A reach? Lets Debate. Catcalling is something I only thought happened in episodes of “What Would You Do?“, and Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y music video. That was until I actually moved to New York, and I was subjected to it every time I’d leave the house. For those that aren’t familiar with this practice, catcalling is defined as:
” a loud, sexually suggestive call or comment directed at someone publicly (as on the street)”Merriam Webster
The execution of this looks like a woman walking down the streets of Midtown Manhattan by herself, armed with her purse, some earpods (airpods if you extra bougie), and a cell phone. She’s wearing an all-white sundress that enhances her curves, her coconut oil infused afro is shining in the summer sun, and her dark brown skin is glistening and smelling of cocoa butter lotion (sis is feeling GOOD). Cue man wearing sneakers, a jersey shirt, and a fitted baseball hat:
Man: A-O Ma!
Woman: *increase the volume of her Solange playlist*
Man: OH, YOU CAN'T HEAR ME?
Woman: *starts walking faster, lowers head, and stares into phone*
Man: OH!? FOR REAL?! F*** YOU THEN! B****
I understand that there are people who’ve grown up in communities where this is normalized, and I welcome the Black Women and LGBTQ folks of those communities to comment their thoughts on my think piece (I’ve heard that depending on your background less vulgar catcalling may be considered acceptable courting, and I don’t want to dismiss that if it exists). With that being said, while this may be common behavior in highly populated cities, Catcalling is often just normalized harassment. Sometimes these interactions aren’t only a few sentences in the middle of board daylight, sometimes they aren’t just between two people. Personally, I’ve been stalked by groups of men, grabbed countless times, and harassed by multiple men at one time. It’s humiliating, and it feels like a group bonding experience for men at the expense of my safety.
The issue of catcalling is beyond just my experience, from conversations with other Black women I’ve gained awareness that for many of us these acts inspire terror/paranoia. Some of us recently survived rape/sexual assault and having random men on the street using our bodies as vessels to validate their masculinity/ego only perpetuates the symptoms of PTSD. Many of us live with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, and the act of men disregarding our feelings can be really damaging. According to the article “African American Women’s Beliefs About Mental Illness, Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors”:
“Approximately 7.5 million African Americans have a diagnosed mental illness (31.9% of Black Women), and up to 7.5 million more may be affected but are undiagnosed (63.8% of Black Women in total) (Davis, 2005). Women may be over-represented in these populations given the reported 2:1 gender ratio of depression (Immerman & Mackey, 2003). Additionally, negative sociopolitical experiences including racism, discrimination, and sexism put African American women at risk for low-income jobs, multiple role strain, and health problems, all of which are associated with the onset of mental illness (Schneider, Hitlan, & Radhakrishnan, 2000).
Earlise C. Ward and Susan M. Heidrich
In addition to mental health considerations, there’s an undiscussed element of Power & Privilege Cis Men hold over Women when they Catcall. As a gender-fluid person, I’m no stranger to people being confused by my gender identity. This manifests itself in questions about my sex/gender when I’m walking down the street, and homophobic/transphobic comments being made against me and the LGBTQ community. It’s in these situations that fear becomes enhanced; I don’t enjoy feeling pressured to answer questions about my gender/sex on the street. For one, it’s none of anyone’s business, and two, being publicly outed can jeopardize my (or any LGBTQ’s person’s) safety. The rates of murder against specifically Trans and Non-Gender-Conforming (NGC) folks are increasingly growing, and over the past 5 years 102 (and counting) Trans folks were the victim of a fatal crime (at least 88 of these individuals were women, and at least 87 of these individuals were people of color). When you’re Black, when you’re a woman, and when you’re LGBTQ, catcalling is more than just “being bothered.” Catcalling is an act of harassment that you can only pray doesn’t result in fatal death, just because you threatened somebody’s fragile male ego.
Originally, I was going to share the reasons behind men catcall (based on conversations I’ve had with men and research). But at this point, I don’t think it’s relevant. I do not care that it’s cultural. I do not care about a man’s self-esteem needing a lift, especially if it means stepping on the esteem of others. I do not buy the excuse that this is a “coming of age” activity, and “boys will be boys.” Men suffering from mental health issues, poverty, and other adversities does not justify them using the bodies of women to perpetuate oppression. Women, Black women, Black Trans Women, do not exist as objects to use and abuse. To my original point, Catcalling is Anti-Black because anything that encourages, enables, and perpetuates the harassment and degradation of Black Women/LGBTQ folks is Anti Black.
I have seen a number of thought pieces, videos, and protests that acknowledge catcalling as an issue. But often times I feel as though Black Women and LGBTQ folks are left out of the conversation. I do understand that this issue impacts a wide array of women, however when you add in the intersections of sex/gender, race, and orientation you find that your experience with Catcalling can be worse. Therefore I specifically call on more Cis Black Men and Cis White Women to speak on this issue and stand up for Black Women/LGBTQ folks. When we are left out of these conversations when folks within our own community ignore and perpetuate street harassment, it looks a like like y’all want privilege and not equality.