“Teach children to be polite and courteous in the home, and, when he grows up, he will never be able to edge his car onto a freeway.” -Unknown
One of the podcasts I’ve been listening to is Grammar Girl, a brief podcast covering, obviously, grammar topics. She is part of a website called Quick and Dirty Tips which offers a number of podcasts on a variety of subjects. As I was listening to one of her archives, she mentioned that the most recent Mister Manners podcast covers responding to catcalling. I checked it out.
The first and most fundamental problem with Mister Manners’ response is that he presumes that catcalling is behavior akin to poor dining manners or proper elevator etiquette. It’s not. I doubt Mister Manners would write a column addressing the proper way to respond to a carjacking. You cannot possibly offer suggestions for the polite way to address catcalling because any presumption of polite behavior goes right out the goddamn window when you sexually harass someone.
Mister Manners suggest you ignore the catcall or respond by saying “I have to tell you that your catcalls and whistles make me feel very uncomfortable. If you could please stop I would appreciate it very much.” That is, he points out, unless you find this lewd and disrespectful behavior complimentary.
Mister Manners then addresses the question “Should I catcall?” The answer should be an unequivocal “NO.” Instead, he claims “In general, a catcall or whistle is not an appropriate way to pay someone a compliment.” He goes on to suggest that “if you’re driving and feel the urge to compliment someone as you pass by, rather than whistling you might consider saying something as easy as, “You’re beautiful” (to either a man or woman), as you pass by.” I’m not sure where this NEED is to pay compliments to strangers comes from. You do not NEED to compliment anyone; you want to.
Mister Manners, you are presuming that people who catcall are attempting to pay compliment. They aren’t. Ezra Klein gets it. He describes catcalling as “…a way of covering insecurity, of asserting your existence by underscoring your physical dominance . It’s utterly disgusting.” Catcalling, yelling “You’re beautiful” out of a car window, whistling, whatever – is not a stranger offering you a compliment. It is a person trying to wrestle your control of a situation away. It is a selfish person who demands that you grant them your attention. It is the disgusting objectification of a human being.
If I had an advice column, I’d suggest that a solid kick in the nuts is what should be the only legally, morally, and socially acceptable response to catcalling. If you shout something obscene at me or whistle at me while I walk past, I should be able to turn around, walk up to you, and kick you squarely in the goddamn testicles.