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Wise Guys: Why Do Men Cat-Call?

Tue, Oct 6, 2009

Advice, Wise Guys

woman_walkingphoto by bobster855

Advice from three of our guy friends. This week, they answer the following: Why do men cat-call?

Straight Married Guy (Figleaf): Oh boy, where did I just see a link to a TV clip of a woman walking up to men who cat-called her and asked them why? ¬†(You can answer in comments if you’ve got the link.) ¬†Anyway, the men all acted completely embarrassed when put on the spot about it. Which, I think, actually says a lot about why men do it: not because they’re actually interested in the women they cat-call. ¬†Instead (based, I’m embarrassed to say, on my own behavior as a construction worker in my teens and twenties) it’s about a) letting other men you’re with know you’re straight — dumb, I know but there you go — and maybe calling on other men to confirm they’re straight too, b) bonding with other men through “bravery” — even dumber, I know, but again there you go, and c) attempting to compliment women you find attractive but (and this goes back to item B) you’re pretty sure wouldn’t actually be interested in you.

Feminist analysis would probably add other things like keeping women in their places, telling women they’re valued only for their sexiness, etc. ¬†But I think those are only side effects of what’s really mostly male-to-male communication. ¬†Which is why I think men are embarrassed and even shocked when a woman they’ve cat-called tries to start a conversation. Final bit of evidence: at least in my experience, most men don’t (or at least didn’t) cat-call women they think they might actually have a chance of asking out later.

Gay Engaged Guy (Joel Derfner, author of Swish): Men cat-call because some atavistic impulse leads us to believe that it might get us sex. ¬†Any time a man cat-calls at you, a part of him he isn’t aware of in any meaningful way is really hoping you’ll immediately stop whatever you’re doing, come over, knock him down, and have your way with him. ¬†It’s like a mating ritual.¬†Please understand that I’m not saying any man thinks this is actually going to happen (though there’s always Dimitri the Lover, so who knows). ¬†This is all happening below the level of consciousness.

Straight Single Guy (L.A. Chris): Simple: because they can. Guys who do this pretty much get away with it. There aren’t even any real social mores against it. Most of the time, cat-calling is inspired by a pack mentality of undersexed lowbrows, by guys who are intoxicated and emboldened by the presence of their testosterone-fueled peers to broadcast their sexuality, no matter how annoying it may be (read: very). It’s certainly a deformed mating call, but nobody really expects it to work. Like high-heels, it’s more about impressing your own gender than the opposite sex.

Our ‚Äúwise guys‚ÄĚ are a rotating group of contributors, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and some of whom like the attention. This week‚Äôs Gay Engaged Guy is Joel Derfner, author of¬†Swish, and our Straight Married Guy is Figleaf, the guy behind RealAdultSex.com. To ask the guys your own question,¬†click here.


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20 Responses to “Wise Guys: Why Do Men Cat-Call?”

  1. PK Says:

    Not all men catcall. In fact, in my experience which is limited to my friends from college and sports teams for the past 20 some years, most men don’t catcall. My sense is that most of us find it rude or intrusive. It may be a matter of social conditioning but being that forward seems limited to certain social situations and again is still a minority activity. I’d suspect that the answers already given are right. For some men it’s part of the group bonding experience for others its a primitive form of calling out to potential mates. If your tendency is to think it couldn’t work, I’d tend to agree with you. Having said that, a European friend riding her bike through town in a short summer dress got whistles as she past a construction site. When she told me about it, I was appalled and apologized, though I obviously hadn’t done anything. Her response was confusion. She said, “I’d be more offended if I didn’t get it.” Which took me by surprise. Here was a highly educated lawyer condoning what I take to be rude behavior. She saw it as harmless and I wasn’t able to convince her otherwise. I suppose context matters, I’m still not sure what to make of it all.

  2. Johnny Says:

    The most right-on points here are:

    1. most men actually don’t cat call

    2. most men who do are doing it to impress their male buddies, and must realize that catcalling almost never gets positive results from females.

    Catcalling is some lame, juvenile frat boy stuff. It’s for losers.

    I’m totally pro-approach, though. Guys should go for the girls they want. I guess the cat-callers are one step ahead of the weenie-boys who are scared of girls altogether.

  3. angharad Says:

    Figleaf’s contribution reminds me of War Zone, by Maggie Hadleigh-West — not sure if that’s what he’s thinking of or not, but it’s the same idea:

    http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=213

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    In an episode of Sex and the City, Miranda approaches men who catcall at her and they become embarassed… But I think she was saying something along the lines of “okay, let’s go, let’s screw”, rather than specifically asking them why. Or maybe I am mixing up TV shows.

    I have to say, while I have always been aware that most men don’t catcall, I have wondered why any of them would do so in the first place. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  5. Katie Says:

    It’s logical that most men wouldn’t catcall; but that doesn’t mean as a female you don’t get harassed on a daily basis, especially if you live/work in an urban area. It only takes a small percentage to keep up the phenomenon.

  6. Bree Says:

    Elizabeth….yes, that was an episode of Sex and The City, where Miranda approaches the construction worker and he tells her he’s married. (or what about the episode with the Blimpie sandwich saying to her “Eat me”….hilarious!)

    But as to non HBO cat-calling. It is rather immature, and frankly, I do not notice a lot of young attractive men doing it. So, it is somewhat of a letdown, reguardless of whether you think it’s shameful or complimentary, when an old pudgy greased-up man yells to you. Frankly, then, i just don’t feel special.

    What i can appreciate, however, is the double-take. Sure, when I’m out at night, heels, cute top, perfect makeup, etc… it isn’t too surprising or flattering (not because i think i look fantastic, but rather because so many bars are such meat markets that the entire point, it seems is too oogle and awe at anything with boobs) Nothing cheers a girl up on a day when she’s late for class, clad in sweats, with a messy bun atop her head, and a cute guy does a double take as she walks by.

  7. PK Says:

    To Katie, I agree entirely with your point and I’m certainly not trying to suggest otherwise. As a person of color I live with that as well.

  8. kb Says:

    if most men don’t catcall and think it’s rude, as is implied here, why don’t you tell the catcallers? men going “dude, what’s wrong with you? Why would you do that?” will get the point across a lot faster than all the anger from women that already happens. You don’t have to be a nag about it, but if it’s really not a good thing, why do you let men who do catcall think it’s a good method of male bonding?

  9. Rei Says:

    Women can take it as a harmless whistle, or a rude form of noise towards them. I confronted a male who cat-called me before, and he just said he liked my ass, therefore, he whistled at me. I come to find out he was a married man. Men love women, and if some men think they need to whistle at women, they just go and do it. Most part, women ignore it. If I get a whistle, and a comment like, ‘Hey you have sexy legs, I want them around me’ then its uncalled for. :)

  10. Christina Says:

    “Men love women, and if some men think they need to whistle at women, they just go and do it.”

    When I read “men love women” in this sort of context, I get the heebie-jeebies because it’s not “men love women because women are people and men are people and so like is attracted to like” that is being said here. What is being said is, “Men like women like men like cars–they’re really cool toys to play with.” /shudder/ And the second part? That is perhaps the best example of privilege I’ve ever read–if they want to, they just do because they can and it’s just a girl after all, what’s she gonna do?

    All around creepy. And, actually, that it *isn’t* about the women but about men showing off for other men actually almost makes it worse–that I and the rest of this half of humanity feel like we’re running a gauntlet of abuse just to walk down a street–not because we have the audacity to be attractive but because one guy wants to metaphorically wave his penis at another…yeah, that makes it worse.

  11. Katie Says:

    response to kb: most cat callers do it while driving by in a car or motorcycle–there’s no way to “shame” them! And being harassed by a man incites me to flee more than scold him. I consider myself strong and fit, but I’m still not going to go up against a random dude on the off chance he’s actually wacko. A whistle is also a little different than, say, a guy sitting on a corner who says “mmm now THAT’S sexy…I want a piece of that” when you’re a foot away. I just try to walk faster and not make eye contact in those scenarios.

  12. kb Says:

    Katie-no, I’m talking there to the guys here-the ones presumably in the car, or on the construction site next to the cat callers. Hence the stuff about it being a male social bonding ritual, and not about the women. When you’re the one walking, absolutely, just do what makes you feel safe-when I’m running, I don’t react at all if I can possibly help it.

  13. Johhny Says:

    KB – I’ll do that if it’s someone I know.

    MeatheadFriend: Whoooo, baby, hubba hubba!!

    Johnny: You fucking dork. Does that EVER work? Why don’t you try talking to her?

    But, as a previous poster said, you just don’t go around scolding strange dudes over something that’s none of your business. I’m not getting into a fight over some guy’s faulty game.

    A guy who’s scaring and pursuing a woman – that’s something I’d get involved over. But not a stationary catcall, where she can keep walking.

  14. kb Says:

    Johnny-no, I’m not saying you should yell at a strange dude catcalling-that just makes him think he needs to pick a lady without some dude to defend her-not helpful.
    but yeah-telling your friend “does that ever work? didn’t think so” is exactly what I think more men need to do.

  15. PK Says:

    KB, how do you know we don’t call out the cat callers?

  16. Angelo Says:

    i don’t know what you guys are talking about, but that asian chick in HOT!!
    WHEW HOOO!!!!
    YEAH!!

    YEE HAW!!

  17. Te Says:

    @kb If a woman called some random guy stupid as you passed would you defend him or keep walking? What if you heard a woman say how some guy was dead sexy? Just so you know, women catcall too. I have heard women who thought I could not hear talk sexually about me. A point not brought up is it is not just men but women too, women sexually harass etc too. Sometimes the attention is welcome and sometimes it is not.

    As for calling guys out, well I am not going up to a random group of guys who are possibly intoxicated and telling them off. Not unless it is my partner or friend and they are offended or something. Also a fair few guys would assume one is homosexual if they derided their behavior.

    The woman in the picture appears to be pretty, I would probably “double “take”, smile or go talk to her if I felt like it. I do imagine though a few guys would get some looks and calls from more adventurous women if there were showing that much skin. To an extent, women bring it on themselves and I am a bit sick of the double standards.

  18. bob Says:

    Young males who cat call at women (harrassment) should be strung up with some rope on a nearby tree!

  19. Lily Says:

    I find Te’s comment without much sense. Where did you guys hear a women that are catcalling?It only might have been a comment that they find some guy hot, not intended to be heard. We don’t whistle after guys as hungry dogs who want to mate. And claiming that women bring it on themselves is totally offending. Do also women who get raped responsible for that crime?

    Let me tell you something. Me and my friend had a horrible time in Egypt on my first travel there. I was dressed more than modestly, almost as a nun. Didn’t do anything that was not proper. Everybody whistled and harrassed, on the street and in our hotel, even taxi drivers, religious men passing by, soldiers and cops.
    Once we were returning to our hotel and missed the street. It was night and we got frightened when in a dark street we only heard whistling and catcalls at our address from some place. My knees started to shiver. Luckily finally we found the way out, but do you know how I felt? As I were chased only because I’m a female and considered by these men as a piece of meat with a hole in it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would dress all those shovinist men in woman clothes and let them feel how it is to be catcalled)))Anywhere! It’s not important in which country. in mine it’s not a custom, happens only near construction works…

  20. hateup Says:

    Lily . wat happened to u was bad…but it does nt mean ..being male is bad..and by the way girls are also very much catcaller when they are in groups..but the thing is when they do it ,,,it is just fun but when we do it ..its harrasment..why??
    if u do that then may be someday..the boy do real harrasement..as now he enjoys..

    we all should be live in to limits..vaginas n pennises


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