Doree Lewak let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. In an Aug. 18 column for the New York Post, she revealed the unspeakable: that women secretly love getting appreciative catcalls from construction workers as they stroll down urban sidewalks.
In so doing, she launched…a catfight. For decades feminists have denounced the wolf whistle as one of the most singularly offensive manifestations of the patriarchy. In the old days, it was all about “turning women into sex objects.” Nowadays, it’s all about “rape culture.”
But not to the gleefully heretical Lewak. Here’s what she wrote in her column titled “Hey Ladies—Catcalls Are Flattering”:
“Summer to me means three things: heat, hemlines and hard hats.
“It’s the time of year when I can parade around in a skimpy dress with strategic cutouts that would make my mom wince.
“And when I know I’m looking good, I brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and ‘Hey, mama!’ catcall. Works every time -- my ego and I can’t fit through the door!”
Lewak made it clear that she was talking only about the flattering compliments that hard hats typically call out to attractive females walking by -- and not about, say, graphic references to body parts or underclothing, which Lewak conceded were “crass” and “obscene.
But nonetheless, Lewak got a stern lecture from Lisa Fogarty of CafeMom that “catcalls are never flattering.” Fogarty wrote:
“Their goal isn't to flatter -- it's to reassure themselves that they are more powerful than we are -- I guess it really isn't enough to know they make more money than we do?...
“Confident, sexy men who know they have a lot to offer women don't feel the need to make them feel uncomfortable on the street. And any woman who appreciates what amounts to a man tearing open a festering wound of insecurity and allowing it to ooze across the stilettos that inspired so many tasteless comments is selling herself short.”
Right, because those burly blue-collar guys in the T-shirts and steel-toe boots running cranes and putting up steel girders are just “festering wounds of insecurity.”
Fogarty’s views are mainstream orthodoxy. On June 4 Julianne Ross of Mic.com denounced catcalls as a form of abuse. She wrote:
“It's sadly no secret that many women around the world fear for their safety in public, but a new report has revealed that a startling number experience street harassment from an early age -- and that plenty of men do too.
“The national report, conducted by the nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment (SSH), is sure to burst the bubble of those who still somehow insist that catcalling is a compliment. The report found that harassment adversely affects a disproportionate number of women, people of color and LGBT individuals, and can leave harassees feeling frightened, angry and violated.”
Or as Kimberly Fairchild, a psychology professor at Manhattan College, told CNN in 2008, catcalling "encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings" and can cause women to fear for their safety. “When a man catcalls you, you don't know if it will end at that point or if it could escalate to assault," she said.
Really? It usually “ends at the point” at which the attractive woman has finished walking by. Remember that those guys are actually on the job, or maybe taking a lunch break. They don’t have time for “assault.” They have to work for a living.
There’s an obvious element of class snobbery in all this feminist hand-wringing over catcalling. Blue-collar construction workers and white-collar lawyers might be thinking the same thing when they see a pretty girl in a short skirt on a busy sidewalk -- men are intensely visually oriented in their sexual responses -- but it’s not part of college-educated male culture to wolf-whistle. The anti-catcalling movement is essentially a way of looking down on men who work with their hands.
Furthermore, what women really ought to be worrying about isn’t catcalling but when the catcalling will end -- which may be sooner than they think. Sasha Brown-Worsham, another CafeMom contributor, wrote this about turning 37:
“It had been a few months since I'd heard a cat call. Had I heard my last one and not even realized it?
“Trust me. It will happen to you, too. One day you will find it's been months since any guy flirted with you at the bookstore or gave you the side eye at the bodega. You tell yourself it's because you had a baby and that would be ‘inappropriate,’ but you wonder if it's not the squirming infant that's a turn-off, but you.”
Fortunately, as Brown pointed out, she has a partner who will always find her beautiful. Finding that kind of relationship is surely more important than worrying about a hardhat’s “Hey mama!” shouted from a scaffold.
Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.
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