Personal Effects of Being Catcalled
by Sue Kim
It can be as simple as a quick look, a comment on my body or what I’m wearing, or a sound to get my attention. But the look is one that’s filled with uninvited lasciviousness; the comment a perverted interpretation of my appearance; the sound a self-righteous murmur, as if that sound - uttered by men with eyes and desire but no heart or mind – would give me validation for my existence because to them, I am only a source of amusement. The effects of being catcalled weigh me down every time I walk the streets of New York City, which, for all its diversity, is the place where I feel the most targeted due to my gender.
I’m not only upset when I’m catcalled; I’m downright angry. In that instantaneous moment, the power and control I have as a human being is stripped from me. In that moment it doesn’t matter if I know who I am without any validation from anyone else, because the moment I am catcalled, I am no longer my own person. I become an object of the another person’s lust.
People tell me, “Don’t take it to heart. As long as you don’t get affected by what they say, their words have no power.” And I get it – I shouldn’t give catcallers the power to even make me flinch, but I’m only human. How can I always ignore what they say? And don’t I have the right to be angry? In the end – even if I ignore all the comments thrown at me, what changes? I will continue to get catcalled. I will continue to be disturbed by the thought that I was looked at like I was a piece of meat, which is the last thing anyone wants.
And the most frustrating aspect of being catcalled? I feel like I lose, whether I speak up against the catcaller or ignore the comments. To many catcallers, catcalling is a form of amusement. If I speak up, I’m giving the catcaller the attention they seek. If I stay silent, I have to suppress the urge to speak up for myself and call the catcaller to his attention of how I feel about his comments.
In addition to the irritation I feel from staying silent, I feel a sense of heightened uneasiness, which stems from my identity as an Asian woman – I fear that by not speaking up for myself, I may be perpetuating the stereotypes of Asian women being “docile” and “submissive.” The burden is especially heavier when catcallers make a lewd comment based on my Asian features or their preconceived notions about Asian women. As much as I would like to assert to the catcallers how wrong these stereotypes are in any and every way, I am torn between a moment of personal satisfaction in telling the catcaller off and adopting an attitude of indifference.
Although I still haven’t found the right balance of dealing with catcallers on the spot, my writing is my way of expressing all of my frustration and anger. By expressing these personal effects, I hope to call attention to yet another instance in which women, regardless of class or race, are affected by the effects of our patriarchal society. After all, the objectification of women is not only seen in the comments of catcallers, but it is also integrated nearly imperceptibly in media.
Maybe in a society in which men and women of all races were systemically equal, I wouldn’t be so bothered or disturbed by “a few comments.” However, in this society, I can’t help but believe that catcalling is only but an extension of the deep-seated hierarchy that places men above women. Therefore, whether you have been personally catcalled or not, I urge you as part of the public to recognize that catcalling is a serious issue of inequality.