Catcalls vs. Compliments

At college, there are thousands of people all huddled together in one central location. We’ve got men, women, students, athletes, those kids that play the Magic card game in the University Center, the kids that sit in the library to talk, the guy that lets the door close on you when you’re holding hot coffee, the kids that waste all the paper at the printer, and, well, tons of others. Needless to say, there are about 5000 men at the university I attend.

Lately, there’s been tons of attention drawn to catcalling in the media. BuzzFeed recently put out a video called “If We Lived in a World Where Women Catcalled Men” (and it’s hilarious, you should watch it on Buzzfeed).

First of all, what is catcalling? What do we consider a catcall?

I found the following definition on UrbanDictionary (which, obviously, is the be-all-and-end-all truth):

“When a guy gives the wert whirl whistle or yells at a babydoll for the purpose of getting attention and in hopes of a future hookup. This is usually done out of the window of a car. Typically a Pontiac Firebird, or Camaro.”

This is pretty dang accurate. I consider catcalling to be any remark that contains: a moving car; any sort of yell; the terms baby, sugar, sweetheart, honey, or boo; lingering following the remark; elevator eyes; or any question as to “what I’m doing later.” There’s not much wiggle room.

As a female who gets catcalled way more often than I would like to, I would like to draw attention to what I’ve found as the difference between being complimented by a man and being catcalled. This week, I decided to keep track.

It is Thursday. So far this week, I have been catcalled 5 times and complimented twice. So, what’s the difference for me? The first catcall came from a guy stopped at a red light who decided to roll down his window. If my heart starts to race (and not in a good way), it’s a catcall. I felt like I needed a shower after that one.

The next came from two football players that blocked the sidewalk, elevator-eyed me, and said, “Baby, how you doin’?” Just fine, thanks, although I don’t remember being your baby; that must’ve been a different lifetime.

The other three were very similar to these encounters. Personally, I can tell if it’s a catcall by the way I feel following the interaction. This changes from woman to woman. If I feel nervous, scared, anxious, or dirty following our conversation (or lack thereof), I did not appreciate it. For me, these are catcalls.

I decided to write this particular post this morning because today as I was walking down the street, a guy on the sidewalk walking by said in passing, “You’re really beautiful.” And, he kept walking. I smiled. That was the extent of our encounter. As I kept walking, I did not feel victimized or dirty or anxious. I just felt normal (if not a little more confident about the outfit I’d chosen!). There was no aggression, no blocking me from walking, no follow-up questions about my plans for the evening – just a compliment.

Now, if this same person had a different attitude or tone in the way he had said it, I would have reacted very differently. It’s not the words, it’s the sentiment behind them.

As I mentioned before, some women still find interactions like this to be catcalling, and that varies. However, personally, I can appreciate men that are respectful and genuine in their compliments. It came with a more awkward, shy demeanor than a powerful, arrogant Gaston-like vibe.

Another thing to note – I have never been catcalled by a female. This could be for two reasons: 1. We make our remarks always sound like pleasant compliments, regardless of whether or not we actually like what you’re wearing, or 2. We understand what it feels like to be catcalled ourselves, and thus would never put another female through it.

So, what?

Women: We don’t often have to be told to be aware of how things make us feel. However, if catcalling is something that makes you feel uncomfortable (or anxious or nervous or dirty), you need to stick up for yourself. This is something I have a really hard time doing. When I get catcalled, I get all awkward and nervous and I tend to shut down. It’s hard for me to garner up a good comeback (these always come to me like a day later – sad, I know). Understand your worth and what you deserve. Confidence is beautiful – and hopefully that will bring you genuine compliments.

Men: There needs to be some understanding that what you say to a woman is interpreted and analyzed through these lenses. Please do not be aggressive and arrogant. Please do not block our path or box us in or make us feel powerless. If you would like to give a compliment (which, I know a good handful of men that have mastered the art of complimenting a woman!), be respectful. We do not appreciate being yelled out through the window of a car – ever. I don’t care if that girl’s the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen – pick a different scenario to tell her.

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