An Open Letter to Catcallers

Dear assholes,

You know those things you say to women in the streets? Yeah, you have to cut that out. Seriously. Don’t tell me you mean nothing by it. Don’t tell me it’s harmless. Don’t tell me that’s how you let women know they’re beautiful. All those are silly, invalid excuses. If you verbally assault women in the streets, if you do absolutely anything to make them feel uncomfortable or threatened, you’re a scumfuck and need to quit it right now.

See, last week I received the last check from an online journalism course I was teaching for a university in New York. I was standing in line to use one of the two ATMs at my bank to deposit it when a pale woman wearing a black tank top joined the line for the other machine. The guy behind me said something about the strength of the tank top’s straps. I turned my head and looked at him. Six feet tall, skinny jeans, trimmed beard. Then I looked at her. Short, brunette, black tank top and jeans. True, she had big breasts, but the guy had as much right to comment on that as he had of commenting on the fact that I was wearing a shitty, dirty cap on my head because I hadn’t felt like combing the afro before leaving the house. In any case, the point is that the woman looked at me and shook her head. There was a level of discomfort in her eyes that made me feel like shit, so I looked at the dude behind me again and told him to shut his fucking mouth. For half a second it looked like he was going to start something, but he decided looking down at his phone was a better idea.

Up until that moment, I don’t think I’d ever said something to you, catcallers. That made me feel even worse. That’s why we’re here now, and I’m telling you that if you say something to a woman in front of me and she doesn’t jump on you, I will. I know you think it’s not big deal, but you have to understand that when you say “Hey, nice rack!” or even something as “innocent” as “What’s up, girl?” what you’re doing is making the space we share feel unsafe for that woman. The words matter, but so does your intent. You have to understand that women walk around knowing that men are looking at them and that the stupid, nasty, unnecessary, aggressive comments will become part of their day at any moment. Picture living with that shit. Try to imagine a world in which you have to put up with a dozen assholes telling you things every day. You can’t, can you? No, you can’t. Just like you don’t know what it is to be a POC is if you’re white. That’s why you need to stop it. Women know what they look like and don’t need you to point anything out. If they have big breasts or nice legs or purple hair of voluptuous lips or beautiful green eyes or great tattoos or they’re really tall, I assure they’re aware of it and don’t need constant reminders. More importantly, they couldn’t care less about what you think of their attributes. What they care about, and what every man out there should care about, is making sure they can leave the house wearing whatever the fuck they want without having to worry about harassment.

Regardless of what you think, catcalling is not nice, inoffensive or funny. It is ugly, offensive, and a direct attack on women. I know you have unresolved mommy issues. I know you are ill equipped to converse in a civilized manner with a female. I know you were brought up in a culture in which sexualizing every part of a woman’s body is okay. I know you grew up hearing that if her skirt was too short or she was showing too much cleavage or she had a few drinks or she fucking smiled at you, she was asking it. All of that is wrong. All of that is bullshit and makes you part of the problem. All of that helps perpetuate rape culture in ways that you can’t begin to imagine. If you refuse to use an intellectual hammer to shatter all of it, you’re willingly accepting your status as a despicable brute.

Now you know better, catcallers, and choosing to continue participating in the abusive, annoying, and utterly stupid practice makes you a bigger asshole than you are right now. Respect women. Respect their space. Respect their right to wear whatever they want. Be nice. Quit saying awful things. It’s really not that hard and it makes the world a better place for all of us.

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