By Bianca Johnson and Veronica Liow, Guest contributors
When students at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, CA were asked about catcalling, quite a few had no clue what it was. Those who knew what catcalling was found the backhanded “compliments” to be degrading. Others were shocked to find out that such a form of sexual harassment continues to plague society.
Senior Liya Khan explained, “Catcalling has become so normalized that it is something that women expect and it’s something that males don’t typically see as problematic because it is so expected and it’s so common that instead of addressing it as a problem, it’s seen ‘as ignore it, walk away from it,’ but that doesn’t solve the issue.”
Although the official definition of a catcall describes it as a shrill whistle or shout of disapproval, typically one made at a public meeting or performance, it is more commonly known as a lewd or sexual gesture to another person in a public setting.
The difference between catcalls and compliments ride on a blurry fence. In most cases, catcalling is the objectification of a person through backhanded “compliments”, whereas complimenting is the polite expression of praise or admiration. Though most view catcalls as sexual harassment, a handful believe them to be complementary.
Lately, catcalling has received a fair amount of attention in the media due to social experiments and videos of those who condemn it.
Anti-street-harassment group Hollaback! set up their own social experiment. In October 2014, Shoshana B. Roberts walked around New York for 10 hours with a hidden camera in her backpack. During the 10 hour period, she received some form of harassment 108 times. While some others merely shouted phrases such as “Hey baby!”, others, when she remained unresponsive, followed her and persisted in catcalling. Many of the men who stalked her eventually gave up and stated negatively that she should just “take the compliment”.
Though the video did achieve its goal in shedding some light on the issues of catcalling, there were several negative responses to the video. Some claimed that she should have accepted the catcalling as compliments. Others blamed her choice of “tight” clothing. Many other criticisms towards the social experiment continued to victim shame, as they blamed the victim for “asking” to be sexually harassed through her clothes, make-up and essentially her physical appearance, instead of the perpetrators who objectified the victim through such demeaning remarks.
On another note, CNN news anchor, Fredricka Whitfield, hosted a discussion about the video. Steve Santagati, an author and self-proclaimed dating expert, appeared on the show and stirred up quite a controversy. He felt that those catcalls were completely justified. When Amanda Seales, another panelist featured in the discussion, fired back, Santagati interrupted her, claiming that he is more of an expert on women and on how they feel than Seales and Whitfield, both women, are. He supported his claim by stating that he “is a guy”.
He then said, “There is nothing more that a woman loves to hear than how pretty she is,” but not before restating how he, as “a guy” is unable to “get in a woman’s head”.
Seales, in response, told Santagati that men should respect when women feel uncomfortable when called out about their body in such a demeaning tone, instead of blaming women for feeling uncomfortable and berating them for not politely smiling for the men sexually objectifying them.
Santagati went on to explain that women who do not appreciate the catcalling must be strong and defend themselves. When the topic of past aggression was broached, Santagati simply advised women to “carry a gun”.
In response to the social experiment done by Hollaback!, Model Prankster also uploaded a video in which a male model walked around New York for three hours. He was catcalled or sexually harassed in some form by both men and women for a total of 30 times within that three hour period.
Evidently, catcalling is not just a female issue. Men also experience degrading “compliments” and therefore levels of discomfort, for they feel objectified and as a result, dehumanized.
Catcalling is ultimately a “people’s issue”, as it is not necessarily catered specifically to one gender or the other. Society must combat the sexual harassment both genders feel when catcalled and treat this form of verbal sexual harassment as a people’s issue, for every human should receive the respect they deserve.
This article originally appeared in The Wildcat Tribune. To see more of the amazing work being produced by students at Dougherty Valley High School, check out http://thewildcattribune.com