Should you catcall her? It’s a question pondered among academics and layman alike, researched and studied, battled out on social media. Yet somehow, the great debate over the ethics of catcalling continues to remain unresolved in society. Luckily, the renowned pro-women magazine, Playboy, offered some insight on the issue by publishing a humorous yet informative flowchart attempting to answer the age-old question. Poking fun at those who might catcall, the flowchart frames the query as silly, with the resounding conclusion that no, you shouldn’t. While Playboy is certainly right that catcalling is not appropriate behavior, the issue is more than a question of good manners. Beyond blatant disrespect, catcalling evokes deeper implications that are important to consider before ogling, whistling, and/or yelling at a total stranger on the street.
Science says: catcalling perpetuates an environment of fear.
Street harassment can be scary. Though some people may have you think that the person is paying you a compliment or attempting to flatter you, women know better. For us, it’s not always a wink and a smile, or a whistle and holler. When women don’t respond the “right way,” a simple yell can turn into violent threats.
According to research conducted by Kimberly Fairchild, a professor of psychology at Manhattan College in New York, catcalling can take an emotional toll on the receiver: “When a man catcalls you, you don’t know if it will end at that point or if it could escalate to assault.”
Women just don’t know what the intentions are of the person who is yelling. Men would do well to remember that when they catcall a woman, you aren’t considering what she has experienced and how she might interpret the harassment.
Simply put, catcalling promotes fear, and gives women yet another reason to be on edge when out and about.
Science says: street harassment creates feelings of anger and suspicion towards men.
A recent study by Stephanie Chaudoir and Diane Quinn of the University of Connecticut shows that catcalling negatively impacts not just women but men as well. When confronted with street harassment, women are shown to feel increased solidarity with women as a group and anger towards men in general. Because catcalling is associated with male aggression, it creates division and disharmony between the sexes, causing women to feel resentment towards men as a whole.
The thought that some women may view street harassment as a compliment perversely suggests that a woman should find value and self-esteem based on whether or not a man deems her sexually attractive. This reduces women to little more than sexual objects. As professor Fairchild states, catcalling “increases self-objectification” and “encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings.”
The catcalling-is-flattering argument is one espoused by many men — and even women. New York Post writer Doree Lewak penned in a recent column that she seeks out catcalls to boost her confidence and self-esteem: “I may court catcalls, but I hold my head high. Enjoying male attention doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender. Isn’t feminism all about self-empowerment, anyway?”
While some women like Lewak may get giddy about street harassment, men should not expect such a reaction to be the standard response. Outliers can skew results, and in this case, Lewak is an outlier. When a man sees a woman on the street, it’s best to assume she does not get off on being harassed.
Science says: women are not cats.
The term itself suggests that women are no better than animals to be summoned at the will of their owner. As such, catcalling demotes women to a subhuman status. This is problematic due to indisputable scientific evidence that women are in fact, people.
According to the Encyclopedia of Life, most humans are born either male or female, depending on their genetic makeup. “Like other mammals, humans have an XY sex-determination system, so that females have the sex chromosomes XX and males have XY.” This is something men might consider when deciding whether or not to treat women as dignified human beings, or as something else.
Regardless of the evidence, it seems women’s status in society will always be a matter of public discourse. So when confronted by those who insist on subjecting women to their ignorant, insensitive belittling ways, remember this: if a woman is no more than a cat to you, you are no more than a pig to her.
Suzanne Schaefer is a Young Voices Advocate and a Senior Campus Coordinator at Students For Liberty. She joined Students For Liberty’s inaugural Professional Advancement Fellowship as a Fellow at Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, DC for the summer of 2014, and she previously interned at the Englehart Group in Indianapolis where she worked on projects for the Advocates for Self Government. Suzanne has been involved with Young Americans for Liberty as the Director of Communications for the Indiana University chapter, and is now the Executive Director. Suzanne is an undergraduate at Indiana University pursing degrees in political science, international studies, and French, with a minor in Spanish.