Regardless of your moral judgment, and no matter what she is wearing, no woman deserves to feel vulnerable and defensive while minding her own business on the street.
“Hi, sexy!” is not a compliment
By Shakira Sison
“Hi miss beautiful.”
“I love you, miss!”
Like many women, I started getting these comments from strange men at age 15. I was tall, skinny, and boyish. Although I had long hair, I rarely wore skirts or even feminine blouses. That didn’t spare me from what seemed to be the typical experience of a young Filipina.
In fact, as pre-teen girls we are already taught by adults to maintain a straight face whenever we’re at the receiving end of these unsolicited comments. We are told to pass the catcaller as quickly as possible and to never engage.
“Ay suplada! (What a snob!)” We’re told when we don’t acknowledge the unsolicited remarks. It seems that the only way to treat rude men is how one would treat barking dogs: Do not make eye contact. Do not appear bothered. Calmly walk away as fast as you can. Do not provoke the animal.
Why is this the case? Why are we taught that catcallers are no different from mindless beasts who cannot control themselves? Do these otherwise decent-looking men simply take pleasure in making women uncomfortable? Or do they really think that this is proper decorum to get a woman’s attention?
News flash: No woman has ever said, “Yes, thank you for yelling lewd comments at me on the street. Let’s go out on a date.”
It is unattractive and only guarantees you will be disliked. Or maybe that’s the whole point? Knowing they have no chance, do these men have no recourse but to be instigators, to make remarks at passing women as if they were passing goats?
Women ask for it?
“Meron talaga kasing bastusin (There are really women who deserve it),” says Roland, a notorious cat caller I know. I asked him what qualities make a woman deserve harassment. He said women wearing “sexy” clothing are asking for it.
I don’t know what kind of logic it is that makes some men believe that a woman’s outfit dictates how she should be treated. If in your mind she is dressed provocatively, does it entitle you to disrespect her?
“She is dressed like a whore,” some have said to justify their unsolicited advances. What is the rationale behind this? Do you make people in white coats examine you on the street? Do you assault those who look like criminals? Do you confront those who look like they’re committing adultery? Do you walk into massage parlors and insult the working women inside?
The reality is that a woman’s attire, actions, attitude, or even employment do not reflect her virtue, much less her desire to be with you. Regardless of your moral judgment, and no matter what she is wearing, no woman deserves to feel vulnerable and defensive while minding her own business on the street.
Whatever it is you say to a woman passing by, it is not a compliment. Coming from a stranger, a woman is always put in the defensive when catcalled. It does not feel good to be accosted with comments, no matter how positive or well-meaning your “Pa-kiss naman diyan (Kiss me)!” seems to be.
“Katuwaan lang naman, ang sungit mo naman (It’s just for fun, you’re so grumpy),” will be the expected reply to any kind of defiance women show towards men. As usual, if a woman objects to how a man approaches or confronts her, she’s automatically a man-hater, ungrateful for the attention, or defensive. It seems that to these men there is no acceptable way to respond to their unsolicited advances except to grin and bear it. It’s all fun anyway, right?
Fun for whom? Definitely not for the woman who would rather get on with her day without your pointless commentary designed to make you appear brave and bold to your guy pals. The thing is, if you really were brave and bold, you’d introduce yourself respectfully instead of yelling at a woman as if she were a stray dog. You would approach her gently, ask for her name, get to know her, and let her get to know you. You would not sabotage your chances by being rude.
To those men who believe catcalling is all fun and games, I challenge you to leave your young daughter to be harassed and propositioned in the street so you can see for yourself if she likes it or not. Your daughter is not bastusin (slutty)? Unfortunately your judgment is not the same as your fellow catcallers and you will not be present at all times. Someone like you will make rude comments at your daughter in the way you feel is innocent and fun.
It’s a shame that the only way to make many men understand respect is if it has to do with women of their own blood. Just being an unrelated woman is not enough to be treated like a thinking and feeling human deserving of kindness and respect.
Boys will be boys
Ganyan talaga ang lalake (boys will be boys). We often say this to excuse our men from their inappropriate behavior. This is a dangerous response to harassment. When we invalidate our own feelings about men’s actions, we fail to hold them accountable. We give them no responsibility when we shrug off their unwelcome advances as petty and innocent behavior.
In doing so, we accept this harassment as normal. We assign the blame to women for dressing or acting a certain way, and even for passing a particular street where there will be men.
You’d think in this day and age and in a country like the Philippines a woman can safely walk without being harassed, and men would know when their actions become hurtful and frightening. Unfortunately, the number of comments that will defend these actions below will prove what we really think of women. It will also prove the entitlement and righteousness of our men.
Originally published in Rappler.com, July 2015