Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Cat-calling needs serious attention

I found Dave Wirth’s letter an embarrassment to himself (“ Runners shouldn’t sweat cat-calling,” SN 9/18). I am surprised that anyone would sit down and carefully type out the display of ignorance that was Wirth’s letter. Wirth was writing in response to Juliana Keeping’s column (“ Listen up, joggers have their own tunes to run with,” SN/13). Keeping was addressing the problem of sexual harassment to women runners on campus. Wirth’s letter attempts to trivialize the issues of sexual harassment to being nothing more than harmless fun for boys to which oversensitive, immature girls ought to stop whining.

My letter is to validate Keeping’s perspective on cat-calling, as well as all women and men who were capable of understanding her view, and to help educate Wirth and his kind about what sexual harassment is.

There is a difference between sexual harassment and flirting that some people just don’t get. It’s really not that hard to understand, though. Any man is capable of understanding if he is willing to accept that he is not a woman and therefore cannot truly have a woman’s perspective on such issues and thus must take our word for it.

Sexual harassment is an issue of power. One woman running alone, exposed in full view outside on the street, keeping to herself, saying nothing more than the occasional “Good evening” to passers-by is in a much different position of vulnerability than a guy well-enclosed, totally anonymous and hidden in a car full of his buddies, yelling through the windows. In that dynamic, no comment shouted from that car to that woman will sound good-natured and fun to her. What comes out is completely rude and disrespectful.

What do guys get out of yelling at a random person and getting congratulated by each other for this pathetic behavior? They get off on the power they feel. It is because they are having fun saying, “Ha-ha, we can stare at you but you can’t stare at us because we’re in a car and there’s a whole pack of us anyway. While you’re busy trying to focus on running we can just ogle you and use you as our entertainment of the moment. Even if you said something back, we’d just laugh because it’s funny to hear one girl trying to talk back to us.” This is the sad but expected mentality of street jerks.

Real flirting, good natured fun, occurs in an entirely different dynamic where all people involved are balanced in power. One construction worker yelling has a better view of the woman and can stare at her without her knowing. The same construction worker talking to the same woman while standing together at eye level in a personal, yet safe environment (like at a sunny Meijer bus stop) can however be potentially flirtatious.

By the same token, honking at a carful of women may be flirtatious, but honking at one woman standing alone is not. Of all of the offensive things Wirth said in his letter, it is “being offended by a person just calling you a name should have ended in third grade.” That statement is total crap and Wirth knows it. If someone screamed, “Hey you ugly fat head, what’s going on?” you’d be pretty bummed for a good part of the day if not longer. Imagine hearing this every time you went out for a walk.

You might not think this comparison applies because “ugly fat head” sounds more offensive to you than say, “baby” or “chick.” Perhaps because that’s standard terminology for a female, and “ugly fat head” is uncommon terminology for anyone. But one must understand again the context of the situation.

My friends can refer to me as a chick. My boyfriend can call me baby. But never assume that such terms are appropriate for people you don’t even know. Understand why you wouldn’t say hello to a stranger from your car by saying “Hi, faggot. What’s up, chink? Good morning, nigger,” and apply that to why women are offended when strangers take the liberty of calling them whatever they feel like calling them. If you do not know what it is like to walk around this world knowing that one in four of your kind will be raped at least once in her lifetime, please do not try to convince people that there is no reason to feel uncomfortable while being sexually harassed. Women deal enough with actual threatening encounters that we are entitled to some respect, and in the very least peace, when we go down the street.

Rana Chang
religious studies junior


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