“Ai, guapa, vamos!”
It loosely translates to “Hey good lookin’!” and it’s a phrase I became all too accustomed to hearing while in Spain. Whether walking to class, a nightclub, or even touring the cathedral. One of my friends found it truly offensive, retorting with, “en tus sueños,” accompanied by her manicured middle finger. As for me, I accepted the catcalls indifferently. Clearly, it was a cultural thing. Spanish men, the young, the old, and even the homeless, are notorious for whistling, staring and making a scene when a pretty lady comes walking by. Though I also realized that an American girl could be wearing a burlap sack and still receive the same response (us tall blondes are rare in that part of the world and never cease to fascinate). But these experiences got me thinking about catcalling in general—is it something that we as women should let bother us?
I must admit, it would occasionally get on my nerves and I’d sometimes feel harassed by all the attention. My friends and I would have conversations about how the extreme catcalling in this part of the world continued to objectify women, which is something I obviously don’t support. However, catcalling exists in most parts of the world, even the US, but my experience in Spain was what really brought it to my attention as a larger issue. This has been defined as “street harassment,” particularly by the people of StopStreetHarassment.org, and is defined as “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” So, this doesn’t pertain to only women, many homophobic comments fly around the streets towards men as well.
After some research, I found quite an interesting divide. On the one hand, there are those who believe that catcalling is a vile form of sexual harassment that women should never have to endure. Hollaback! released this video that went viral of a woman walking around New York City (in jeans and a T-shirt to make a point) and being catcalled constantly from men of all ethnic backgrounds. In the video, the woman was subject to whistling, mild cursing and even had creepy dudes follow her on the street. No one touched her, however. But such “street harassment” can involve groping, flashing and even public masturbation (which some of my friends experienced in Spain, unfortunately).
In fact, cat calling is illegal in numerous states. New York outlaws people from making irritating comments and obscene gestures. In D.C., it’s illegal to engage in foul language or behavior that obstructs a person’s path through public spaces. Following people is also against the law in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. While this seems reassuring to most women, rendering catcalling illegal actually does more harm than good, according to an article in The Atlantic. To criminalize this behavior, the writer says, would violate the First Amendment and even end up punishing more people than just the catcallers, simply because unwanted interactions are frequent in a large city.
Interestingly enough, some women enjoy the attention brought on by catcallers. Paris Lees wrote an article for Vice, “I Love Wolf Whistles and Catcalls; Am I a Bad Feminist?”, that discusses catcalling as harassment and whether it’s okay for women to enjoy the attention. Lee gave a brief account of her time spent in Ibiza, Spain and the times she was sexually objectified and didn’t hate it one bit. Another woman she spoke to about the subject told her, “If I’m sashaying down the street and tossing a head of freshly washed hair like I think I’m Beyoncé, I find a catcall rather appreciative.” Even Amy Schumer on Live at the Apollo mentioned how she enjoys walking by construction sites and hearing men jeer and whistle.
I’m not one to say that I particularly enjoy the catcalls, but as a woman it’s interesting to see how divisive the subject matter is. Some women feel so strongly against it while others find it appealing. It’s difficult to maintain a united front against catcalling while many women enjoy the attention. Honestly, I did feel like hot stuff strutting up and down the streets of Sevilla in a new dress and watching men’s jaws drop. Guapa, indeed.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.