Buzzfeed recently reported on the story of a 19 year old who was run over after ignoring a cat-call. The story focused on the failure of the police involved, but the incident has far wider implications.
Virtually every woman has been catcalled. A driver beeping his horn, a group of drunk boys yelling across the street – it comes in many forms. It’s reported that 90% of British women experience catcalling from the age of puberty, with the typical woman first being catcalled between the ages of 11 and 17.
For some people, it’s easy to ignore it and keep walking. For others, it can have an impact on their mental health, and in some cases it can escalate into real violence. Often people, usually men, will tell women to take it as a compliment. It’s a bit of harmless fun, they’ll say.
The entitlement that people feel when they catcall is astonishing. On an average day, would you approach a stranger on the street and say “Excuse me, but dat ass.”?
Yet some men feel the need to do so from a passing car. They feel they have the right to comment on somebody else’s body, and sometimes, when they don’t get the response they feel it is appropriate that they resort to violence. So is catcalling really a compliment?
Joanna Lumley thinks so, certainly. She declared that people had become ‘sensitive flowers’, a sharp contrast to the view of Nottinghamshire Police who say it could be considered a hate crime. Joanna Lumley’s view shows the pervasiveness that male entitlement has in our society, that so many, women included, are willing to excuse and dismiss it, ignoring real feelings that are hurt and the greater consequences of that culture. The Nottinghamshire Police are taking a stand against male violence by declaring it a hate crime – they’re admitting it’s a real problem in our society.
In my view, catcalling reflects a power relationship. The catcaller doesn’t give the catcallee the chance to say no, the chance to not listen. The catcaller’s desire to make the catcallee uncomfortable is more important than anything else in that situation. The overwhelming majority of catcallers are men and the majority of people catcalled are women. It’s a particular, sexist culture, that has created this situation.
That power relationship between men and women extends far further in society than just some shouting on the street, and the violence it inspires is real and life-threatening. In a culture where male entitlement to women’s bodies is disregarded as a compliment, when complaints against women are dismissed easily, men get away with far more than just shouting, and women are victimised in so many more ways. When men, like the one who ran over the woman he catcalled, resort to violence, it has real impacts and far wider implications. In England and Wales, seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner. It’s not so hard to draw a link between the two when catcalling so often escalates.
Violence against women is entrenched in our society, and it starts with catcalling.