I recently took a stroll down South Beach in between my daily panic attacks. It was a typically balmy day in South Florida, and Miami’s legendary Lincoln Road was adorned with its usual quantity of bath salts and broken dreams. Nothing about the scene was unordinary, and as a Florida native, I was used to watching unbelievably, asinine news cycles unfold right before my eyes.
My functioning alcoholism was calling, and I had to answer. In the zest or a midday mojito, I made a sharp, reckless turn right onto a strip of the beach and crash-landed into a gaggle of men who all resembled characters from Grand Theft Auto. I looked left and looked right and scrambled to find an open patch of pastel concrete to run towards for freedom. Just as I thought I stumbled on a safe and moderate sun patch, I heard what I’d believe to be a man (though, jury’s still out) yell in my direction.
“Aye,” he calls.
I don’t answer.
I speed up my pace to a spastic, frantic level only similar to the feeling of the Cha Cha in hopes of escaping his attempts and also accurately blending in with my surroundings.
“Take that mask off and show him what that mouth do.”
I thought, “in this pandemic?” then coughed in his face.
Crude? Sure, but so were his advances. It’s fair play.
Before we propose the notion of “asking for it,” what if I told you I was dressed in a burlap sack, four days into a voluntary hygiene hiatus and was out on the beach during the day?. Nothing about those circumstances insinuates me putting the athleticism of my mouth on display or giving a blowjob during business hours.
The act of cat-calling manifests itself in whistling, hissing, hooting, scoffing, grunting, unapologetic ball-grabbing and other primal behaviors that would suggest a man is either bidding on a woman like she’s a prized antique on display at some deranged auction, or he’s just on the tailend of a stroke and these are his first words. The whole process entails these strange, empty, guttural proposals that would imply said man has lost all control of his bodily functions and sense of logic, which is ironic, as that is quality the male species claims they solely champion. I couldn’t even imagine what this man would have been capable of had the night fallen and I decided to scrub an ankle? The horror.
Maybe he was kidding. Maybe he’s a dental hygienist who’s passionate about his craft. Maybe he doesn’t really care what my mouth do and said something he didn’t mean, which historically speaking, we know men never do. (Sarcasm?) There’s always a chance he genuinely wanted to make a stranger feel seen in a positive way, and if we offer any benefit of the doubt, maybe he doesn’t realize this is annoying, cringe-y, or threatening.
Maybe therein lies the issue.
Much like other ugly facets of the human experience that arouse societal discomfort, this kind of behavior is spoken of in some deeply mechanical term, making it sound a lot more palatable than directly calling it what it is: harassment.
Nearly every element of nightlife is designed to foster false intimacy cloaked in tequila-ridden regret. The dim lighting, the drink specials, the abnormally high volumes designed to deafen that inner voice in our heads that tells us “Jesus Christ, Brittany, you know how this story ends, just go home.” The sell is that we gather to meet and mingle other singles with the hope that two of us will serendipitously lock eyes under the muddled melody of an Usher throwback and stumble right under the covers for one night of body hockey that leaves us with more than one kind hangover to deal with under the morning sun. Whatever breadcrumb is left to the imagination can’t withstand a deadly combination of alcoholism, hookup culture, patriarchal privilege, and rabid pheromones.
As a single woman, it doesn’t take much to land yourself in an awkward situation. The line between asking us to smile and burying us in a ditch is painfully thin. A polite “hello” to the wrong jabroni at the bar could result in you needing a restraining order by the end of happy hour. Women are constantly encouraged to set and defend firm boundaries, but when a boundary is treated like a suggestion, it becomes hard to persevere.
“No” is translated as, “Challenge accepted. I want what I can’t have.”
“Can you not do that?” means “Do it again, but maybe be more playful this time.”
“I’m not interested.” is met with, “Fuck you, you’re ugly anyways.”
Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard and not refer to this as “courtship” either. Older generations of men penned letters with feathers and waited patiently in unforgiving elements and fertility-crushing tights for the status of a woman’s affections. They climbed mountains and bartered goats. All that commitment has since devolved into speaking entirely in emojis, aka “fuccboi hieroglyphics,” and this loud, invasive caveman-like form of pursuit. We’ve accepted that we exist far away from the parameters of traditional, storybook romance, and we no longer expect a horse, castle, or even a headboard attached to your bed, but please lower your voice and calm down, we’re outside a church and you’re embarrassing me.
If we’ve seen any episode of Law and Order: SVU, we know it’s every woman’s destiny to be shanked in Central Park. Every struggling actor in NYC is dying for the chance to play dead in that supporting role while every actress inches towards living that dream every day (very method of her.) Hell, if we turn on the news, we see political figures preaching about unabashedly grabbing pussy, setting the example for boys across the world to think the act is not only okay, but heroic. If you do it when no one’s looking and own a big, fancy hotel chain, you may even be handed keys to fuck up the Free World for four years. Sick!
The inequality lies in how men can operate with such zealous because, more often than not, they don’t need to consider things like safety, health and integrity when seeking pleasure. They can’t see a world in which their livelihood is threatened by busting a nut unless they’re somehow unaware of some pre-existing heart condition. A man’s worst case scenario is rejection, which by the way, women also face: in romance, on the job, any time they consume the very American media they’re being drowned with, you name it. It’s just not top priority. In this instance, priority is trying to enjoy yourself and not at the expense of getting home in one piece.
I have a gut feeling if I saw an attractive young man in public and yelled across an intersection that he has an open invitation to blow my back out, it’d be well-received. Men like women to be forward and direct, but the caveat is that it needs to be on their terms. A woman who isn’t afraid to manifest the conditions they desire is sexy, but if those conditions include “stay the fuck away from me” or “ trim your fingernails” suddenly there’s an issue.
With the surge in online dating and virtual work, these tendencies now exist both on the streets and on our phones, and sometimes, in the privacy of our homes. If you’re doing the math, that accounts for women needing to field unwelcomed, sometimes maniacal advances at nearly every corner of our existence.They don’t make armour equipped for that kind of combat, and frankly not only is that battle exhausting— but it’s fucking annoying.
On the Internet, interactions move from 0 to dick pic in record time. Every day is plagued with a wave of demands for feet pics, nudes, attention, validation, offers to elope (true story), used socks (truer story), and blind promises from men who you never met and hope to God you won’t because if they’re this incessant and tone deaf behind the safety net of a phone screen, I have a hard time believing they’re a prince charming IRL.
As someone who sprained a male classmate’s wrist in kindergarten during a friendly game of arm-wrestling, I don’t want to assume or underestimate any one woman’s force. For most of us, as much as we’d like to bodyslam your dumb ass to shut down these interactions once and for all, our genetics don’t really lend themselves to that kind of response. If we try to fight back, it often means opting into a losing game so physically defending ourselves isn’t always an option.
Cat-calling has become so synonymous with masculinity that it’s often accepted as harmless, accustomed, expected; a natural side effect of testosterone. It’s on par with sports, body-building, the instinctive adjusting of one’s ball sack, marathon-ing video games, emotional disengagement, Mommy issues, etc.
Regardless of the intent, this behavior presents an omnipresent feeling of danger for women. We carry it everywhere. In society, when something happens enough times, its frequency dilutes its impact. As a collective, we become buried in the hope of trying to fix it, so we cave under the pressure, and as a result, it becomes the norm. Once something becomes the norm, it metastasizes to a point where it’s impossible to tell where the movement started and where it’s at and it’s in that ambiguity that we lose the objective. The cat call fatigue is there, so let’s stop classifying it as a tireless norm. It’s not, it’s gross.
I say we hit these men with an inside look at the real female experience. Once you pull back the curtain on the beauty and the prowess, you get a lot of impulse reactions and UTIs. I’m sure hearing a very detailed description of a tricky Monistat insertion isn’t his idea of foreplay, but if he wants to get down to business, he should get familiar with what exactly he’s signing up for.
I also think a women’s history lesson might help to dull his sensitivity. The next time a sidewalk troll gives you his unsolicited mating call, why don’t you offer up an unsolicited narrative on women’s rights and the great strides we’ve made over the last 100 years? I’m talking a full breakdown of Susan B. Anthony’s biography and a detailed play-for-play of Roe VS. Wade. Remember, you can’t spell “suffrage” without “rage.”
So, in lieu of cracking skulls and taking names, my suggestion to women hoping to stay both safe and sane under these primal climates is to get weird. While you have his undivided attention, make it count. Now, let me see what that mouth really do.