I wish it were obvious that the title of this article was dripping with sarcasm, but the reality is that catcalling is so prevalent it is almost inevitable that there exists guides or tips for getting women to notice you on the street. Indeed, the recent release of the statistic that 97% of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault suggests that perhaps, as a woman who has been catcalled in the past, I am in one of the best positions to offer the one-liners that have caused me the most fear and grabbed my attention. Unfortunately for those looking for these tips and tricks, that is not what I am offering today.
Catcalling is perhaps one of the best illustrations of misogyny in the real world because it demonstrates perfectly what is at the core of the gender dynamic. It’s inherently a power play and catcalling is simply an expression of dominance. It’ll come as no surprise to most that catcalling as a means of securing a romantic or sexual encounter has a pretty low success rate. This just goes to show that it has nothing to do with the person the harassment is being levied at, but rather is a way for the perpetrator to assert their capacity to cause fear.
I think a key feature of catcalling and one of the reasons why, no, it is not a compliment, is the way in which it dehumanises. The reduction of a person to their physical attributes makes it easier to express this power dynamic and reduces their worth down to uncontrollable and unimpactful qualities. But such dehumanisation is not limited to catcalling, nor is it limited to those who are directly engaging in misogynistic activities.
Indeed, dehumanisation is prevalent in all expressions of power dynamics. It becomes easier to discriminate and belittle when you don’t have to be concerned with the emotions and complex existence of another person.
One of the most impactful examples of this is the usage of “females” as opposed to “women”. It is clinical and it serves a very deliberate purpose. Unless you frequent scientific journals, the more natural word in conversational English is absolutely “women” and so to describe a collective as “females” is a deliberate choice.
To use the word “female” in conversation suggests a deliberate desire to detach from the idea of a thinking and feeling group with complexity and rather create a collective to be generalised. Of course, the reasonings are more complex, but the intention of detachment is clear. Furthermore, the usage of the scientific sex descriptor is a deliberate choice by trans-exclusionary radical feminists, more commonly known as TERFS, and other transphobic individuals who refuse to accept the difference between biological sex and social gender.
The removal of the socially determined aspect of the word “woman” is exactly the root of what makes “female” feel so weird: it is another example of the reduction of an individual down to their physicality. The word itself isn’t harmful or a slur, but its usage is very telling of one’s intentions. Thus, both catcalling and the usage of “female” are displays of dehumanisation to varying degrees of subtlety. Where the former is obvious and aggressive in nature, the latter is clinical with a calm detachment.