The Miseducation of Malcolm Roberts
Catcalling, like other, more serious versions of misogyny, is a habit that men need to change, not women.
By Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University
Recently, men in positions of power degrading women seems to be an increasingly common trend.
From President Donald Trump excusing his own vulgar statements about females as “locker room talk,” to Vice President Mike Pence openly rejecting Planned Parenthood, misogyny in the media has become somewhat commonplace.
In the latest iteration of women-bashing, Australian senator Malcolm Roberts claimed on ABC’s “Radio National” program that regulations guarding women from “wolf whistling” and other methods of catcalling go too far.
When asked if verbal sexual harassment should be legal, Roberts asserted that while some “girls” may find verbal sexual harassment to be a form of abuse, others may take it as a compliment. He said, “Some girls think that it’s wonderful, you know they smile—others are offended.”
The “smile” that men think that they’re receiving is often a fear response. Women aren’t so flattered by the comment that they can’t help but smile; they are feeling uncomfortable and hope that, if they smile and keep walking, they can keep the man from escalating his inappropriate behavior.
Roberts made it pretty clear that he believes you can’t punish someone for a “compliment.”
He admitted at the conclusion of the discussion that he hasn’t seen the laws regarding sexual harassment, so he would need to read them first in order to solidify his stance.
So he’s sexist and uninformed. Ignorance doesn’t look good on anyone, especially senators.
The pertinent law is Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act (1984), which provides a definition of sexual harassment that includes statements of a sexual nature that would humiliate or intimidate the person being harassed.
Catcalling reinforces the idea that women are put on this Earth to amuse men.
As you can probably imagine, many people on the internet weren’t particularly fond of Roberts’ opinion. Though he hasn’t made any official statements in response to the backlash, the show’s host, Patricia Karvelas, has been retweeting many of the people outraged by the senator’s comments.
Street harassment has been a topic of discussion in the media a lot, especially following the viral video, “10 Hours Walking in NYC as a Woman.” The internet responded with individuals joining together to put a stop to catcalling, while critics arose to defend the practice. Many of the comments on the video were poking fun at the idea of women considering catcalling misogyny, which is why it’s so important for individuals in positions of power to set an example of why sexism is wrong.
Many people believe that catcalling is harmless, because it happens so frequently and usually doesn’t involve physical contact; for people in large cities, catcalling may just be a part of their daily routine. As a result, women must always pay attention to where they are, who they are with and be assessing the situation to make sure that it meets their safety guidelines.
While I’m not saying that women (and men) shouldn’t be mindful of their surroundings, people need to focus on why street harassment is so normal.
According to a study conducted by the activist group Stop Street Harassment, 65 percent of women have experienced street harassment. Among those women, 23 percent had been inappropriately touched, 20 percent had been followed and 9 percent had been raped.
Catcalling can cause people to take a different route home, use a different method of transportation or decide not to leave their home after dark because they fear harassment. This abuse, while typically verbal, can quickly escalate if the person rejects or ignores the perpetrator, which is why catcalling contributes significantly to rape culture.
Rape culture then begins victim-blaming by putting the responsibility for their assault on the women’s actions, such as asking them why they were walking outside alone or why they were wearing a crop top. Sometimes it’s hard to blame people for these questions, because they run through your own mind too, but, in reality, women face harassment all the time, with or without alcohol, at any time of day, no matter what they are wearing.
It’s time to erase the myth that only a certain type of woman can be harassed, or that it’s the woman who’s at fault.
Instead of telling men to stop catcalling, women are told to avoid wearing certain clothing, take a different route home, travel in groups and avoid drinking too much. Society should be learning about the problems surrounding street harassment, but instead those in positions of power are telling women that it’s their job to prevent verbal assault. By creating a (useless) checklist of how to avoid becoming a victim, street harassment will continue and people will believe that it is okay.
The unfortunate reality is that many men who catcall don’t intend to make women feel uncomfortable; they just don’t understand how their verbal taunting affects its recipients. As a result, education is the most important factor in reversing catcalling and thereby rape culture—education of men, not of women. Catcalling is always offensive, it’s always obnoxious and it’s never appreciated.
Senator Malcom Roberts, catcalling is not a compliment. Street harassers make communities feel less safe and strip people of their freedom.
The man whistling at women on a street corner is not Prince Charming. Whistles are for animals, not for women.