The Proper Way to Ogle Women

Effective Catcalls

Buzz Feed put out the following video, What Men Are Really Saying When Catcalling Women. Given the material, it’s actually pretty bad. The actors are all quite good, but the writing is weak. It does, however, get to the what catcalling is all about, even if it isn’t aware of it. And it misses an opportunity for an effective ending by giving men a pass I think they don’t deserve.

After showing various somewhat true statements, it ends with an 18 second riff on, “I do this ’cause I’m lonely.” If that were true, it would still be a pathetic ending. But in fact, it is not true. Catcalling is all about signaling that the catcaller is a virile and heterosexual man. And who is he signaling it to? Mostly to himself.

It is a sad truth that male culture as I have found it in America is primarily about convincing everyone that you aren’t gay. This isn’t to say men are a bunch of closeted homosexuals. But there is such a taboo about male homosexuality that you would think that every football party was on the verge of breaking into an all mall orgy. You may remember last year I wrote, These Are Victims: Matthew Shepard and Emmett Till. In it, I noted Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and his “creepy obsession” with anal sex. He is not an exception but very much the rule in the “real man” culture.

I don’t know how the objects of catcalling respond to it. I suspect there is a wide range. Introverted women probably find it very upsetting. But I’m sure there are women who do take a certain pleasure in the public confirmation that they are nubile. Still, even for such women, I’m sure men sneaking glances does the job as well. We men are not nearly as subtle as we think we are. And certainly, as Dan Arel noted at Patheos, “I joked about never meeting a couple who had the story about meeting when, ‘I was walking down the street and he yelled to me from his car about my ass and we have been together ever since.'”

There is, of course, a reason that you never hear a story like that. I don’t think it matters who you are, what is most attractive is self-confidence. It is hard to get too worked up about people who seem adrift. And catcalling does not say, “I’m virile and heterosexual!” It says, “I’m afraid I’m not virile and that you might think I’m homosexual!” And that isn’t attractive. Much better is to act the way that Mike Birbiglia and I act when confronted with an attractive woman: stare at your feet uncomfortably and avoid looking at her. Because it communicates the same information without nearly as much noise.

Now that’s how it’s done!

6 thoughts on “The Proper Way to Ogle Women

  1. I saw this video,and while I laughed heartily, I thought it was a bit limited. I cannot tell you how upsetting it is to have men demand that I smile. I don’t like the general, day-to-day harassment, but in some ways, it’s easier to blow off then being told to smile on demand. That makes me crazy. It should creep me out way more when men make comments about my breasts or butt, but somehow those comments feel impersonal to me. When men demand that I smile, that feels deeply personal and invasive. It’s one thing to have some weird need to comment on my body, the form of which I can do nothing about, but a whole other thing to demand that I provide some emotional relief to a total stranger by signaling submission through a smile on demand. And that’s the main form of harassment I get–strange men demanding that I smile for them. That is sick and scary. I would rather contend with gross comments about my body parts then commands that I demonstrate submission through smiling.

  2. @Kristen – Interesting. I’ve never heard of that. But I think I know what you’re talking about. In addition to being insecure (although I think it is related), a lot of men are freakishly controlling. I get that from other men, and I do not respond well to it. I am probably even worse at being a follower than I am at being a leader. And I do [i]not[/i] appreciate the feeling that I’m just part of their environment to be adjusted to their liking. I suspect that’s what the commands to smile are about.

  3. @Kristen — If you have a blog or other writing platform (you might even e-mail Frank about working together on an article) I’d be really interested to read a longer piece about this.

    @Frank — I’ve been threatened by thugs at bus stops because I was reading a book, and by guys sitting in bus seats because I put my hand on a support pole to steady myself and they said "get your hand out of my face." These incidents are rare and no doubt come from feelings of intense insecurity but are very unnerving. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is something a lot of women experience but most men never hear about.

  4. @JMF – Kristen does indeed have a blog and a good one:

    [url=http://thegoodtypist.blogsp…]The Good Typist[/url]

    But she is finishing her first novel. I don’t know how much of it I’ve read. It’s annoying how good it is, though.

    I’ve had similar problems with men, but almost always because they’d been drinking. I can definitely see why a lot of people thought Prohibition was a good idea. But other than that, I haven’t had too much of a problem. Of course, I don’t get out much.

  5. Nice blog, I’ll keep an eye on it in the future. The most recent piece about summer sucking agrees with me. Summer sucks. Of course, I’ve abandoned the Northwest now for a place where winter sucks infinitely worse. But there’s always the 2-6 weeks of spring/fall.

    I do think Kristen’s original comment would be fascinating to read in a longer piece. Even book-length. Few people talk about the very real ways sexism still manifests itself in our culture, every day, all the time. Just like few people talk about racism. We’re over those, now.

  6. Birbiglia’s timing is so expert in that clip, yet what’s-his-name, the host, seems so out of place and unfit for his job. He doesn’t seem to know where Birbiglia is going or where to break in and when to just shut up. Oh yeah, Jimmy Fallon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.