I started thinking about writing this post after I’d had to endure street harassment at the hands of some guys that were in a van (the typical men that are prone to perpetuating catcalling). I got home that night to Ericka Hart’s discussion on catcalling and street harassment on Instagram (I screamed YAAAS!). I related to almost everything they said.
|Source:The Odyssey Online|
At some point during their discussion (I’m guessing it was out of frustration) Ericka said: “where do [cis black men] find the time to sit around and harass people all day!?” And I was like (hand on chin, frown in place, contemplative look): this is a valid question, where do they find the time? This happens at home (Richmond) as well. Ericka stays in New York and I stay in the rurals of KZN, yet we find that (although on different continents) black men exhibit the same kind of behavior, why?
The Zulu culture, I’ve since concluded, can be very violent towards women. And this is a bitter pill for me to swallow because I love isiZulu (the language as well the culture). The language is awfully poetic and culture a series of intricately woven practices and beliefs (read here). But some of these practices are oppressive and are rooted in patriarchy. In my analysis I’ve concluded that elements of the wooing process in the Zulu culture are very much violent. For example, ukutwala. Ukuthwala is (to put it very bluntly) a process that involves abducting young women (generally) and forcing them into marriage (often with the consent of their parents). These women are locked in a room (a house if they are lucky) with no access to the outside world. Unless they are with someone that is “guarding” them, they cannot leave the room/house. In the long run, the women generally give in and end up staying with their “husband” willingly.
|Source: The Zulu Kingdom|
But cat calling’s origins aren’t Zulu, in fact they aren’t even African (I’d love to say catcalling has western origins but I’m really not sure where it comes from). Catcalling is a skill that is not unique to construction workers. Regular guys who, at first, seem decent are/can be perpetrators of catcalling. As a black woman it is easy to assume that catcalling is uniquely practiced by cis black men on black women (as history would have it, black women are the scum of the earth and ought to bare the worst of what patriarchy has to offer). But it’s not unique to cis black men, nor is it experienced solely by black women (much to patriarchy’s disappointment).
Ariel Chates’ states that although catcalling dates as far back as 200 BC, it wasn’t always called catcalling (read here). In its earlier forms, catcalling was known as the “wolf whistle”. Ariel argues that the name wolf whistle has predatory connotations and alludes to male lust, whose symbol is a wolf. “The term “catcaller” didn’t come around until the 1700s when theatergoers would whistle and jeer at the actors to express disapproval for the actions onstage. The term didn’t take on a sexual meaning until the 20th century. It’s a shame I even have to do this,” she states, “but let me remind the men on the street: You aren’t watching a Broadway production of that girl’s walk to work. This isn’t American Idol. She’s not trying out for whatever perverted fantasy is playing in your head.”
“Like most women I know, I treat street harassment like unpleasant weather – a common occurrence I silently endure by drawing my coat tighter around my body and walking briskly ahead with a stiff neck.”~ unknown
There have been calls to criminalize catcalling. To acquaint catcallers to the same treatment and laws that stalkers have to bare; I think jail time is tad too drastic, and black men would surely suffer the most from this, it would also be difficult to contain (how would we distinguish between a regular compliment and a catcall?) There are seemingly multiple solutions to the problem of catcalling. Proposed solutions range from ‘‘engaging with the catcaller in conversation in order to better understand the problem’’ (I wouldn’t. Men can be violent when called out on their bullshit, and this hasn’t worked thus far), to “handing the perpetrators a business card with a hotline that will direct them to someone that can educate them on why catcalling is bad for society” (who would pay for this venture? And men would probably use this line to hit on the women anyway). I feel like all I can, and am willing to do, is write about catcalling. I will share educational posts on Facebook and on my page. But it really feels like a hopeless situation.
|Source: Yahoo News|
The oversexualization (is this a word?) of women is universally acknowledged and, to an extent, accepted. There are scores of articles, seminars and studies on what the perfect female (and male) body should look like. But the reality is there is no singular standard of beauty, different people are attracted to different things. In acknowledging the different standards of beauty, we must also stay keenly aware of the fact that women aren’t on this planet (by divine intervention or by chance) for men to gawk upon! Whatever a woman chooses to wear, it is not an invite or reason for men to harass her by way of unsolicited and often vulgar “compliments”.
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