Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hey baby: living with catcalls in NYC

by Jordan Kisner

I’ve been living in New York City for two months now, and I think I’m about to break down and join a gym. Not because I want to lose weight (though the availability and affordability of New York pizza hasn’t done me any favors there) but because I need an outlet for blowing off some steam: several times a week, I arrive home from my daily commute (2 different subways and several city blocks) ready to scream.

When I moved here I was not prepared for the catcalling.

Men of all shapes and sizes, men of all ages, races and avocations are getting their daily jollies catcalling at any and every woman they see walking down the street. “Hey baby,” “How you doing, sweet thing,” “Can I get your number,” are well worn pages in the book of street-side pervert tricks, and I personally dealt with three or four of these stunners this afternoon. Truthfully, I find these a welcome alternative to the experience of a man boldly undressing you with his eyes as you walk down the street, his tongue out and his head bobbing. This has happened to me four times so far this week. This evening, two men on the subway today got in a loud argument about my ass.

Never has my body felt less my own. Never have I felt more physically powerless.

I’m not alone here. A friend recently rounded on a man in the street who made a rude gesture at her and asked for her number, yelling “Has any woman ever given you her number? If so, I want HER number.” My roommate was followed and harassed by a man for several blocks. I myself have taken to fantasizing about punching these men in the face. The rage that these encounters inspire is so much a reaction to feeling helpless, a futile attempt to mitigate the feeling that your body has been turned into a commodity of the lewdest kind without your consent.

Not surprisingly, none of the men who engage in this kind of behavior lead lives of much power or importance themselves. They are the kind of men who sit on the street corner in the middle of the day, or deliver freight, or sweep steps. (Note: I am NOT making an argument that men of only a certain income or class harass and demean women. We all know this is not true. I am pointing only to the pattern I’ve seen in men who catcall on the streets or subways of New York City.) These men, who have little substantive influence and –apparently—lots of time on their hands, can seize a modicum of power by exercising verbal and sexual dominance over any woman unlucky enough to walk in their sights. Conversely, the most empowered, successful, influential women in New York suffer the risk of being reduced to a sexual fantasy on every street corner.

The women of New York City, like the women of Cairo, are ready for a change.

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