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Catcalls: A Harmless Compliment...or an Act of Intimidation?

Published: 
Sunday, March 22, 2015

By Roslyn Carrington
NOT A SINGLE WOMAN reading this hasn’t been there: walking down the street, minding your own business, when you hear it, the insidious Pssst!, the wolf whistle, the graphic sexual comment, and, perhaps the insult, yelled in your wake as you keep walking.

The catcall: is it just a clumsy attempt at a compliment, or an act of sexual aggression disguised as one? And how do we, as women, respond? Do we avoid that particular street corner? Dress more demurely? Hang our heads and keep on walking, or straighten our spines and inform our heckler that what they said is simply not ok?

I asked several friends of WOW their opinions.  

Some believed it’s just an awkward way to convey a compliment.

“Intrinsically, they’re compliments. Not every woman gets compliments, by the way. I'm not saying that you should be grateful for the catcalls; just stating a fact. If you weren't catcallable, you would not have been catcalled.”

Others disagreed

“It is not a compliment. It is not intended to be, although they are expressing appreciation of your attributes. It’s intended to demean.”

Perhaps, an attempt to make contact by a man who, deep down, believes he could never approach you otherwise?

“Most times, it is a case of 'taking in front before in front take you’. They feel inferior to women; and act as crude as they do to give themselves an excuse when they get rejected. So the 'bravado' displayed, the expression of 'superiority', is really a thin attempt to mask these men's own insecurities, and their very real inferiority complexes.”

“They’re uncomfortable with who they are; often emotionally stunted, and like a toddler who hits the girl he likes (Tobago love), he doesn’t know how to express himself in a way that gets him the outcome he ACTUALLY desires: some sort of interaction with the female in question.”

Socio-economic level also plays a part: in other words, catcalling is often seen as the working man’s hobby.

“Don't overthink! Bored construction workers' catcalls are really a contest among themselves as to who can be most outrageous.”

“There is also the 'gang' thing — the strength in numbers thing — group behaviour.”

“It’s a reaction to being replaceable pieces of manual labour. Marginalized economically, socially and probably societally.”

“These men have been brought up in a deprived environment, where their role models do the same thing, so they haven't thought about it to know better.”

For some, it is not about compensating for a lack of power, but the giddy sensation that comes from having a little of it.

“The absolute worst experience of that kind I ever had was encountering a Regiment jeep on Cascade Road when I was a schoolgirl in uniform.”

“In the main police station in Tobago, I saw a senior officer using his rank to allow him to tease\humiliate one of the office girls.”

Some think that, in a country as conscious of skin tone as ours, skin colour is also a factor. Some of our lighter skinned friends claimed they are harassed with increased aggression. 

“There is the shade thing as well — or, translated, 'she feel she better than me/we' syndrome — ‘I will show she’. I will exact my revenge for my rejection at 'allyuh' hands….”

Funny enough, one woman reported being ‘boofed’ by the GIRLFRIEND of her catcaller.

“This guy was saying suggestive things to me outside a bar, and I was ignoring him. Just then my boyfriend walked out. The man’s girlfriend started shouting at me, ‘Oh, so because your man white, you feel my boyfriend can’t ‘soots’ you? I would be happy if he ‘soots’ me!”

“What bothers me is these men go home to girlfriends, wives, and daughters, who think that type of attention is great, and don't see what the hell our problem is.”

Remember, men get catcalled, too.

“Whilst I think it is more prevalent for women, it does happen to men — much more than we know or care to admit. This would mean that it is not a male female thing but a human dynamic thing.”

“Not just harassed, eh, but I have been physically assaulted by women: at the gym and in school. I was once felt up by a gang of four girls by the toilets.”

“As a teen I used to run around the Savannah. Big old women would say the nastiest things to me. Very informative for me, since from early I understood how it felt to be on the other end.”

So, do we let it slide, cover up, or fight back?

None of the women we asked thought that covering up more was the answer, and rightly so, because, in effect, it allows the catcaller to control the way we live. (See page 7 for Naballah Chi’s excellent response to that question.)

And while some men thought the easiest course of action was to let it go, some women talked about fighting back with catcalls of their own, or even explaining why such comments hurt.

“I used to turn around and look them in the eye and ask them, ‘Why would you say something like that to me?’ You’ll find they boil down like bhaji.”

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