Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's Wrong with Catcalling Women?

Recently a young woman asked me, “How do you explain to guys how frustrating it is to be hit on all day long? Whenever I tell them to imagine what it would be like, not to be hit on just once in a while, but every day everywhere you go, they always say, 'That would be great! I'd have sex with every woman who propositioned me!' They just can't imagine why women would find this oppressive.”

Here is my response.

Men: imagine if every time you opened your mouth no one heard what you had to say. Imagine, instead, you were being humored – or ignored – based primarily on whether the listener thought they could get you to have sex with them. Imagine if half your professors or teachers never solicited your thinking in earnest. Imagine if you knew that despite your talents in any particular field – acting, writing, science, singing, or anything else – you would be evaluated on your looks and your perceived sexual availability. Imagine thinking you met someone who took you seriously and found your ideas and talents compelling, only to discover that really they were just “playing you” to get you in bed.

Imagine this happened over and over and over again.

Imagine if every morning you had to calculate – whether fully consciously or not – what clothes to wear based on whether you want to be seen (which means “sexy”) but therefore not taken seriously, or whether you will accept being invisible (ie: not “sexy) which means not even noticed by most. Imagine if all day long you were policed for these clothing choices – by everyone: by religious authorities, by employers, by professors, by your boyfriend or lover, by the men on the street, by the strangers who drive past you, by your girlfriends, by other women, by your parents, by the person who takes your money at the drugstore, by the people you sit next to on public transportation. Imagine none of them really see you; they see a “thing” that they feel entitled to judge. Too little sex appeal and you are invisible. Too much and you are a despised “slut.”

Imagine, in other words, if you walked every day through a world that didn't recognize your humanity.

The problem with the way women are constantly catcalled, propositioned, and “hit on” is not merely a problem with too much sexual attention – although that is degrading. The bigger problem is that is being reflected in this constant propositioning is the way that this culture reduces women to objects of male sexual desire! (Or to breeders of children – a theme I will return to in other posts, but which is really just the “mirror opposite” and equally oppressive).

This view of women as less than fully human, as objects to be used by men, is constant and pervasive. It is what connects the way that women are beaten like animals by their “lovers” every 15 seconds to the way the domination and debasement of women is sexualized in pornography to the way that women are “hit on” on – or ignored – all day every day rather than interacted with as full humans.

All this combines to not only dismiss – but to discourage the development of and often to punish – the talents, ideas, curiosity, creative energy, intellectual capacity, insights, and full participation of women and girls in all aspects of society. This not only enslaves women, it holds back all of humanity!

This idea of women as the possessions of men goes very far back in the development of human societies – to the first emergence of class divisions together with private property, the patriarchal family, and the state – and all the way up to this “oh-so-modern” U.S. capitalist society. It was with the emergence of oppressive class divisions that women's sexuality had to be dominated by men – in order, among other things, to keep track of which children would inherit which property and which social position. For this reason, women were expected to be virgins before marriage and then to subordinate themselves to their husbands, sexually and as breeders and rearers his children.

Ever since then, this patriarchy has been enforced through horrific violence, oppressive laws, misogynist culture, and dehumanizing myths – from the Bible (which insists on the stoning to death of non-virgin brides!) to the ritualized public shaming of sexually active women through today's magazine tabloids to the way that men are trained, from a very young age, to oggle and catcall women.

But this view of women is not innate in human societies. It emerged with class divisions and can and must go out of existence as those divisions are abolished. The same revolution aimed at overcoming all class divisions and all the oppressive divisions in the world flowing from them – from the plundering of the planet by corporations driven by profit, to imperialist wars of aggression, to the mass incarceration and police terror against oppressed masses here in the U.S. – is a revolution that requires breaking these chains that bind women. As Bob Avakian, the communist leader who has re-envisioned this revolution to be both viable and desirable in the 21st century, has made clear, the full liberation of women must be both a driving force and a dividing line in any revolution worth making!

What does all this mean for you, my dear men?

The next time you have the impulse to “hit on” some woman you hardly know, or to get to know a woman in order to proposition her, think not only of how degrading this is for that particular woman but also about what this behavior says about you. It says that you have taken on board the ideas that treat half of humanity as less than fully human, one of the key pillars that keeps the world trapped in the nightmare it is, and you that are acting in ways that help keep that oppression in place.

If you want a different world in the overall sense – you have to be fighting for the liberation of women. You have to change not only your own attitude towards women (which includes, right now, ceasing to catcall, proposition, and hit on women who are just trying to go about their lives) but you have to be part of challenging the culture and other men who treat women this way. And you have to be part of fighting to get rid of the very deep underlying structures of class society that have led to this oppression and make it seem “normal.”

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posted by Sunsara Taylor at 4:24 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is very important, not only from the perspective of women's oppression but also from a male perspective. As a male I have always fought to view and treat women as equal, intellectually, emotionally and physically (there is nothing —with the obvious biological reproductive exception) I can do that a women cannot do. Not one single thing. Every time a man diminishes a woman by viewing her, treating her, and ultimately valuing her, as a sexual object, he diminishes her, himself and humanity. I have tried to make this point numerous times to my male friends, but even progressive friends, end up mocking that position.

I then must conclude that this situation is really the result of the values that the euro-christian culture and its current democratic-capitalist system promotes.

To get rid of the sexist attitudes that permeate the hyper-sexualized western culture, we, males, must make a titanic effort to recognize in ourselves what Sunsara is speaking of, look within our hearts and recognize that as Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz said.

"Stubborn men, you accuse women, with no reason, not realizing that you are the reason of what you accuse...You want with stubborn presumption to find the one you look for, for fiance, Tais (highly valuable, delicate, etc.), and in possesion Lucrecia".

That is, we, males, are hypocrites. And terribly confused hypocrites. Perhaps the most damning condemnation of this situation was made by a porn star, who recently published a photo-book of her life and friends. "Men are sexually insecure and they compensate by being idiots"

8/13/11, 5:44 PM

Blogger Rahul Banerjee said...

an excellent post. since it needs greater publicity i am sharing this on my wall on FB.

9/13/11, 3:42 PM

Blogger ColorPurple said...

great post. and it echos what i believe in. especially the part where you say that revolutions have to break the chains that keep woman dehumanised. I follow Emma Goldman's in sentiment and spirit when she said - if i can't dance, i don't want to be part of your revolution. shared it on facebook.

9/14/11, 4:11 AM


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