Catcalling is Anti-Black

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.

For Black Women who “Look Like Men.”

Us Black girls don’t tend to have hair that falls down our back, our hair grows upward towards Heaven.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my cotton-candy curls, loving them is a battle I’ve had to fight internally and externally. “You look like a boy” is a statement my ears are far too familiar with, and my heart feels too tired to argue. I didn’t have the words to explain to people at 7-years-old that little boys and little girls don’t look all that different, and hair isn’t a means to tell someone’s sex or much less their gender. “You look like a man” is what I’ve heard too many past lovers tell me whenever I took my extensions out, as if it wasn’t enough for them to not love me, now they had to try take away my ability for me to love me. I’ve always had difficulties accepting how femininity was both forced on and taken away from Black women, completely depending on the situation.

I’ve had difficulties grappling with how our bodies are seen as museum exhibits for oogling, ogling, and appropriation. From an early age Black Girls are fetishized for our butts; “twerk for me.” For our lips; “damn girl you have some DSLs” Yet degraded for our hair; “She’d be cuter if he sh*t wasn’t nappy.”  From the moment we begin to exist our bodies are controversial war-zones, and like land, we are damaged from the cross-fire. Our basic humanity gets negated from all directions, Black men, Non-Black men, Non-Black women, and yes even ourselves. We are taught from an early age to shrink ourselves like hair being met with water (this metaphor ain’t for White girls); “Don’t walk around with an attitude.” Our tears are perceived as ugly, our bodies treated as unfeminine. As a child, I never had the words to express what was happening against me, but damn, I was always left wondering “Ain’t I a woman?”

I never understood Sojourner Truth’s speech in its entirety until much later in my life (if you haven’t read it, please read it), what resonates so deeply is that even to this day Black female bodies are still subjected to the mockery and critique of others. When someone wants to embrace our femininity, we are expected to be “lady-like”. When someone wants to de-feminize us, it’ll happen within the blink of an eye. Originally this piece was going to be about hair, but it’s so much more than the way our hair grows out our head. It’s the fact that our dark skin is seen as a threat, so people treat us very similarly to how they’d threat Black men in this society. It’s the fact that our voices tend to be deeper, so we are expected to make the pitch higher so as to not come off as rude when we speak. It’s the fact that we have always been treated differently than other women, as if we are expected to be Super-Woman and depend primarily on ourselves. The worst part is, I think the internalization of these messages are unavoidable.

From afar, I appreciate how Non-Black feminists are growing out their body hair, spreading their legs when they sit, and paying for themselves (and maybe even the guy) on dates. But I can’t help but feel like we, Black women, our feminist movement has to look a little different. It has to look like not laying down our edges and cutting our hair short (if we want that). It has to look like wearing those booty shorts and that crop top if we want it, because it isn’t our fault that our bodies are hyper-sexualized. Our feminist movement has to look battling double standards of attire, because why can that White girl wear it, but I’m a “slut” if I do? Hell, I think our Black Feminist movement looks like Black women reclaiming their sexuality, however and whenever they want (That’s why Amber Rose is important to me). The world isn’t going to be kind to our feminist Black movement, I don’t even expect most of our mommas to understand it. But from one Black girl to another, we need a movement for Black Women who are told they “Look like men.”

For Black Girls who are too young to understand the battle ahead of them, 
don’t listen to the haters. Your hair is beautiful, long, short, curly, or kinky. Your skin is beautiful, regardless of if your Light and Bright or Midnight Black. Black girls, your bodies are yours, and you’re gonna have a lot of people who try to take that away from you. But whatever you do, try not to let your self worth as a Black girl be belittled by a society that doesn’t see the beauty in you. 
For Black Women,
we have to go out our way to make Black girls feel special. We have to compliment their hair, we have to compliment their skin. We have to tell them that they are beautiful, not because girls are supposed to be beautiful, but because beauty is something we Black women have grown up thinking we don’t have. We have to engage in conversations with Black girls about how they feel about themselves, and really listen to what they have to say. We have to protect them from a world that will make them feel like they aren’t worth protecting, we have to show them they are worth protecting. Because anti-Blackness comes in many forms, and society not seeing us, Black women and girls as what we are, that’s declining refusing for the inclusion of our being.