For fun my friend and I decided to take part as background actors in a family movie being filmed locally in our quaint little beach town. Casting calls were asking specifically for surfers, so with the economy being how it is, and our bank accounts being dangerously close to zero, we literally jumped at the opportunity to stand around with our surfboards and get paid for it. Walking onto set the first day, feeling pretty confused about where to go, we paused in the middle of a trailer cluster to seek out the least stressed person and ask where the extras were being herded to. As I glanced over at one of the actors sitting under an awning on his fancy chair, I noticed him lower his shades to the tip of his nose before yelling out to everyone around us, “Hey are these girls here for the porno scene!!?” He chuckled obnoxiously loud and then leaned back proudly in his chair as if he felt deserving of some kind of award for his comment. I did the usual stare, smile, then continue walking routine that I’ve mastered for any d-bag commentary I may encounter.
Yes, this kind of holler-at-the-girls display is quite common, in fact, all too common.
I’ve heard and seen it all, as have my girlfriends, and I’ve witnessed countless other girls go through the same thing on innumerable accounts: cat-calling from a balcony, honking of horns, yelling across the street or from behind “hey honey!”, “what are you doin tonight”, “damn girrrrrl”, or my favorite “mmmhhmmm” like a bowl of chocolate ice-cream just appeared before them. There’s also the whistling (what are we dogs?) and the frenzied whooping and hollering from car windows like caged zoo animals. One of the most common is the male gaze- or what I call the “silent holler”. Many women have learned to chuckle, brush it off, simply ignore it, flip the bird, or even feel obligated to engage in conversation. However, this sort of every-day occurrence should not be something to just “deal with”. It is in fact a result of a larger problem. And so I have compiled a list of why being hollered at is the opposite of flattering.
1) It’s annoying
It feels a lot like being part of a parade that you didn’t opt to join in on. A simple jog through the neighborhood or a quick drive to the grocery store could leave you rolling your eyes and wishing you took a different route. Being hollered at is simply not cute nor has it been known to catch a girl’s attention in a positive way. It’s many times done just to get a reaction. I don’t know any girl who has ever responded by saying, “Jee, thanks you’re real sweet. Let’s hang out sometime”. Not in a million years. That famous “no scrubs” song by TLC comes to mind…
2) It objectifies women, which reinforces sexual abuse in society.
Whether a direct sexual reference is made (which often times it is) or it’s just suggested, being hollered at basically treats a women like a trophy, or object: something to be admired and obtained. Verbal “cat-calls” towards women are just as dangerous as physical assault because they dehumanize women and reinforce ideologies that contribute to the rape culture. The overall view of and depiction of women must change in order to veer away from this vicious cycle.
3) It is harassment: the direct impact is many times hurtful, belittling, threatening, and in extreme cases, traumatizing.
Last summer, walking over this little bridge back to my house some guy yelled off his hotel balcony “show me your pussy!”, made a disgusting gesture, and proceeded to stare me down the whole way across. Hearing a drunken man holler at me from his stoop, leering at me like a piece of meat was not exactly what I was hoping for as I made the usual walk back from work, minding my own business and looking out at the sailboats. That man had never spoken to me in his life, yet when he saw me coming over that bridge, he didn’t see a human being. No. He saw a sexual organ. And he felt impelled to speak to me however he wished to. Now I have been told that I am an incredible strong person, but I’m not lying when I say I felt myself shrink as soon as those words pierced my ears- and my heart. I tried to walk boldly the rest of the way home but couldn’t help feeling dirty and violated. There was more urgency and less bounce in my step. And this is only one of the dozens of instances where I’ve felt unsafe or harassed- I’ve been touched against my will and have dealt plenty of times with multiple men shouting things to me. I’ve heard stories of women being followed, chased down the street, or verbally harassed by large groups that decide to gang up on women walking alone, many times leading to physical assult. These occurrences should not be taken lightly and can be extremely traumatizing. I’ve seen that look in another woman’s eyes many times before- that sense of violation and helpless discomfort that crawls under her skin like a disease, tugging at her very sense of control and liberty- a sometimes subtle but powerful stripping of her autonomy as a woman and as a human being.
So what is it that we would like to hear? What are some positive ways of viewing women? Well, im glad you asked. The simple smile and nod, the courteous “hello, how are you?”. The friendly wave or curious banter, or anything that is said with kind and genuine quality. Or how about this one…it’s pretty standard: “Hi”. It seems some people have forgotten customary greetings. So here’s what I offer- look at me as a soul and a human being, and then you can have my attention. Then you can speak to me- and not yelling from a car, or a hotel balcony, or from a park bench, or across the street- but right in front of me where you can see into my eyes (and not down anywhere else), so you know you’re addressing a person, with feelings and beliefs and the whole nine yards- not an object.