Finally, warm weather has arrived; the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, the natives are out frolicking ... and as Im strolling down Lafayette one bright sunny Partridge Family kind of day, my revelry is sharply interrupted with:
Hey baby, shake that ass, ooh, uh-huh, yeah!
... uttered by a man hanging out of a pickup truck screeching by at 45 m.p.h., leaving the tinge of burnt rubber hanging in the air.
Guys, I want to know something. Im truly curious. Does this actually work? Have you ever, say, sparked a meaningful relationship after screaming, Hey, baby, can I get some fries with that shake? at a random woman on the street? Forget relationship, have you even gotten laid in this manner? Has a woman ever gone chasing after you, clutching her damp panties in hand, shouting, Yes, oh yes! Take me, you stud, you!?
Yeah, thats what I thought.
Summertime requiring less clothing for the sole purpose of comfort is catcalling season. And if youre a woman who walks in any public space, youve probably received your share of unsolicited comments and ocular molestation.
Why do these guys do it?
Our societys standing belief is that womens bodies are public, says Sue Rumph, special lecturer for the womens studies program at Oakland University. We receive messages through many areas of society and media that women like this sort of attention, that theyre comfortable with the role of sex object, or being objectified. So then its also confusing to men when women react negatively, because, after all, theyre only paying you a compliment, right? I think many men dont understand theyre creating a feeling of vulnerability in the person theyre addressing.
Gerald Shiener, staff psychiatrist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, has a similar take.
It arises from two places: an immaturity in men, a need to be noticed and to have women notice them, Shiener says. I also think its a holdover from a time when women on the street were not to be seen unescorted.
Its more of a power issue. I dont think it has much to do with flirting, it has more to do with cultural issues, Shiener adds. And I dont think its a function of how women dress men will always find something to notice.
He adds: Another thing to consider men who harass women in public tend to be working-class men who come from a more traditional background, so it sort of becomes a class issue as well.
After a group of women were publicly attacked by a mob of men in Central Park in 2000, the Street Harassment Project (streetharassmentproject.org) formed in New York City. An excerpt from its mission statement:
Street harassment is a form of terrorization of women in which men attempt to impose dominance and women are supposed to react with subordination.
Street harassment is primarily about power and control; we do not bring it on ourselves by what we wear or do. It is enough to be female and out in public to be harassed.
When women get catcalled, we have two options: ignore it or respond defensively. The Street Harassment Project advocates the latter. The Web site has a set of cards you can print out and hand to offenders. One card has a pair of voluptuous female silhouettes on one side, posed seductively next to the question: Hey guys, wanna get laid? The answer on the other side: Then stop harassing women! The groups manifesto encourages confronting harassers, arguing that ignoring the offenders is a passive action, and wont help put a stop to the problem. But Shiener thinks otherwise.
The most mature, safest response is to ignore it. If you respond, these men know theyre getting attention and theyre going to do it more. They accomplish their goal, he says.
Plus, theres always the chance that a confrontation could lead to something nasty or dangerous. Last year, I encountered a fellow who was exceedingly graphic and vulgar (the c word was involved). I didnt feel like remaining silent while some jackass felt he had the right to treat me in the lewdest manner imaginable. And after I turned around and told him off, he followed me. Spewing obscenities. For two blocks.
So, were damned if we do, damned if we dont, and stuck dealing with it until the first frost.
On a final note, something for you harassers to think about: Elementary physics should tell you that Hey baby can I get yo digits uttered from a vehicle moving at approximately 40 m.p.h. is going to sound more like: HEYBABYHHHSSSSJUJJJGAHHUJAH ...
Yeah, thats what really turns my crank.Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org