At some level, a man who catcalls wants the woman to reciprocate. “Guys, I see attractive men all the time,” Christine Sisto remarks, “but I don’t feel an urge to loudly request to see their genitalia.” But they might be psyched if she did. Male brains and female brains are different. I say this not to justify the behavior but to try to explain it.
Social rank and mating-market value are a consideration. A man who catcalls loudly in public declasses himself. In the very act, he announces that his social class and social intelligence are probably low. If he merely compliments a woman on her appearance though with detectable enthusiasm, it’s still inappropriate, even offensive, if she thinks she’s out of his league. He has just implied that she isn’t. It’s an insult. If she likes him, though, then it’s okay.
Molly Powell’s comment about her elderly mother is a poignant reminder that this topic lends itself to a kind of angerbrag: The burdens of belonging to the aristocracy of youth are an injustice and I won’t stand for it! Like the 1 percent, youth is an elite club of which a surprising number of people are members temporarily — all of us, if we live long enough. The length of the season that we enjoy there varies from person to person, and much of life amounts to the struggle to postpone the day when we find ourselves locked out of it.