely uncomfortable when I'm walking to my car late at night in the dead of a Chicago winter wrapped up in approximately 12 layers.

And please don't the wrong idea -- I am not bashing an entire sex for being aggressive and violent.  I truly believe the vast, vast majority of men in the U.S. are wonderful fathers, brothers, and husbands who would be outraged if they saw a woman being unfairly catcalled or harassed. However, this does not eliminate the fact that there is a constant threat and reality of violence against women in this country, and the fact that catcalling is a form of true aggression and a threat of physical violence. We must all work together to educate others on the fact that catcalling is not innocent, even if it is meant to be playful or even complimentary.

For more information on catcalling, including how it feels to be on the receiving end as a woman or how men and women can unite together to create a safer environment, you can read more here and here.

*Olivia is a fictitious name to protect the privacy of my longtime friend.  

6 comments :

  1. Great post!
    Xoxo,
    Love from www.trangscorner.com {a lifestyle, fashion, beauty, and food blog}

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  2. I found it slightly shocking that your friend experienced a lot of catcalling in NYC. I say slightly because NYC is such a large city with so many diverse areas that it is not surprising catcalling happens. However, my experiences in NYC were quite different. I walked around a lot alone (although in the daytime, not at night) and did not experience any catcalling. When I traveled in Europe, I experience so much catcalling in Italy, Greece and Spain. This happened whether I was in a group of people, daytime or nighttime. It seemed to be so commonplace there that I didn't find it as threatening. I agree, if someone catcalled me in NYC I would be nervous and be more on the defense (pepper spray in hand, phone close, strong walk, etc.). I always felt I was catcalled in Italy, Greece, and Spain because I stuck out more with my blonde hair, which could not have been the case at all. It is difficult to know why some people are catcalled: is it because they stand out, or just because of unlucky timing and more about them being a woman than their appearance or dress? I am glad you brought up this topic. It is important to be reminded that even playful catcalling should not be tolerated since it stems from a bigger issue of showing aggressive and trying to gain mental or physical power over someone.

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    Replies
    1. I didn't explicitly mention it above, but I really enjoyed this post and thought it was great!

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  3. Nice post!

    Xx,

    || FLOORTJELOVES ||

    www.floortjeloves.com
    www.facebook.com/floortjeloves

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  4. I understand your friend because I have also experienced it in the place where I live (I live in the Netherlands).
    It is scary to walk on your own when it's dark and the streets are deserted.. but it can also happen during daytime when it is crowded :/
    I haven't been to NY yet, but it is shocking to read that your friend Olivia is constantly scared to walk on her own in NY.
    Good post!

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