The first time I was ever catcalled I was convinced it was a joke. Convinced that the guy on the side of the road sucking his teeth, looking me up and down and whistling at me--a pubescent little girl--was just trying to be funny and not invoke fear. But fear is exactly what I felt.
I was about twelve--maybe eleven--had already grown breasts and hips, and was extremely uncomfortable and ashamed of my own skin. I grew up and grew old of these comments and snickers and eventually learned that there was a term for these make-you-want-to-crawl-out-of-your-skin encounters: catcalling.
My first thought when I came across the word was the sucking sounds and whistles we make to call a cat, and that it didn't quite fit the act, but I soon realized that the term fit perfectly for the aggressive, demeaning and sometimes threatening remarks that are made everyday.
Seven or eight years later, in the age of I N T E R S E C T I O N A L F E M I N I S M and equal rights and I'm still having the same arguments over and over again.
"Relax. It's just a compliment."
No. It is not a compliment. Please tell me that we don't live in such a deep sense of insecurity and low self-esteem that we interpret belligerent and disrespectful howls and remarks as compliments. Please let us not lower the standards of human interactions and humanity to those depths.
We are capable of actually complimenting one another. It is not in the admiration of another human being's appearances or demeanor that I am enraged, it is in the blatant abuse of power that I am made upset. The idea of someone taking time out of their day to say something that they know will make the other person uncomfortable and feel powerless, all because they live in a society that will excuse such acts and because they are fully aware of this fact.
I refuse to let it go on. I refuse to pretend it's okay.
Let's break it down old school style with a little help from the New Oxford Dictionary.
• a loud whistle or a comment of a sexual nature made by a man to a passing woman.
a polite expression of praise or admiration: she paid me an enormous compliment.
• an act or circumstance that implies praise or respect: it's a compliment to the bride to dress up on her special day.
Simple as can be.
I got complimented today and I new immediately the difference between that and a catcall.
"Yas girl, rock them overalls!" is a compliment but if the speaker said instead, "Yas girl, work that ass or damn girl, look at them titties!" it would have been a catcall.
Kindness, not aggressiveness. Compliments, not demeaning remarks.
There. Is. A. Difference.
Learn it. Know it.