Life

Catcalling: “Why does shedding one item of clothing give men the right to objectify you in summer?”

Posted by
Moya Lothian-McLean
Published
Woman walks through town streets wearing a jumpsuit and brown backpack

One woman sets out her dread at the coming season of street harassment.

Summer! What a concept. Aperol spritz (you’ll have to prize my orange nectar from my cold, dead hands, trendy or not), vitamin D and tantalising glimpses of a four-day week future, via a glut of bank holidays.

Unfortunately, some people just don’t know how to behave. This morning I walked to the office, taking advantage of the bright sunshine. My reward? The first catcall of the season, hooted as I strolled past a herd of construction workers gathered around some scaffolding.

The sensation was jarring; it’s been a long, dark winter and I’d forgotten what street harassment in broad daylight felt like. The instant flush of discomfort, followed by a quickened pace and downcast eyes. Getting catcalled dampens a good mood instantly, a bucket of stinking fish guts thrown all over your chipper start to the day.

Once I passed the group though, I began to laugh darkly. It was all just so absurd. The particular outfit I’d plumped for this morning was one I’d worn several times during winter and spring: orange trousers and a polo neck top. I look like a pint-sized golf caddy in it and adore it for that very reason. Yet previous outings hadn’t resulted in any leering from slab-faced dullards on the street. The one change today? No coat.  

Are men OK? Seriously? Has someone checked on them? Given them a call?

How can one layer make such a difference? Does my double-breasted charity shop special have repelling spells sewn into its fraying lining? Some sort of invisibility enchantment? I have to conclude there’s something supernatural going on. 

Because surely – surely – it cannot be as simple as it seems to be from the facts, which are: I exposed my arms and men lost their little heads. Yeah, I work out but no guns are that good. Why does shedding one item of clothing make me fair game to be objectified? 

In 2015, Hannah Giorgis penned an essay for Buzzfeed about the uptick in harassment she experienced during the summer months. 

“I am exhausted,” she wrote, of the increased energy summer forced her to expend in order to dodge: “men’s loud assessments of my body any time I left my apartment.”

And it’s true. While no scientific studies seem to have been conducted on the subject (and why is that, we wonder?), any woman will tell you that summer brings with it the dread of existing in public spaces without the protection of baggy jumpers and overcoats that obscure the fact that you’re in possession of a bum or legs, like most of the other seven billion people on the planet.  

Somehow though, when those body parts are attached to a woman and exposed even slightly, via say shorts or a sundress, there’s a certain segment of the male population that simply can’t seem to contain themselves. And before those not partaking in the catcalling itself pipe up – yes it’s your problem too. 

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A direct positive correlation exists between the expanse of skin that’s showing and the amount of men who think they have a right to comment on it, which is why summer always sees a massive surge in the quantity of unwanted comments received. That, and you’re out roaming the streets more. As women have every right to.

This summer though, I have a polite request for the men emerging from their winter larvae, ready to mewl at women minding their business on the street: Shut. The. Fuck Up. 

I’m serious. Say nothing, or else.

If you see me on the street and I’m wearing a crop top, keep your trap closed. Ditto goes for:

  • Trousers
  • A skirt
  • Shorts
  • A dress
  • A very short dress
  • An itsy weeny yellow polka dot bikini
  • A morph suit 
  • Any clothing of any kind, ever because you have exactly zero jurisdiction over what I do or don’t wear at any point in time

Personally, I’m firmly of the belief that catcalling isn’t sexually motivated. It’s not really uncontrollable desire that these men are acting upon.

Like other forms of harassment, catcalling is a power trip, another reminder that women’s bodies do not belong to them but instead to the world at large. What bared skin in summer does – rather than excite libidos – is act as a green light for men to enforce patriarchal body politics.

Women cannot possibly be allowed to labour under the delusion that they have bodily autonomy but instead should be reminded frequently and stridently about who they really are beholden too, who gets to decide if they have a baby, or fuck someone, or are allowed walk down the street in peace when it’s above 17C.

Who knows why exposed flesh is such an explosive prompt? Perhaps women have been so sexualised that even the sight of a forearm is enough to trigger the urge for men to remind them who holds ownership rights, conditioned like Pavlov’s slavering dogs.

Or maybe men are simply subconsciously so affronted by the audacity of any woman seen enjoying the pleasure of the sun soaking into her skin that they have to quickly re-establish power dynamics. Possibly it’s that inner smile they’re trying to quash.

Either way, the result is the same. Catcalling is a deeply selfish act and catcalling me in summer, when I’m trying to pretend I’m in a Carly Rae Jepsen music video, is a transgression I can’t forgive. I don’t want to walk around for the next three months with my eyes fixed on the pavement, in case I accidentally lock peepers with a man and he sees an opportunity to yell. 

Annoyingly, I can’t offer one size fits all advice for dealing with catcallers (because sadly, until authorities start taking official action, it’s on us): women who’ve angrily taken on street harassment can sometimes face shocking violence. Meanwhile, invoking the age-old guilt-trip of ‘Don’t you have a mother?’ just feels counter-productive in 2019.

If you have the time and energy, perhaps tell them you were just trying to go about your day and that comments like that really upset you. Sometimes contrition sets in. You could also try turning the camera - and spotlight of shame - on them, taking a leaf out of US comedian Chloe Fineman’s book. 

Alternatively, spray the turd with mace. Personally, I’m going to wear a badge – right over my tit – that says ‘Catcall me if you’ve got a tiny dick.’ I think it’s the perfect summer accessory.

Images: Getty      

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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is a freelance writer with an excessive amount of opinions. She tweets @moya_lm.

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