Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of this here blog and no I am not doing a fundraiser (people can give to the podcast which is where most of my blog energy goes these days) but I did decide to write today about that Hollaback catcalling video from last week.
And I could post the video here or show you the latest privileged male douchebag response (from CNN, who woulda guessed? Everybody.) But you are reading this on the internet so you already know all about it.
No one needs to write a post denouncing scatological verbal assault towards any other person. Groping, stalking, rape-threatening, any comment which mentions your penis or her body parts, any of them? You are a pig, and possibly an arch-pig. This blog post is about men who approach women on the street uninvited, and make a comment to her or about her appearance that is also uninvited.
I'm writing about this because after searching the internet I have found no one writing about this drama from the standpoint of why so many men would behave with such consistency. The power of this video is not just that one woman faced one-hundred-and-eight catcalls in one day, but that MORE than that number spoke to her, made a play, put it out there, and that any one of those individual men probably catcalls more than once per day anyway. (The video edited out a great number of men, especially the Caucasians.) That's an enormous amount of energy spent getting rejected on a public thoroughfare. And even the Belcerebons of Kakrafoon Kappa don't wag their tongues that much.
Those of us whose feminist (literary) criticism came of age in 1980's English departments have a different take on why they do it. It's not about the girl. It's never about the girl. Men's pursuit of women in this culture has more to do with how they relate to each other than how they percieve women. Or as we discussed around the table in undergraduate Lit Crit, the dance scene in Pride and Prejudice isn't about Darcy and Elizabeth. It's about Darcy and Bingley:
Darcy and Bingley’s erotic triangle, based on their “friendly” male rivalry, depends on positioning Jane between them as the female object mediating the two male characters’ current of homosocial desire. Thus, Darcy’s heterosexual desire may be to dance with Jane, in order to outdo his friend; alternatively, however, Darcy might perhaps wish he himself could dance with Bingley, rather than alongside him. Because both options are not feasible, Darcy’s desire is unmet in both regards. In order to save face, Darcy petulantly refuses to dance with anyone except Bingley’s sisters (who are individually as homosocially identical to Bingley as is possible for any woman to be) and deliberately spurns Elizabeth by refusing to “settle” for a dance with her: “I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen 6–7; emphasis added). Feeling “slighted” for losing out to his friend’s superior heterosocial currency, Darcy demonstrates the attitude of a sore loser and exposes the underlying competitive logic of male homosocial desire, but only as an afterthought: a female object not sought-after by other men is clearly an undesirable commodity.And here we can stop and sing a song of "should not"s. Women should not be treated as currency. Men should not treat women's bodies, women's space, women's voices as somehow trade-able or own-able by them. But the Sonata of Should Not does not transform women's day-to-day experience. Hundreds of women, every day, every where, being treated as property. And the abyss we plummet from....
A. A woman WITH a friend who will accompany her WITH a digital camera for ten hours of free time to make a point about life in the food-laden streets of Manhattan that will then be posted on the internet (White men edited out) to be played by 25 million internet connected devices mostly in the United States
B. The announcement that the abducted girls in Nigeria have been "married off" to their Boku Haram kidnappers.
...measures our privilege.
But getting back to Manhattan and the enormous energy spent by men talking to women who don't welcome the attention. It's not just a numbers game. It's a competition between men not only for who has the best line and the most "success", but also who can best brush off the inevitable rejection. A great many of the men in the Hollaback video had a pack of wingmen passing judgment on HIS performance. It's a show. Does that make it less aggravating to experience multiple times a day? No. We are only now starting to talk about how women feel about being approached on the street by a male stranger, even a well-meaning one, because a viral video hit a raw and universal nerve. But hey, there are over five million "wingman" posts on the web about how to handle rejection "like a man," if that helps you, fellas.
Joyce Carol Oates caught fire for suggesting that men in more affluent neighborhoods would not engage in that kind of catcalling. Her crime was writing a tweet instead of an essay, because she has a point but one that can't fit the mini-genre. It's not that men in affluent neighborhoods are better socially and therefore do not catcall. It's that those men have many other resources with which to get the attention of women. Money and leisure time allow a male to approach a female in a bar rather than on the street. Why is a pickup line in a bar more acceptable than the street? Location location location isn't just for real estate. A woman attempting to walk to her place of employment is not a woman sitting in a bar. She is not at leisure to consider your invitation, she is going to work.
And speaking of real estate, the street as public space versus private space is really important here. On the streets of Manhattan, privacy is not something you are either given or entitled to. When Comedy Central's Jessica Williams (better than Hollaback in so many ways) recommends huge headphones and travelling in groups as the defense against catcalls she is reinforcing Manhattan's crowd sourced anxiety and the fact that one must enforce one's own private space in the city:
And when she suggests "acting like a lunatic" she is removing herself from the acceptable gene pool to avoid the perils of evolutionary biology.
**apologies to "Wild Night" by Van Morrison