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Why Do Men Catcall?

Screaming at women about their appearances reinforces some men's sense of dominance -- but it's street harassment.
 
 
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"I want to show you a good time."

"Oh, man, talk about country thick -- big, round and juicy."

"Looks like candy. Does you melt in my mouth?"

When Angelita, 26, left her home in San Jose, Calif., on a recent morning, she wasn't dressed for sex.

"I walked by the local auto body shop. I was not looking my best. It started out with whistling and vocalizations. These guys were just hanging around yelling at every pair of buttocks that strolled down the street, no matter what they looked like. I just felt uncomfortable."

This scenario is played out multiple times a day in most cities across the world. Men shout out to female strangers on the street, commenting on their looks and do-ability. In most instances, women ignore their harassers and keep walking as if no comment was made. But in this instance (and as part of an experiment I spearheaded), Angelita bravely turned to the group of guys and asked them one simple question: "Why?"

Not surprisingly, the men offered no insight into their behavior. Instead, the group mentality kicked in and they piled on.

"You got a fat ass."

"Your body got me hummin'."

"Got to hold that body."

"For some men, catcalling reinforces their sense of dominance or manliness," explains Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D. and author of Sex with Your Ex & 69 Other Things You Should Never Do Again. "Others may be eternal optimists, hoping that maybe just one woman will actually throw herself at him. Still others do it because they're really just thinking with their dicks, saying the first thing that jumps into their heads."

All human beings who operate within society learn to censor their primal instincts. When nature calls, most people don't just pull down their pants in public, pop a squat and take care of business. We don't leap over the counter at Dunkin' Donuts and start stuffing Munchkins in our faces just because they look good.

So how is it that so many men operate without an "off" switch when it comes to making sexual comments? Is it because by not protesting, we've implicitly given them the go-ahead?

Thirty-something cultural anthropologist Franny runs a Twitter account that is fascinating in its thorough, block-by-block descriptions of the noises New York City men make toward her on an almost daily basis.

"Over years of receiving various catcalls I, like so many women, had become numb to them, so I decided it was time to stop ignoring them, accepting them or internalizing them and put them out there for what they really are: Obnoxious. Ultimately, I hope that this can become a forum for all women (and men) to share their catcall stories," she says.

Recently, Franny began asking the catcallers why they said these things to her.

"The first person didn't answer. The second, who called me gorgeous and asked for my autograph responded, 'Because you look like a movie star.' I know, since I had just rolled out of bed to go grab coffee that I could not have looked like a movie star ... maybe a movie star caught off guard in an awful paparazzi photo ..."

Before starting the Twitter account (and before that, a blog on the same subject), Franny had the idea to photograph the catcallers -- turning the lens on them -- but it proved too difficult to be constantly at the ready with a camera. Another issue was that she didn't necessarily want to stick around to interact with the person who slows down on his bike so he can make smooching sounds at her as she passes by.

 
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