Essays on Feminism, Theology and Justice
"Essays on Feminism, Theology and Justice" represents several years of thinking, writing, and finding the intersections and connections that exist between feminism, theology and justice. Theoretical, yet intensely practical, this collection of essays exposes the root causes of injustice while offering solutions to the question we are all asking: how to create a just world
Catcalling and the Male World of Privilege
If you're a woman, you have most likely experienced catcalling; that is, unwanted comments from strange men. And you have most likely also heard that it's normal, something that men "just do." Except that it isn't normal, nor is it something men "just do." Just consider how many straight men would accept being catcalled by a gay man?
Well, some think they would:
One parody video trivialized the Hollaback video by showing a straight male model in a tight T-shirt walking for three hours, getting catcalls from both women and men, smiling and clearly not seeing any of this as harassment.
Someone who purposefully seeks attention isn't going to be offended by attention. But as the Michelangelo Signorile notes in his article, straight men wouldn't appreciate being catcalled by another man, if he didn't purposefully seek such attention:
And let's say I made these comments to straight men while they were in front of other straight men, their buddies or work colleagues, for example. How likely is it that I would get punched in the face, spit on, chased down the street or, at the very least, called a "faggot" or a "queer"? Even many straight men who wouldn't react violently or hurl a slur -- which, I want to believe, would be most -- would feel uncomfortable, objectified and embarrassed.
Some insist that men are hardwired to catcall women, that they can't help but to comment on what they see. A man who sees a pretty woman in a short skirt just has to let her - and the rest of the world - know that she is just that, a pretty woman in a short skirt. But this begs the question, aren't we all hardwired to express our opinions? If I see a person who wears an exceptionally ill-suited outfit, why should I restrain myself from letting that person know what I think of his appalling taste in clothing? Why should anyone restrain him or herself, or teach children how to choose their words in public so as to not offend, or annoy? Why can't we all just say what we think to anyone we happen to meet? Because it's considered to be in poor taste, which is why we teach our children to restrain their natural inclination to say the first thing that comes to their mind, and it’s about time
we did the same with grown men too.
This all begs the question, why do men insist they have the right to say whatever comes to their mind when they see a woman walking down the street? What could possibly make a man think it is acceptable for him to comment on the appearance of a perfect stranger he doesn't know, and probably never will know? And why aren't women allowed to object to such comments without being called all kinds of names by - yet again - perfect strangers? It happens because we live in a world in which words have power, and power gives privilege to the (straight) man to use his words to get what he wants; in the case of catcalling, the attention of a woman who would otherwise ignore him. Women, on the other hand, are excluded from this realm of power by the silence that is imposed on them; a woman's virtue lies in her silence according to Aristotle, and modern men agree.
But if words are power, why is it a virtue for a woman to be silent, but not for a man? The assumptions of space, and who is allowed to occupy it, spills over to the realm of words, for words need space to exist: they do not just float in the air; they fill our minds and create thoughts. Hence, when we say men are allowed to use unrestrained speech, we are really saying a man is allowed to create our thoughts, but a woman isn't. And thus we find that the privilege of unrestrained speech is appropriated by men for the very simple reason that those who create our thoughts control us through our thinking. To be controlled by a woman is what every man fears - at least that is what our hierarchical theologians keep on telling us. But not only do we control others through our words; we
control others by the timing of our words. The same thing said in different contexts determine the meaning of the words. "Smile!" said by a photographer means something different than when it is said by a man to a woman who passes him on the street. Hence we find that catcalling is the close cousin of rape in as much as it assumes that a man has the right to demand access to a woman's body, and that women have no right to object, for after all, women exist for men - another favorite of hierarchical theologians. Whether a man imposes himself on a woman through his words or with his body, the ultimate truth is that he assumes he has the right to do so simply because he is a man. But if a man has the right to impose himself on a woman simply because he is a man, why can't a man impose himself on another man simply because he is a man? What makes the woman the sole object of such unwanted attention? Is it not because women have something men want, that other men don't, and men feel entitled to that something?
Whereas as another man's refusal to be imposed upon is seen as a demand for respect, the woman's refusal is experienced as disrespect.
And because of this illusion of disrespect, the man feels he has the right to extract from the woman what he feels entitled to by any means he sees fit. Thus we find that catcalling isn't about men being hardwired, or something men "just do," for men don't catcall women they respect. A male employee wouldn't catcall the female president of the company he works for, nor would a man catcall the daughter of his best friend, regardless of her attractive appearance. In the end it all comes down to respect: men being unwilling to extend the same respect to women they take for granted. And that is not something men "just do."
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