What happens when a man gets catcalled? He gets angry, disgusted and even hostile toward the catcaller; in other words, he experiences the storm of negative emotions and disturbing sense of vulnerability many women experience every time they step foot on a sidewalk. At least that's what happened to Stuff Mom Never Told You fan Peter who wrote us about a time he got catcalled by another man who apparently had mistaken him for a young woman.
Here's his story:
...I am a cisgendered man who presents himself in a very feminine way. I have long hair, and buy both men and women's clothing. I don't often get much of a hassle for it, but one experience sticks out in my mind. About a year ago I was walking home from class on a rainy day when a man slowed his car next to me and, assuming I was female, began catcalling me. He offered me a ride. He repeatedly asked for my number, asked if I had a boyfriend. If you're male, this is something you are never taught how to deal with. You hear stories about catcalling and harassment but you never understand how invasive it is until you experience it firsthand. I couldn't even process what was going on. I get misgendered by cashiers on an almost weekly basis but this was another level of upsetting. He followed me for about a block before I finally got the nerve to tell him off properly. I spent the rest of the week obsessing over it, wondering what I did wrong. Was it something I was wearing? Was it the way I walked? After I got my thoughts together and consulted female friends about what happened, their response was a unanimous "No. He just thought you were a girl. That is why you were catcalled". They proceeded to share their stories with me, of the workplace, the classroom: it was happening to them every single day. I could barely take it after it happened once.
Peter's initial reactions of confusion followed by anger are probably familiar to any woman who's ever been on the receiving end of street harassment. However, what struck me the most from what Peter shared was the psychological aftermath and rumination over what he had done to attract the driver's attention. It echoes the kind of self-blame often triggered in and targeted at women who have been harassed or assaulted in a society where we're constantly being told to watch what we're wearing, what we're drinking, who we're hanging out with and where we are to avoid "asking for it."
At the same time, it also demonstrates the very real male privilege that is existing in a public space without the looming possibility of being loudly and crudely reminded of your status as a sexual object. Having been the catcalled just once, Peter was stunned by his girlfriends' abilities to endure being publicly objectified and harassed day-to-day. And in closing, he has some advice for men:
So to all of the other men in the audience: if a woman in your life tells you about how someone harassed her, please do not make it about modesty. Until you have walked a day in a woman's shoes (or in my case a woman's pants), I don't think you're going to understand quite how complicated and personal this topic gets. No matter what you look like or what you're wearing, if some jerk thinks you're a woman, they're probably going to think it is totally okay to invade your privacy and make advances on you.
Related Stuff Mom Never Told You:
Does rape culture exist?
A Brief History of Rape