The Corner

Considering Catcalls

No one is catcalling Rosie O’Donnell, Barbara Bush, or Janet Napolitano. No one is catcalling my plump elderly mother as I wheel her down the sidewalk in her wheelchair. Marilyn Monroe once observed that she could walk down the sidewalk without drawing attention — without anyone recognizing her, let alone ogling or whistling. She could turn her sex appeal on and off at will. Clearly the question of whether or not a woman is treated as a sex object by strangers on the street does indeed turn upon her physical appearance. To state otherwise is to ignore reality — which is not a conservative position.

Most women who are young or halfway attractive will at some point experience rude and occasionally frightening behavior from men. So what? I’ve had some of the same kinds of unhappy experiences that Christine Sisto describes. Once, at the age of 18, while on a train in France, a derelict man — the only other passenger in the car — pleasured himself to the point of satisfaction while leering and grunting at me. Gross and scary. But you know what? I’m fine. I felt sorry for him. What a sad, lonely wreck of a man. He didn’t hurt me, though, except by giving me an unpleasant window into human nature.

Despite this disgusting experience (and a few others like it, including when I was much younger than 18), I’ll second the views of the lovely ladies of Fox News’s Outnumbered: Catcalls can be flattering, so long as they don’t cross the line into physical groping, intimidation, or assault. When I wear a tight skirt and heels down the street, and some guy catcalls, I think, Okay, I guess this does look rather good on me. And when I wear baggy jeans and a loose-fitting T-shirt and no lipstick, no one gives me a second look. As women we can choose how we present ourselves. And if we are treated as mere pieces of meat, we bear at least some of the responsibility. This is not to say that we deserve to be harassed if we are naturally alluring or if we wear sexy clothing. And, yes, “attractiveness” is not the reason that hard-core sexual predators assault girls and women.

But I have some advice that might comfort my colleague Christine Sisto: Be patient. Time heals. When you are fat and gray-haired and have three chins and cankles, I wager that no one you will catcall you. In fact, if you end up like some of the Alzheimer’s patients I have known, hungry for human connection and sexual vitality, being catcalled might even make your day. Not to make light  — and no woman should feel she needs a bodyguard to protect her from harassment, as Sisto wrote — but: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. There are far worse sorrows on this earth than being considered sexually appetizing.

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