by Camela Thompson
The weather in Seattle is gorgeous right now. Yesterday I spent most of the day working in the yard. The occasional dog barked, a car whizzed by now and then, but the drone of lawnmowers provided the primary soundtrack. We've had the wettest winter on record, and all of that torrential rain started in January. These past few days have been a very welcome break and our neighbors have responded by attending their yards. A few blocks down, a middle-aged man has been tackling projects to improve a very neglected yard. Because of the temperature, he shed his shirt.
A petite woman walked up the hill, stopped on his sidewalk, and proceeded to launch into a litany of loud "compliments." Apparently this gentleman has dreamy blue eyes and a figure she approved of. I stopped walking the dog and watched a very awkward exchange that only lasted a few moments. She walked off grinning from ear to ear, and he stood leaning his gut on his shovel with a flummoxed look on his face.
The scenario provided a clear example for the term "catcall" (a shout or call that's negatively perceived by the recipient), but it was the reverse of what I've experienced in my life. He was visibly upset. My response wasn't empathetic. I had to fight the laughter percolating. It proved what I'd told many men: If someone did this to you, you wouldn't like it either.
There are some people out there who think yelling "nice ass" or telling people what they want to do with their body is a compliment. I really shouldn't have to explain why this is degrading. But I will because I've seen it so many times. Catcalls are inherently aggressive. Words are spewed without any regard to how the person on the receiving end feels about them. Telling someone what you would do to their body is threatening. It reduces the recipient to an object, and even if that object is being admired, it's dehumanizing. Suddenly I'm reduced to a body part and cringing for the follow-up grab or lean in by someone who's much larger than I am. It's disrespectful and not okay.
My neighbor got a window into life as a woman. When I explain to men what happens to women, especially at night clubs and bars, they're horrified and shocked. They haven't had to decide whether wearing a short skirt is worth looking cute because you know there's a risk someone will try to flip it up. Many of them haven't been groped in passing only to turn and see a wall of men looking in different directions. They probably haven't been relentlessly pursued around the bar after trying to nicely tell the guy you're not interested. They always get confused by the polite part and insist it only encourages people. Being rude escalates the situation in my experience. A flat out rejection leads to accusations and even being burned with a cigarette (that was a bad night).
Many of us understand that accepted "bro" behavior is destructive. My neighbor should now. Maybe if this scenario was more common, we'd see less of it. I'd rather treat my fellow humans with some respect and hope for the same in return.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.