Like a lot of women, one of the formative experiences of my teenage years was my first experience of being catcalled.
My friends and I were walking in town, along a big brightly lit street filled with other people out and about doing stuff on a Saturday evening, and we got catcalled by a group of boys, about our age or maybe a little older. They followed us at a distance for a good couple of minutes, hollering at Friend 1 about how great her butt and legs looked in her skirt, making kissy-noises at Friend 2 and saying how she was the hottest out of all of us, and loudly telling Friend 3 that she wasn't as good as Friend 2 but she was "still really cute".
And then it was my turn.
"Excuse me, hey you, excuse me - do your friends mind that you're ugly?"
"Do you hang out with hot girls because you think they'll camouflage you?"
"How come hot girls always have one ugly friend?"
My friends giggled. We just kept walking and the guys soon got bored and left us alone. I felt sick for the rest of the night.
As an adult with the benefit of maturity and hindsight I recognise that my friends giggled because they felt nervous and threatened and didn't know how to handle the situation. As a needy, gummy-smiled distinctly plain 15-year-old with self-esteem somewhere in the sub-zero levels, I interpreted their giggles as tacit agreement with the guys that yes indeed they were hot and I was not and I was lucky they even let me hang out with them. It wasn't the sole triggering factor, but I still remember it vividly and with retrospect I can say that this being the kind of feedback I got about my looks before I was mature enough to start finding other means of gaining a sense of self-worth had A LOT to do with the ways I later tended to compromise (and still do, sometimes) my emotional and mental wellbeing in fruitless pursuit of the holy grail of validation.
Other more recent experiences of The Street Harassments Of My Life include:
* Being barked and mooed at
* "HEY YOU! hahaha don't worry, you're too ugly to rape" (really? do we need to go over this again? seriously?)
* "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT??" (a plague upon your houses, Baha Men, a plague I say)
* "Nope!" (muttered by a guy after giving me the quick once over)
* "Too much rice!" (yelled at me from an adjacent car. Sexist and racist!)
* "Butterface!" "Nah, her body isn't that great."
* And the ever-popular "Ugly cunt!"
I've thought and thought about posting about this on GT. So much discourse about street harassment seems to focus on the "sort" (I use quotation marks because it's all the same appalling thing really) where men make aggressive, crude and threatening remarks at women based upon their perceived fuckability. The experience is sometimes talked about as though it's universal, in a "There isn't a woman alive who hasn't experienced this" kind of way. But some of us haven't - or, we have, but just not in this exact way.
(Some women also experience both kinds, sometimes immediately one following the other. "Hey baby, suck my dick!" "...no thanks" "UGLY BITCH!" Tale as old as time, etc.)
Like I say, all street harassment is gross and creepy and unacceptable, if not downright threatening and aggressive which it often also is. It just bothers me sometimes that "this" sort is rarely the focus of discussion, just because when your experience is never the subject of the dominant discourse you begin to wonder whether you are just an isolated freakazoid after all. I also think that more discussion about ALL permutations of street harassment will do a metric shitload to help dispel the ridiculous notion of the Catcall As Compliment (TM), because once the discussion includes BOTH "Heyy sexxxy!" and "Ugly cunt!" that will cut a lot of the "Catcalling is a compliment! Women just like humblebragging about how hot they are and how hot guys keep saying they are!" defending bullshit right off at the knees. BECAUSE IT IS ALL TREATING A WOMAN'S APPEARANCE AS SOMETHING YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO COMMENT ON AND IN THE WORDS OF GAWKER'S CAITY WEAVER THATZ NOT OKAY.
TL;DR: I'd have greatly benefited as a Young if I'd read something assuring me that I wasn't the only one whose experience of street harassment was men punishing me for my perceived UNfuckability as opposed punishing me for my perceived fuckability. And the internet is a great big place, so imma go out on a limb and figure that means someone else could possibly benefit from reading something like it too.
Update following mainpaging: I know that Kinja glitches on some users sometimes and doesn't display all comments. There is some seriously awesome stuff being said here so I'm going to be cutting and pasting some particularly nifty comments.
I think that the "positive" kind of catcalling gets a lot of discussion because so many people understand it as no big deal, and even complimentary. And so we (or I do, at least) spend a lot of time explaining why something like "nice ass" or "smile, sweetheart" is just as wrong as the flip side. Because nobody who isn't a troll has any trouble understanding what's wrong with calling strangers "ugly cunt.
But, as you point out, that ends up having the effect of making most of the conversation all about the kinds of harassment that's endured by women who are deemed conventionally attractive by thick-skulled, crotch-grabbing misogynists. And ironically, that ends up having the effect of reinforcing the idea that the only women worthy of discussion are those that men decide are fuckable, and the rest don't matter and are either invisible or objects of contempt. PATRIARCHY! It's inescapable.
This was so much a part of my experience with street harassment in high school (and college too!). This kind of harassment was the first kind I ever experienced, and added to the crap I already got from my classmates, it made me feel pretty worthless to have total strangers yell the same things at me. It made me think that they were true because the random jerk on the street was like some kind of impartial judge of my worthiness to exist in public not wearing a bag over my head. This is what makes me so angry about when people just brush street harassment aside like women should be flattered. The people excusing it don't think about the times when it is hateful and mean, maybe they don't even consider that it ever could be. Whether "positive" or negative, It's always an interruption I can do without. It always makes me feel judged and self conscious. I'm just trying to get to work!
I never talked about it when I was younger because it was too much to have to repeat to my mum or someone else in authority. I guess I secretly worried that they would agree.
And this from JennaXO:
I can't ever speak on the posts where women feel threatened by the men catcalling her because it never happened to me that way. In fact it happens to me in the way spoken of above, and here I thought I was one of very few. I was always and still am (from a douchebag who only likes the tall leggy thin girls' perspective) the "ugly" one of my group of friends. Reading this sent me back to my teen years when my group of friends were catcalled more often and feeling all sorts of messed up because they said some nasty things to me, and even being hurt because there were times when I was left out of the "compliments"
I write "compliments" because being an overweight teen girl who thought she was the equivalent to a pile of shit thought that a guy yelling at you "I wonder how her pussy feels" was a compliment! Pshaw! How I have grown myself, too. It's just a bit more comforting to know that I wasn't the only girl victim to this type of catcalling. Not okay in the slightest, but comforting to see others talking it over. Thank God I have matured to understand that no woman deserves to feel uncomfortable for the body they have been given. I like the commentor who said she might have been secretly worried people would agree; I know I felt that way too. I still remember wanting to pretend it never happened for most of my teen years just because I thought everyone felt that way about me as well.
(I)f I'm focusing on my own experience as a victim of cat-calling, as opposed to the behaviour of the perpetrators, having experienced both I always felt a lot worse after being deemed ugly, loudly, in front of friends, family and strangers. Not necessarily because the words of a shithead counted (though they certainly can cut deep) but because often the response is everyone else then looks on at you in pity, as opposed to directing outrage at the person who insulted you, which can serve to further validate their right to express that opinion. Like "oh dear, that guy thinks you're fat and gross, you must feel terrible." I can understand that reaction, but it still really sucks.
From DailyFail in response to another commenter wondering whether this kind of street harassment is actually more the target projecting their own insecurities than anything else:
For women who don't fit the cultural norm of attractiveness, the quickest route to a reaction may seem like an insult. For me, it has always been intimidation through sexually explicit ('complimentary'??) remarks. I am small, young looking, and often perceived as vulnerable by men. Cat calling has always been 'complimentary', but designed to provoke a reaction rather than to actually compliment (following me at night, lewd comments in front of boyfriends, 'advising' me that I shouldn't be dressed like I am because men will try to rape me). Every woman's experience of this type of harassment is unique - the only common thread is the predatory means that the men (or 'people'?) who do it use to get the attention of a woman.
The issue with catcalls is that they are, fundamentally, an expression of frustrated privilege. An expectation and demanding that any women, all women, be a) physically attractive to the cat-caller and b) sexually available to the the cat-caller. In fact, many men equate the two.
If a woman is not attractive to the cat-caller, or more relevantly, has not made a visible _effort_ to be attractive to the cat-caller (demonstrated by not being the weight he finds attractive, or not wearing makeup or not dressing to whatever his personal standards are) they see that as a deliberate denial of services. The woman is not turning herself inside out to cater to his personal aesthetics, and that is perceived as a sexual rejection. Hence the hostility.
One of our biggest challenges, as women, and as feminists, is to break down this assumption of sexual entitlement, and another is to destroy the concept that our value, as people, is in our adherence to the aesthetic expectations of others.
And this from from Acerbic Parker, presented without comment but with all the empathy in the world:
It really scares me when I can tell someone is hitting on me because he thinks I would be grateful for the attention. It scares me because some of these men must think nobody would miss me if I ended up gone.