‘I was walking down the street when a complete stranger called me a slut.’

Catcalling is one of those experiences you are naturally familiar with if you’re a woman. Like accidentally tucking your skirt into your undies, or being elbowed right in the boob.

My twin sister and I experienced it just last week. There we were, strolling along, pondering the great questions of the universe: Why are there no plus-sized male models? Can I train my dog to answer the phone if I call him from work? Or are his paws too much of an impairment?

And just as we were onto something, it happened.

The written word cannot describe the sound that was hurled at us out of that car window. It was a deep groan, underscored by a sense of urgency, as the man in question struggled to complete his catcall before his car sped off down the road. In his defense, he really didn’t have a lot of time, which is probably one of the shortcomings of shouting things at strangers on the street.

It was some combination of the following:

SllluuuuUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuutt.

YyyyyyyEEEEEEHHhhhhh!

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******[expletive]******

The whole catcalling phenomenon begs a lot of questions.

To start with, Mr. Catcaller, are these prepared lines, or do they come to you, organically, in the moment? Is it exhausting to remind every woman who walks down the street that she is, in fact, a woman? Has yelling at a woman ever resulted in a positive outcome of any description? How does it feel when they turn around and look at you like this?

Vontouring

It just can’t feel good. Surely.

But as our collective years of being humans of the female variety have taught us, not every catcaller is the same.

And it’s only fair to label them, just as they so valiantly label us.

1. The extremely rude catcaller:

Individuals in this category tend to yell things like ‘behemoth’ or ‘fatty’ (Note: These examples are not hypothetical. They were crowdsourced from our office). It appears they do not have anywhere urgently to be. They are likely to be in an imminent car accident, given their alarming attention to people on the street, rather than potential obstacles on the road. This catcaller cruises through the suburbs looking for unassuming women, and personalises an insult for each and every one. Way to make a gal feel special!

2. The you’re-a-woman-and-I-would-like-to-remind-you catcaller:

Portrait of a young man pointing towards the camera
This guy. So perceptive. Image via iStock.

These men see a woman walking down the street and feel it is their obligation, nay, their DUTY, to remind the unassuming subject that they do, indeed, have a vagina. Types of catcalls include expletives to describe female body parts, and general screams in the direction of a female. Much of the time, their catcalls are incomprehensible. In case you forgot the whole patriarchy thing  for a moment, these noble men make sure to remind you.

3. The slightly-funny-but-you-don’t-want-to-admit-it-out-of-principle catcaller:

Every now and then, a catcaller yells something that in any other context, might be perceived as funny. For example, one of us was late for the train one day, and was running up the hill to catch it. A car drove past, and the unidentified man wound down his window and screamed, “Run, Forest. Run.” Funny? A little. Appropriate? Not at all.

4. The physically-violent/neanderthal catcaller:

Technically this may not fall within the realm of catcalling. But there is a type of catcaller who uses objects, rather than words, to get their point across. We’ve had a goonsack (oh, um, you really shouldn’t be consuming alcohol in your car), and a water bottle thrown at us while walking down the street. He promptly ceases to be so brave/aggressive when he gets stopped at a red light, and his victim crosses the road right in front of him, glaring into his dark soul. This catcaller doesn’t do words because they are far too hard. He should also be fined for littering.

Just to be clear – most men are wonderful. Watch Mamamia’s Men of the Year. Post continues after video… 

5. The on-the-job catcaller:

#Notallconstructionworkers are catcallers. But #yesallwomen (just about) have been shouted at, in the middle of the day, by a dude in a fluro vest. It is well known that construction workers are trained in brick laying, concreting and yelling strange things at women passing by. They usually don’t say anything particularly abusive, and rarely throw things, because the woman they are targeting also happens to know where they work.

construction
Nup. Not flattered. Image via iStock.

The construction worker masks their catcalling as an innocent compliment, with “Hey beautiful” or “where are you going?”. They are also completely unphased when 93% of the time they don’t get a response, and the other 7%, they get told to f**k off. Their persistence, if applied to anything else in life, would be commendable.

6. The instructional catcaller:

This type of catcaller comes bearing instructions such as “gimme a smile”. Sometimes he is a senior citizen and you feel tempted to excuse his behaviour because he doesn’t know any better. Your first instinct is to say “You don’t know me…man”, and then you spend the next ten minutes thinking about all the reasons that exist in the world that justify not smiling 24 hours a day. Maybe the street smells like urine. You could (hypothetically) have chronic depression. Or perhaps you weren’t smiling because you were anticipating being approached by a stranger and being told WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR FACE.

liz lemon
Our faces as we walk down the street. Image via ’30 Rock’ NBC.

Despite their admirable diversity, every type of catcaller leaves us feeling annoyed and embarrassed. Yelling expletives at a female stranger is just as unnerving as having an unknown person creep up behind you screaming “BOOOOOAHAH”. Socially, it is a very unusual thing to do.

Catcalling  isn’t about reacting to a ‘pretty’ woman. It’s not the expression of some male biological urge to procreate. It’s a statement of power. And there is nothing that upsets the hierarchy more than laughing at the person who thinks they’re on top.

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