A Conversation About Friendly Catcalling with My Husband

"A guy told me I was beautiful at the grocery store today."

"Wait, what? How did that go down?"

"I was just looking for shallots and I heard a guy say something to me. I kind of didn't want to look at him but then eventually I looked up and said again, 'You're beautiful' and grinned at me."

"What did you do?"



"I kind of grimace-smiled and tried to avoid him the rest of the time I was shopping."

"That's weird."

"Yeah, I didn't like it."

"No?"

"No! I was just trying to my thing at the grocery store. I didn't want to be looked at or have someone talk to me about my looks."

"Yeah."

"Whenever a guy says something like that to me, it doesn't feel like a compliment."

"No?"

"No! It always happens when I'm trying to be inconspicuous. I almost feel like they're making fun of me. If anything, I feel less attractive."

"What did he look like?"

"He was maybe 50, paunchy. But even if a guy I found really hot told me that I'd just feel all sweaty and flustered, not complimented."

"But you tell people they look good sometimes."

"Yeah, but I tell people, 'I like your outfit' or 'That's a nice dress.' I feel like I compliment their taste or style. Maybe that's weird, too."

"Yeah that makes sense. But it doesn't seem like the guy was, like catcalling you?"

"No...but still, it's just one of those things that women deal with that guys don't. A woman would just never tell a guy at the grocery store, 'You're really good looking.'"

"But still, it didn't seem like he was being mean. Inherently, it was a compliment. But maybe it isn't. I don't know. So why does it bother you?"

"Because, it just throws me off. I have to think of exactly the right way to respond. I don't want to act like I'm too into the compliment, and encourage him, but you don't want to be a bitch because then maybe he'll turn on you and say you're a bitch if you're too cold. It's just this weird subtle power play."

"But do you think the guy meant it as such?"

"No, probably not."

"Did you think he was really hitting on you? Like, what would he do if you reciprocated?"

"I don't know. I have no idea."

"It's kind of like when the guy [in our neighborhood] who owns the barber shop stands outside the store and calls out to certain women who walk by. He doesn't cat call, but he does say stuff like, 'Hey, you're looking good today!'"

"Yeah. And maybe that's charming to some people but I also think it's weird. Look, I know it's not a big deal but it's just a thing that happens and I don't like it."

"I guess I don't know what it's like. I would never in a million years tell a woman something like that, but I don't have the confidence to even say hello to people on the phone, man or woman. I don't know what I'd do if a woman would say something like that to me."

"A woman would never say something like that to you."

"Maybe not. I'm just trying to figure out why it's a bad thing, in a sort of scientific, sociology sort of way. You tell me, when I tell you, 'Hey, your friend looks really pretty tonight' to tell that to them outright."

"I know. It's hard to explain. I guess it's different because you know them and they know you and so they might find it sweet that, knowing you, that you don't say that stuff very often, you said that."

"Hmm. I guess I just don't totally get it. My question is: it's essentially a compliment, isn't it? So why do you perceive it to be derogatory or demeaning? It may very well be, and maybe absolutely is: I just don't fully understand the experience. If a woman said to me, 'Wow, you're really attractive!" I would be flustered, but I don't think I'd be offended."

"I'm not offended by what he said. It's that he said it and then I have to deal with it and it just throws me off."

"Maybe if it happened to me I'd be a little suspicious and scanning for sarcasm, but probably not affected the same way you are. So I guess I just don't fully understand. Your argument is that it isn't a compliment that you feel like is justified at the moment—but that, to me, doesn't really factor into the equation, since he isn't privy to your thoughts, which sort of negates your opinion on your beauty."

"It's not whether or not he thinks I'm attractive. It's that some men sometimes feel like they can just say something like that, in a time and place that's not open for opinions on looks. It wasn't a pickup bar or anything. Look, I know he didn't mean any harm. But it doesn't brighten my day."

"Hmm. Okay."

"I think I need to put this on my site on Monday and see if anyone else feels the same way. Maybe I'm just touchy."

"Yeah, you should write about it! I'm 100% behind what you're saying, that there's probably a history there or something to make it feel uncomfortable, but I just don't fully understand it. 'You're beautiful!' on its own, doesn't necessarily seem like such a bad thing to have said about you."

"Will you read this over before I post it to make sure I got this down accurately?"

"Sure."

Claire Zulkey runs Zulkey.com. She lives in Chicago.

This post was previously published on Zulkey.com. Republished with permission.

Image by Jim Cooke