An Open Letter to Catcallers on the Street

Now, what y’all wanna do? Wanna be ballers? Shot-callers? Brawlers..
— Sean "Diddy" Combs

Add one more to the list: Catcallers.

 

And in all seriousness, I'm trying to figure out "what y'all wanna do." So, I'll start by breaking down why I take issue with what you're currently doing. 

 

In a city like New York that is home to those in the top 1%, those in the poorest income bracket, and everyone in between, you're bound to get some characters. Moving to Harlem, I looked forward to them. But, by definition, I do not believe that you can have character and be a catcaller--the two are mutually exclusive.

 

Your character is who you are when nobody is looking. If you are somebody different when you think nobody is looking and when you have an audience, then you have no character because there is no distinctive feature about you except for your inconsistency. Catcallers are inconsistent, and change their behavior when they think they can get female attention. I don't know a single mentally-well man who just accosts every single person he sees pass him by on the street, whether male or female, attractive or not. But if I did, I could soundly say that those behaviors were part of his character. However, catcallers' attempt to take on a macho guise by yelling "suggestives" to women on the street negates the behaviors of anyone with character. Their lack of it lies in their victimization of women walking on the street who want to get from point A to point B. 

 

I am always moving from point A to B to Z on any given day. At most of those points I walk by men--and I always walk because I'm a broke, carless grad student living in NYC. When I leave the house in the morning, I ask only for a few things: to travel safely, to not be mugged, to touch nothing gross on the subway, and to be as productive as possible. Upon no exit of my apartment do I ever add "get complimented on my figure by loud man on the street" or "have a man ask me why I ain't smilin' since bootyful girls should always do that." 

 

There is a man on my street with whom I take particular issue because everyday he asks me why I look so serious. He's literally a joker, and if you've ever seen the Batman series, you know that The Joker wasn't actually funny. When you first think about it, he may come across as an endearing man, concerned about my well-being. Maybe he thinks I work too hard and that I should really take some time for myself. True, I should. But, since he only knows me as a woman who passes him on the way home with a disposition that denies his desires to declare me decorative, I can't assume his intentions are pure.

 

At no time ever will I smile on command; I don't even think I genuinely smiled on camera for a school picture until about 6th grade. I will especially not smile for a man who thinks that I should do so because I am pretty, I do not take those kinds of orders, and nobody should. In the words of Kanye, my presence is a present, so you can do as the rest of the lyric suggests. 

 

It presents this lose-lose, catch 22 that leaves a lot of women hopeless. If you walk around with your protective "resting bitch face" in overdrive so that nobody will talk to you, then men ask you to smile for them. If you look too nice, men will use that to their advantage. If you feel so inclined to ask them to stop, then you're an actual bitch because they were just you know "tryna get you to smile," and the blame lies on you because you need to lighten up anyway. Their expectation is that you will respond pleasantly for them, and affording them a negative response or none at all can really spiral into an even more degrading situation. 

 

The sad thing is, I can always tell when a man is about to engage me in this sort of situation, too. He makes his decision about 50 feet away usually after eye contact that I've attempted to avoid for half a block.  I had this issue yesterday on my walk home. I had my headphones in, but my music is never loud enough to drown out voices on the street. "Wow, you are beautiful miss." After no response, he yelled again, "HELLO, I said you are beautiful, miss!" He had just been standing there so quietly, almost blending into the sneakershop behind him, and then out of nowhere, this loud arrogant plot to woo me. But, then I remembered, that characterless catcallers of his kind do things like this, so women like me, with things to do and standards to raise, walk by with no response. 

 

And sometimes, I do say thank you. But, that's only when I receive an actual compliment and not some degrading exclamation from some catcaller who is trying to validate his masculinity with my reaction. 

 

And no, women are not wrong for engaging with catcalling, do you boo. I don't speak for all women, just for those who do not appreciate it. My strong opinions as a woman do not negate those of my sisters who may see it as a little ego booster from time to time. 

 

But I know that I will teach my daughters not to accept this, and I will tell my sons not to perpetuate it. I hope to teach my daughters to draw their self-worth from other Higher powers. For me, there was a time when I was younger when these catcalls made me feel pretty. Sometimes when I didn't hear men comment on my physique, I took their silence as advice indicating that I should re-examine my appearance the next time that I left the house. I was a part of this vicious cycle wherein men on the street used me to validate their seductive manpower and I believed those actions validated my womanhood.

 

I don't know that telling every catcaller that he's subjugating you will stop him and those of the like. I know that for me, my protest is in my silence and refusal to engage with the commentary. But, that's my character, I actually don't engage with anyone who I find to be inconsolably silly/ignorant. 

 

As a closing disclaimer,  I will admit that this is a really hetero take on things, because I'm a hetero black woman. So, go figure. That's not to say that people of other genders and sexualities don't experience these same issues. 

 

Keepin' it kolloquial, one post at a time.