Will You Miss Catcalls When You're Old?

Catcalling is a perennial issue for many women, especially in cities, and it can be tough to know how to deal with it. Now one advice columnist is offering an unconventional tip: just wait til you're old — then you'll miss it.

A letter-writer tells Dear Prudence, "I live in the city, and as the weather gets warmer, catcalling gets more frequent." She continues, "It's annoying and demeaning, but I know I can't haul every weirdo on the street to a sensitivity class. How should I deal?" Prudie's response:

Wait, my dear, just wait. When I walk down the street with my lovely teenage daughter, men passing in trucks will honk their horns and make appreciative kissing sounds at her. They apparently think the prune standing next to her is deaf as well as old. Yet, their catcalls spark a vestigial memory in me — a couple of decades ago I used to hear vocal judgments from men. At the time it was annoying. Yet given their absence, I have to admit it wasn't all bad.

She adds, "this also falls in the category of there's nothing you can do but ignore it." That's not entirely true — Hollaback! allows street harassment victims to share pictures of their harassers, and organizes anti-harassment events in various cities. However, the letter-writer is correct that if she responded to every instance of harassment, she might never have time to get anywhere. Given this, should she just store the catcalls up for the day when they stop coming?

Real talk: I'd be lying if I said I'd never in my life been flattered by a catcall. There's a variety that can be nonthreatening — I don't really mind some guy saying "hey beautiful" to me on the sidewalk, and if I'm in the right frame of mind, it can feel kind of nice. The problem is that this can verge all too quickly into scary territory. The minute somebody calls me a bitch for not responding to his unsolicited attention, I start to feel the way the letter-writer does — annoyed, demeaned, and unsafe. If this happens a couple times in a month, I feel hemmed in, constrained, and self-conscious, as well as weirdly (and unnecessarily) guilty, like I'm doing something wrong just by walking around in my clothes. And sometimes I start to think about what it would be like if I could walk anywhere I wanted without getting yelled at.

When that happens, will I grow to miss street harassment? Of course, there's no guarantee it'll stop — middle-aged and older women can be harassed on the street too. But if it does, I may feel a wistful twinge. A woman I know feels like she's "lost it" if she goes a week in her neighborhood without a catcall — maybe I'll start to feel the same. But I'm not exactly proud of it — I live in a culture where I'm supposed to base a significant chunk of my self-worth on whether I appear hot to random dudes, and I'm not psyched that I've internalized this expectation. Maybe I'll shake it off around the time I'm (allegedly) too old for catcalls, and maybe I won't, but I do know that the idea that "girls should like it" is a terrible excuse for harassing somebody in the first place. And frankly, I wish I didn't have to consider this question — whether or not it's flattering to some, we'd all be better off if catcalling didn't exist.

Sloppy Stay-At-Home Mom [Slate]

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