The Local Take on the Catcall Debate
A CNN segment between an anchor, a female comedian and a male author about a viral video has gone viral. It’s a meta-viral situation of the finest kind.
The video in question shows men on the streets of New York City catcalling 24-year-old actress Shoshana Roberts. It was produced by Hollaback!, a nonprofit organization that seeks to end street harassment, and has come under fire for showing only men of color. Racial bias aside — intentional or otherwise — the video offers a glimpse into what a majority of women experience on a day-to-day basis. (According to a 2014 study, 65 percent of all women have experienced street harassment.)
In the CNN segment, a discussion unfolds among anchor Fredricka Whitfield, comedian Amanda Seales and author Steven Santagati, who has penned titles such as “The MANual: A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate–and What Women Can Do to Come Out on Top” and “Code of Honor Men: The Ten Commandments That Define All Bad Boys.”
Self-proclaimed bad boy Santagati dishes out what online publication Salon called “a textbook illustration of ‘mansplaining.” Seales dishes out sass and eye rolls. It can be argued that both guests did a poor job of communicating ideas and carrying out productive discourse on the issues of sexual harassment and gender inequality. It can also be argued that CNN strategically featured persons with polarizing opinions to gain clicks and notoriety, a move which, if proven to have been ratings-motivated, brings up issues of journalistic integrity.
But speculation and critique aside, there is no doubt the video and segment sparked intense debate. A Google search for “catcall video” today yields more than one million results. With gender issues prominently on display at the national level, local voices are sounding off on the situation and offering their perspectives.
Read on for your peers’ evaluations of the latest gender-debate snafu.
Caroline Stonecipher‘s take:
I was walking down Las Ramblas, a busy market street in Barcelona, Spain, when a man three times my age snuck up behind me and whispered in my ear, “Dios mio, how much does it cost to buy a sexy little American girl like you, huh?”
I walked faster and weaved urgently through the crowd of people to avoid him. He hurled a long slur of Spanish that I’m glad I couldn’t understand and left me with “American bitch!” reverberating through my ears and my thoughts.
I couldn’t get him out of my head. A man tried to purchase me, like I was a piece of fruit at one of the stands at that market. Never had I thought about how much I was worth because never had anyone so blatantly treated me like an object.
This is the problem with catcalling: The goal is not to make women feel beautiful or confident. Instead, these “compliments” are assertions of dominance and of the sense of entitlement that comes with being a man in a patriarchal society. This is the sense of entitlement that allows men like Steve Santagati to justify catcalling. His reasoning? Women are just so superficial these days.
“The bottom line is this, ladies: You would not care if all these guys were hot.”
Great point, Steve. If the man in Barcelona who asked me how much I cost had been just a little more attractive, I definitely would have negotiated a reasonable price for him.
But what is Santagati’s advice for women who don’t like being objectified by random strangers every day, you ask?
“No one is holding a gun to your head and telling you that you have to live in New York City.”
Someone give this guy a Nobel Prize! Why didn’t women think of this sooner? Just move somewhere where there are no men, and all our problems will be solved!
But it doesn’t end there. Santagati has plenty more wisdom to impart. If you don’t want to move to a different city, just “stand up for yourself” and “act like a strong woman!”
As Amanda Seales points out in the video, a woman was killed on Oct. 7 in Detroit after refusing to give a man her phone number. On Oct. 24, 14-year-old Zoe Raine Galasso was shot to death by her classmate because she refused to go on a date with him. In May, six women at the University of California at Santa Barbara were murdered because the shooter wanted revenge for the way women rejected him.
It would be silly to ask men to stop catcalling women. Women should just risk death to stand up to them and tell them that they aren’t interested. But Steve thought of a solution for that too. He thinks that if a woman doesn’t feel safe due to the way men treat her on the street, she should “just carry a gun!”
Since Santagati has decided to bless the world with so much of advice, it’s only fair to return the favor.
Steve, stop making women responsible for catcalling. Shifting the responsibility of sexual harassment from the man to the woman is the classic chauvinistic way of avoiding accountability. It’s impressive, really, how this idea that women are irresistible seductresses and men are helpless and governed completely by animalistic desires is taught from such an early age.
Think about school dress codes– girls are taught to cover their shoulders and thighs because the allure is too distracting and too powerful for men to resist. Instead of teaching men to control themselves, we send girls home from school and make it clear that their responsibility to avoid unwanted attention from boys is much more important than their responsibility to get an education.
Oh, and one more thing, Steve. Simply walking down the street and having breasts isn’t an invitation for men to comment on them. Women’s bodies are not public property, and their mere existence is not enough to warrant being objectified by men whenever they please. Catcalling makes women vulnerable. It makes them constantly question their safety and assess the threat level of the people around them at all times. Subjecting women to unwanted attention that causes discomfort, embarrassment and fear is not flattering or sweet. In fact, it’s dehumanizing.
Steve, I know you think that, “there’s nothing a woman loves more than hearing how pretty she is,” but I can think of something a woman would love to hear much more: the sound of silence as she walks down the street.
Jake Ross‘s take:
I will say “hello” to almost anyone I see on the street. I might smile or nod, or I might even say something like, “Excuse me, do you think you could ever love me as much as my mom loves my dad?” But what I won’t do is make you uncomfortable.
Men encounter gorgeous women on a daily basis. Some of us will stare a little too long, and some of us won’t stare at all, choosing instead to make painfully emasculating eye contact with another guy to check if he was staring. He was. And now he is staring back at you, knowing you know he was creeping — but also wondering why you weren’t looking. But I digress. Moving on:
I graduated from the University of Florida last spring; I’ve interned in New York City, and, currently, I attend law school while living in South Beach. (That wasn’t a pickup line.) I’ve been surrounded by a fair share of beautiful women. Although part of me lives by the self-made motto, “It’s not creepy if you’re good looking,” Hollaback!’s catcall video has successfully shed some light on why that train of thought is problematic. It’s something that I feel young men such as myself are oblivious to.
I’m not going to try to tell you what is and isn’t appropriate in respect to approaching women, be it in public or private. However, I will tell you why Steve Santagati’s appearance on CNN and our perception of the catcall is totally distasteful.
Speaking generally, when men make comments to strangers about their appearance, it’s a purely selfish act. We’re not doing it to flatter you. We’re doing it because it inflates our ego. We couldn’t care less if you ignore us or flip us off or lift up a pant leg and show us a little fur. (Shout out to the schools up north). If you get upset, it makes our friends laugh, and we’ll say something like, “Just tryna tell you all the things your man don’t.” And if you respond positively, we’ll take it as an invitation to say and do all sorts of things.
That’s obviously an issue. And if you’re a guy who agrees with that, I hope you’re beginning to understand the injustice.
I won’t speak on how our actions make women feel because I don’t know. I’m not a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to deal with street harassment. Most guys would say that if they were to experience women badgering them all day they’d probably be having a lot more sex, but the situations are really incomparable. Perhaps the only way to think about it is to consider how a straight man would feel if gay men were to harass you every time you went out to lunch. I’d like to believe that most of Santagati’s dialogue was intended to be melodramatic and garner popularity for CNN and his person. I agree with some of the things he said: There is no question that the viral video, though noble in its purpose, conveyed some flawed messages.
For men to understand the issues presented here — sexual harassment, gender inequality and societal perceptions of appropriate behavior — just think about what your purpose is when you interact with a stranger on the street. I know: We’re all guys, we’d bang anything with two ears and a titty (literally only need one — titty, that is), but sometimes the “compliments” you’re giving are not as cute or welcome as you think. You’re not going to meet your girlfriend by hollerin’ at some stranger on the street. No matter how good-looking you are, if you’re harassing some chick and being a creep, it’s real ugly. I’d say that most women are approachable and most men are not threatening, but it’s important that we all at least understand what women go through on a daily basis and are sympathetic to their feelings, so when we open our mouths we don’t sound like Steve Santagati.
Featured photo courtesy of New York Magazine