I Love Wolf-Whistles and Catcalls, Am I a Bad Feminist?
Last summer I went to Ibiza, Spain, where I was catcalled, sexually objectified, and treated like a piece of meat by men the entire week. And it was absolutely awesome. It got to the point where I couldn’t even be bothered to follow any of it up. Every time some hot guy got fresh with me, I just thought, OK, I could fuck you, but there might be some even hotter stud serving it up later. I guess it’s like when I used to live by the sea and never got around to going swimming. It was just always there, you know? You forget to get wet.
So forgive me, looking around this misery we call London, England in March, for feeling a little sad that I’m not in Ibiza, Land of Sexual Objectification. I love catcalls. I love car toots. I love random men smiling “Hello beautiful!” like my mere presence just made their day. I like being called “princess” and ignoring them as I giggle inside. I like being eye-fucked on the escalator and wondering if I’ve just made him spring a boner. That eye-fuck, by the way, is an age-old mating signal. I live for it.
So yeah, I’m a bit of a slut. I also used to be a prostitute. And before that, well, a boy. Uh-huh. And I’m a total attention junkie. So I may not represent all women. Who does, though? I’m a feminist because I don’t like men telling me how to think or behave or experience the world and I don’t like women doing it, either. Laura Bates recently wrote an article for the Guardian called “Women Should Not Accept Street Harassment as ‘Just a Compliment.’” I truly admire the work Laura does with Everyday Sexism to highlight some horrendous abuse, and you should visit the site and check out some of the shit people have had to deal with. It’s awful. And she’s not wrong. No one should accept harassment. Harassment, by its very nature, is unacceptable. But is catcalling always harassment?
Despite the insistence that cat calling is a form of flattery, it’s actually sexual harassment and most women wish it would stop. Emily May is the Executive Director of Hollaback!, an organization working to fight street harassment. Hollaback! educates the public about street harassment and collects data to present to legislators, encouraging them to take action against the constant bombardment of lewd comments many women endure every day. They work with local activists all over the world — 62 cities in 25 countries and counting — and want to create a world where everyone can walk down the street without the fear of being leered at, harassed, or assaulted. In addition to on-the-ground activism, Hollaback! uses digital storytelling on their website to help victims of harassment share their stories and find a supportive community.
VICE: How did Hollaback! come into being? We heard this story of a young woman who was riding the New York City subway [in 2005] and she saw a guy publicly masturbating across from her, and she took his picture with her cell phone camera. She took it to the police, the police didn’t care, she put it on Flickr, it went viral, made it to the front cover of the Daily News and ignited this city-wide conversation about public masturbation. And here was this girl, she was in her early 20s, and she was just able to take out her cell phone camera, turn the lens off of her, put it onto him, and in doing that ignite this huge conversation. It resonated with so many people because so many people had had that same thing happen to them. And we were like: that is so awesome. Why don’t we start a little blog where everyone can submit their stories and we’ll see how it goes, and it just exploded.
I think part of it was that we were using technology in a way that was interesting to people, but most of it was just the fact that this was an issue that everyone was sick and tired of, everyone was at a loss for a solution, and all of a sudden we had cell phone cameras and blogs and people were like ‘awesome, game on. There is a glimmer of a hope of a solution in here somewhere, let’s do it.’
What do you mean when you say ‘street harassment?’ How is it different from a man respectfully approaching a woman on the street, and is there a way to do that? I think street harassment kind of ruins it for the good guys in the world. I would love to live in a world where dudes said, “Good morning, you look awesome,” and it was totally nice and pleasant and that was that. But the reality is that with street harassment, as soon as you respond to a comment like, “Good morning, you look awesome,” or even just “Good morning,” you run the risk of it escalating into something worse.
We just heard this story that happened in San Francisco last week where the woman just ignored this guy. The guy turned around and slashed her in the face and stabbed her in the arm. I mean that’s an extreme example, but in my own life I’ve seen “Good morning” escalate into “I wanna fuck the shit out of you” really quickly, which is not only unpleasant, but actually really scary because I don’t know where it goes from there.
The phone calls started a couple of weeks ago. I was at work, and didn’t think much of the first one as I politely but quickly hung up before the caller got beyond talking about a music video and a band I haven’t been in for nine years. Right after the last call of the day disconnected my brother rang.
"Did you just get a weird phone call?" he asked. I told him I did, and then asked if he had been pranked too. He hesitated, which made me nervous. Turns out someone had been calling his landline all afternoon trying to get in touch with me. It wasn’t until he’d given her my number that he realized he might have made a mistake. The breathy, repetitive diatribes on religious prophecies and butchered pronunciations of our last name apparently creeped him out the more he thought about it.
Of course, by that time, it was too late. I got four calls from her that day, each resulting in a voicemail that sounded like a dying phone-sex operator trying to recite the plotline of her three favorite X-Files episodes. Eventually, when I got home, I was able to give everything a thorough listen. I learned that God, in fulfillment of a blood covenant revolving around the End Times, had apparently chosen me to father her child. It’s not the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard, but the parts about her dying seven times, needing me to come see her, aliens, and us both being “in danger” didn’t exactly inspire confidence or comfort.
The video that made my stalker fall in love with me. I’m not even in it btw, it was made after I left the band.
I called my old bandmates to ask them about it, and they responded with silence followed by the type of “holy shit” you only want to encounter after someone unzips your pants. Apparently, this same person had been sending “fan mail” through the band’s record label, which included screenshots of the band members from the video, annotated with details of the prophecy she’d begun explaining to me via phone, as well as notarized poems which spoke to the future she saw for her and them. And now me, I guessed.
"We didn’t know how seriously to take it," one of them explained. They knew now.
I headed home and dealt with it the only way I know how: I bought a taped-up Louisville Slugger, filled out a police report, went home, checked my closets, drank a beer in the shower, and locked myself in my bedroom.
Do you know how long you have to wait for a fat, old, white dude in a robe to tell you that his 8-second analysis of your affidavit has determined that blood covenants + command-type auditory hallucinations = not creepy enough to give you a temporary protection order? Three to four hours if you’re lucky, apparently. After shooting me down, the judge scheduled a hearing where I had to have a fucking meet-and-greet with my stalker. Thanks a lot, asshole.