Cat Calling – Women Aren’t Animals!
by Katie Lionheart.
This week I stumbled upon something quite peculiar. An offshoot of the brand Burt’s Bees, Güd, has released a product that announces ‘let the cat calling commence!’ on one of their new moisturizers. I’m going to set aside the fact that I, personally, don’t usually receive unwanted shouts of ‘Hey sweetheart, your skin looks so soft and supple!’ or ‘Oi, sexy! You smell great, I can smell you from here!’ – this product advertises it’s scent of vanilla and rice milk – but maybe that’s just me. I can’t even comprehend the idea that this description had to go through various departments to find its self on shelves because that would mean that more than one person thought it was acceptable to promise some cat calling, along side the ridding of dry skin.
“Oh, cat calling! Do I have to pay more for that?” “Is it a guarantee?” “Do I get my money back if I get through a day without a stranger making rude and uninvited remarks about me on the street?”
These are some of the things I cannot imagine anybody saying other than in a heavily sarcastic tone while they crush this moisturizer under their stomping feet. (Just me again?) It truly is enough that we have to put up with this foul, ritualistic humiliation of women on the streets without having a, somewhat essential, cosmetic product taunt us with the same notion we’re likely to hear in these exact “cat calling” situations. Güd are saying, ‘Yeah, you like that don’t you.’
They are, of course, referring to a situation also known as street harassment and implying that this often frightening and upsetting experience is something women should take as a compliment. I’m going to throw it out there: I think it’s unlikely that a woman came up with the idea behind this marketing strategy. It seems absurd to me that we live in a society that is so confused about the intentions of men who shout at women on the streets and how women feel about it. A close female friend recently said ‘you should just take it as a compliment’ when I mentioned my fury at being beeped at several times that day. I, along with many other young girls, have been ‘complimented’ since the age of 12; I’ve been ‘complimented’ ever since I have been allowed to walk down the street on my own. I used to be able to tolerate this behavior – in my early teens I’d presume that my skirt was tucked in at the back, or that these were simply sarcastic pointers towards my appearance. Looking back I don’t think they were, even when I was pre-pubescent and walking home in my school uniform. Later I’d just try to ignore them. From this I can understand why my friend told me to take it as a compliment. It’s because it’s easier. It is easier not to think about the reasons why this kind of sexism happens everyday because once you realize the implications and significance of these situations there is no way back into the bliss that is ignorance.
Shouting at women on the street is not a way of flattering them. Imagine you’re on your way home and you encounter a lovely-looking feline. Most people that I acquaint myself with love to stop and try to befriend the odd cat. Sometimes, though, these cats are minding their own business: they walk away or hide and, personally, I’m always a little disheartened when I can’t persuade a cat to stop and allow me to appreciate it. A very intelligent individual must have coined the phrase ‘cat calling’ because (not only did they obviously love cats but) these two situations offer a wonderful insight into the fact that women, minding their own business on the streets, are not treated like human beings, they’re treated like animals. When women ignore men’s harassment or make it clear that it is unwanted they’re often greeted with a perfectly executed 180° mood swing, often involving some vulgar and abusive obscenities. Men know street harassment is not a compliment – they don’t do it if a woman is with a male friend or partner; they wouldn’t want it to happen to their younger sister or daughter.
We all live in a world that has taught us women’s bodies are not for themselves. Women must alter their bodies for others. They must pluck, shave, wax and tone them up. They have to mask their faces with make up (but not too much)! Women must dress, act, speak, smile, walk in a way that others will approve of or, God help them, they’ll never hear the end of it. So, is it really surprising that men feel they have the right to comment on the appearance of women on the street? They’ve been taught that women exist purely for the benefit of their own eyes and they don’t like when we challenge this.
One organization that is giving women a platform to challenge this established blasé attitude is Hollaback! with their campaign against street harassment. Instead of being shamed, people can instead shame their offenders by submitting images and stories about their day-to-day experiences. These are then compiled into a global map giving a sense of solidarity and justice. Similarly, by compiling experiences of sexism not limited to street harassment, Everyday Sexism is also leading the way in giving victims back their voice.
Much like the famous ‘Reclaim The Night’, it seems we must now reclaim the day too. To do this we have to stop telling ourselves and other women to accept or ignore harassment. We have to initiate conversations amongst ourselves without shame or embarrassment. We need to encourage each other to speak out rather than shut up.
Footnote: Güd have since apologized and retracted their offensive marketing technique after an online petition was launched by Hollaback!. Surely showing that together we can combat sexism one small feet at a time.