Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's wrong with catcalling women?

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.

Read the rest

Let me add this...

There's a difference between being attracted to a woman and hitting on her, in the sense of "hitting on" that Sunsara uses. I can't help how my brain is wired: I find certain women visually appealing, without knowing anything about their personalities or characters. But I keep this appeal to myself: that I find a woman appealing does not give me the right even to merely intrude upon her attention. I get to know many people, men and women, in the course of my daily life. I have legitimate, socially acceptable reasons for interacting with them as full human beings. I can evaluate their personality and character; more importantly, I give them an opportunity to evaluate my personality or character. I don't "hit on" women; I get to know people; if the whole package works, and works both ways, we can proceed. We can proceed. There are well-established, legitimate and socially acceptable methods of communicating mutual interest, and if the interest is not mutual, these methods allow either party to disengage gracefully, with a minimum of awkwardness and hurt feelings. I don't count myself a red-hot feminist for this attitude; I consider it nothing but obvious common sense.

I used to be in sales. The guiding principle in sales is to always make it socially awkward for the customer to say "no". It doesn't matter at first what you ask; you just ask questions so that it's easier for the customer to say "yes" from social convention (or you ask questions where the customer gets to "choose" between different ways of saying "yes" to preserve the illusion of choice). If you're approaching a woman like you're a salesman approaching a customer, you're doing it wrong; you're being a creep. Before you ask any woman anything, ask yourself: "Would it be even a little bit awkward for her to say 'no'?" If it would be, shut the fuck up.

There are, I suppose, venues where it might be acceptable to take the sales approach towards women. When you walk into a used car dealership, you want to be sold on a car, n'est pas? (And if you don't want to buy a car, why are you wasting the salesperson's time?) But women have to consciously, explicitly and knowingly choose to enter those venues, they have to be able to leave at any time, and participation cannot be a precondition for any other social task or status, especially a task or status available to men without participation. And the sidewalk, the bus stop, the coffee shop, the convention, and especially the workplace are most emphatically not this kind of venue.


  1. I don't really have a comment on the topic of the article as a whole, but I found this comment to be really interesting:

    "The guiding principle in sales is to always make it socially awkward for the customer to say "no". It doesn't matter at first what you ask; you just ask questions so that it's easier for the customer to say "yes" from social convention (or you ask questions where the customer gets to "choose" between different ways of saying "yes" to preserve the illusion of choice).

    I have never been in sales, or anything. I don't have the personality for it. But I have watched the documentary "Century of the Self" by Adam Curtis and read Stuart Ewen's "Captains of Consciousness." Both of the projects talk about that exact same thing.

    I am new to reading your blog, and from what I believe I remember you are studying economics/business? At any rate, I think it would be interesting to read an article with you expanding on this subject because I find it fascinating...

  2. I'm studying economics and political science. I'm a communist: I think it's valuable to understand how the opposition thinks.

    I'm not sure what I can write about sales that would be interesting and new. Do you have any specific questions?

  3. Larry,

    Ah, a Communist...very nice to meet and to talk to one. I myself am influenced by Marxism. And I subscribe to Socialism.

    I am about to do volunteer work, doing curator work at the Eugene Debs house, it's in Terre Haute, Indiana. He (Debs) and Mother Jones helped formed the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).

    I came across your blog on accident, I read the article on you doing street philosophy, and I found you to be interesting. That piece prompted me to subscribe. But, knowing a bit more about you, I am going to re-read your blog with a renewed interest.

    Check out my blog, I think you might enjoy it...

    I am a Philosophy/Journalism major. And I plan on starting a media project when I graduate....something in the vein of Mother Jones, The Nation, and Common Dreams...but a bit different because of the way we interact with media. I don't think those sites understand how the internet is about personalizing things and helping people reach self-actualization...

    Later Friend,


  4. I've subscribed to your blog and have added it to my blogroll.


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