MOVING TARGET

Hopefully by now you have seen the video of a woman walking around NYC for 10 hours and being catcalled about 100 times in addition to considerably creepier behavior like being followed.

I'm not the world's most sensitive person, nor am I the most accomplished feminist. I'm certain that I'm an asshole sometimes and that, like any male, I say things that are offensive to women without necessarily intending to offend. But about a year ago I decided to try something new: to listen to women without feeling compelled to make any kind of response or attempt to explain the behavior of men who are not me. Humans are naturally defensive creatures and there is a tendency, especially among men, to tell others that they are overreacting – to explain why things are not really as bad as someone else thinks. In theory, I think this comes from a place of good intentions: to attempt to comfort someone by downplaying the experiences that disturb them. In practice, however, what it means as a man is that you're regularly telling women that they're overreacting to other men.

What I've started to learn since I made a conscious effort to talk less and listen more is that a lot of really fucked up things happen to the average woman on the average day. Things that are annoying or worse. Do I think that every complaint some woman could potentially make about a man is automatically valid? No. I maintain that the Tumblr warriors of the world who flip out because a man held a door for them are have some issues of their own that need to be worked out. But rather than assume that the world is filled with straw (wo)men, I decided to try listening to people I trust and know to be reasonable and anything but ridiculous. And when you stop challenging and questioning people, they tend to get more comfortable telling you things. And then you realize that some of the behaviors that you know exist in the world are really, genuinely, disturbingly common.

I'm not a great person and I'm probably not yet at the point at which I'm part of the solution, but I decided that I would stop being part of the problem. It's a start.

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95 Responses to “MOVING TARGET”

  1. tkno77 Says:

    It seems to me that the best way to handle this is to not interact with women you don't know. Yes, this will deny you any chance of getting in her pants, but let's be honest – it wasn't going to happen, anyways (barring inebriation and mental illness).

  2. Daphne Says:

    The attempt to downplay and telling women they're overreacting has a name: discounting. It can be very damaging, especially to children, because what you are really saying is not to trust their senses or instincts.

  3. Xynzee Says:

    Would the urge to defend come from a place that as men we ourselves at some point in our younger/stupider/drunker/less evolved/more impulsive/(insert noun) moments done/said/thought these things?

    Now faced by the person we've offended/hurt by proxy, we now realise what our thoughts and actions have done?

  4. c u n d gulag Says:

    Xynzee,
    You beat me to the point.

    Of course, it would have taken me 1,000+ words to say what you said. ;-)

  5. Emerson Dameron Says:

    There's a shift going on in the way people think about this stuff, and I'm excited to see the results.

    http://allenstricklandwilliams.tumblr.com/post/87272029913/fellas

    @Xynzee:
    Yes, of course. It's also part of an urge to rationalize things sskeptically with an eye toward basic humanism, which is cool as far as it goes – look at how mainstream Sam Harris is! – but tends to shut down people who simply have more at stake.

  6. Mayya Says:

    Bravo, Ed. That simple act – to listen without refuting, rebutting, denying, explaining, mitigating, rationalizing – is incredibly enlightening and liberating for all parties. I've become very conscious of its potency as my awareness has been raised more and more re racism. As a white progressive I thought I was free of most prejudice. HAH! It's been an education, and continues to be. One of the few good things the internet has ever done, besides providing statistics on hayage, is give people a voice, who haven't been heard before or who have been discounted. The least a privileged person can do is to listen.

  7. Anubis Bard Says:

    Nice post – and spot on. As an entitled, heterosexual white male, when someone was talking seriously to me I used to assume that sure sometimes they just wanted a sounding board but 90% of the time they wanted feedback, input, opinion or advice from me. Lo' these many years later I realize I had it backwards. Maybe 10% of the time they are seeking my input and 90% of the time they just want to be listened to. Oddly, not only am I less of a dick, but when someone does want to get my take on things, I'm actually moved.

  8. ladiesbane Says:

    Cheers, man. Thank you. There are a lot of different reasons why people get defensive when they hear about this sort of thing, but one of the hardest things to do is drop those defenses — even when you know you were not the guy who did that thing to that girl. Victory of logic over emotional impulse? Whatever the process, it's great.

    And Happy Birthday, while we're at it.

  9. Skipper Says:

    I saw this story on another site, and there were more than a few douchebags in the comments section defending the guys who were harrassing the woman. They said the guys were only being friendly and were complimenting the woman. I had to laugh because these are the same guys who would get openly belligerent if they even thought a gay man was looking at them, never mind making comments about their ass.

    If you're a man and you saw a guy who you didn't know or didn't know very well and his fly was open, would you tell him? Many people wouldn't because many guys would become upset thinking that you were looking at their crotch.

  10. Robert Says:

    I am hoping more men come to that realization, Ed. It's going to be difficult and unpleasant, but then, it already HAS been – for women.

  11. J. Dryden Says:

    My version of Ed's story:

    When I was younger, I was taught not to be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, etc. via the popular message that "people are really all the same." And I believed that. Problem is, when you teach a young kid that message, here's how he hears it "People are all just like *me.*" Which means that for most of my young adult life, I assumed that because everyone else was just like me, that meant that their experiences–day-to-day and in the aggregate of years–were just like mine.

    Which meant that I was a different kind of sexist, racist, etc.–the well-meaning kind–the kind who, because *he* wasn't being judgmental and hostile to others, assumed that no one else was–assumed that others looked at a cop, a job application, a courthouse, and saw the the same thing I did.

    Maturity–and the magic of realizing that my experience was not "objective," but was instead a very cushy kind of "subjective"–made me realize I'd been wrong. Which I resisted for a long time, because it meant that the world was a much grimmer, threatening place. I really, really wanted to believe "it's not THAT bad," because that meant I wouldn't have to go back over all my memories and experiences and edit them to reflect what other people remembered and experienced. And I wouldn't have to go back an recast myself not as "one of the good guys" but rather "one of the guys who stood by, oblivious, while this shit was happening because he couldn't be bothered to notice what was going on."

    Still–having to do that–and like Ed, I mostly accomplished it by setting aside the whole "urgent need to react/respond/argue" instinct–was way, way better than having to put up with all that shit in the first place. I'm still the lucky one, by a mile. The least I can do in the wake of such privilege is to learn to shut the fuck up when others are talking.

    So these days, the only people I argue with about sexism, racism, etc., are other white, straight males, and those conversations mostly consist of my saying "No, it isn't a complicated issue–yes, there are two sides to this: Right and Wrong, and you're wrong, and stop saying that stupid shit."

    Still not "the good guy," though. Just "the embarrassed guy."

  12. Well mostly Says:

    Learned (taught actually) two things early on: motivation effects perception (Ram Das), and listening, or looking, is not passive (Steiner). It is also extremely rare and generous. Ed, you're right on with this one. Listening plus commenting is not listening.
    That video and reactions to it show exactly where people are with this. Catcalls might be better than acid in the face but we have miles to go before women can just walk down the street however they want free of male projections (and reactions – hey, just shut up guy!). Not to get all Mars and Venus on this shit, but men can be so freakin' stupid you have to worry about the species. Or at least half of it.

  13. SeaTea Says:

    To me catcalling is like SPAM emails or junk mail. One assumes it must be effective enough that it continues. Right? I mean… nobody would waste effort sending out SPAM if it never worked, one wouldn't send out junk mail if it never worked, and catcalling wouldn't really exist if it never worked. Or would it?

    I personally know a woman who had a guy pursue her in the most creepy, stalkery way you could imagine. And then she dated him. So it worked. Which, I think, sends the totally wrong signal to every creepy, stalkery guy out there.

    Not sure how to fix it. Where's the line between restraining order and "and finally I gave in and agreed to a date and that's how I met your grandpa". It ought to be clearer, but it's not.

  14. Barry Says:

    "I maintain that the Tumblr warriors of the world who flip out because a man held a door for them…"

    I rank this on a likelihood level of saying 'hello' to somebody, and having them spontaneously combust.

  15. Paul Says:

    While I agree with your point, Ed, I do feel a constant need to react to the mass posting of this video by mansplaining.

    The reason guys behave that way isn't that "they're socially inept" or "they're pigs who don't respect women"; at least not in most cases. It's that they have a strong biological urge to take a shot. You see a woman you're attracted to walk by; you feel driven to respond. You have to take your shot. And the thing that's driving you is one of the most powerful forces in your body: the reproductive instinct. You 're driven to do … something. Say something. At least make an attempt, even if you don't quite know how.

    This doesn't excuse the behavior or anything. This behavior should be unacceptable, and every measure should be taken to ensure not just the safety of women, but their freedom from threats. But it's astonishing to me that no one talks about the real basis for it. With all the things we have to take account of to navigate this society, we're not doing any favors to pretend the regulation of powerful biological urges is merely a matter of etiquette or empathy. It's actually the final and most important step in males acting civilized.

    Civilization has been around a long time, but "co-ed" civilization is still pretty new. Men never really learned to behave. Banishing women was easier.

  16. Leslee Says:

    @Paul – As a woman, my experience with cat-calling isn't about ME, the person. The catcaller really doesn't give a shit about getting to know me, even on a biological/sexual level. It's about the expression of power and control.

    Public spaces are inherently seen by some men as being "their" space. And the catcalling is an attempt to express dominance and control over people in that space who are NOT their fellow men.

    Ultimately, the behavior is about men competing with EACH OTHER for who has the best display of dominance and control within a given area.

  17. Skipper Says:

    @Barry, you just reminded me of something that happened to me last year. I was out for my morning walk. There was an old guy with a walker standing on the sidewalk looking off in the distance. I did what I normally do and gave him a cheery "Good morning." He whipped around and said "Well, that was rude."

  18. Paul Says:

    Leslee—I think that dynamic certainly enters into it. But I don't agree that catcalling is always, or necessarily, or even usually "an attempt to express dominance and control over people in that space." In the video posted above, for instance, it doesn't seem like that.

  19. Zach Says:

    @Paul I agree with your conclusion but cat-calling doesn't have any basis in biology any more than buying a women dinner and drinks, dating her, marrying her, and having kids with her does. Reproductive success may be the end goal, but the process for achieving that is shaped by cultural and social norms. Thankfully, our social and cultural norms have been moving towards accepting the importance of a woman's agency in the whole affair. Arguing that there is a biological basis for this behavior gives credence to the people who argue "meh, that's just boys being boys!"

    And as Leslee has said, this behavior, like rape, is more about dominance and control than it is about reproduction.

  20. Paul Says:

    Zach: OK, but come on, "buying a women dinner and drinks, dating her, marrying her, and having kids with her" ABSOLUTELY DOES have a basis in biology! It's like the quintessential example of finding an acceptable way to sublimate & adapt our natural drives to the demands of civilized behavior.

    I know there's a danger in what I'm saying coming across as "boys will be boys"; all I can do is repeat that catcalling constitutes unacceptable behavior and shouldn't be tolerated by society. The point is that if we treat it merely as an issue of manners we won't make much headway.

    "And as Leslee has said, this behavior, like rape, is more about dominance and control than it is about reproduction." I think a distinction must be introduced here. Sure, rape is about dominance, but why does it take the form that it does, i.e. a sexual, hence reproductive, form? Rapists could force a person to say "uncle" or knit them a sweater or whatever, if it were only about control. The fact is even when the predator is more interested in torture or capture, there's always a sexual element. The question of whether to castrate sexual predators comes up: there are a thousand arguments against it, but no one says it's irrelevant.

    Without excusing the behavior in the video, I guess I would just say this: I'm not comfortable considering every one of those 100+ men a would-be predator bent on dominance and control.

  21. Zach Says:

    Paul, The simplest way to refute your argument that this is actually about having sex is to ask you this, do you honestly think cat calling results in men getting laid? The answer is probably 99.99999% no.

    Furthermore, women have the exact same biological drive for passing on their genes that men do. So why can't you film a video of a hundred+ women harassing a guy on the street?

  22. Elle Says:

    Ed, I love everything about this post. And Happy Birthday!

    The point is that if we treat it merely as an issue of manners we won't make much headway.

    It's got nothing to do with manners. It's about women's inequality.

  23. Phire Says:

    Paul, rape takes place even in situations where reproduction is not the motivation – male-on-male or female-on-female sexual assault, non-penetrative sexual assault, sexual assault of pre-pubescent children, etc. Rape takes the form that it does because it is frequently one of the most traumatic things that you can do to another human being, and the reason it's traumatic is because the act is dehumanizing and invasive. Your bodily autonomy is being invaded, your physical space and physical body are being invaded, and your dignity is being stripped away. Sex is relevant insofar as sex is (for most people) an incredibly personal and private act, and to forcibly deny someone their privacy is to deny their agency. That is absolutely about dominance.

    If we're going to go by evo-psych and biological essentialist explanations for gendered behaviour you would think that women feel the drive to reproduce and "take the shot" much more than men. Sexual desire is, after all, not a uniquely male trait. Or you would think that ten year-old girls wouldn't get street-harassed, or it wouldn't take place in locations where women were forced to hide themselves away, etc. etc. No, what I think is the crux of it is the millennia of socialization that has coded power and strength and violence as an "inherently" male trait, such that in order to feel secure in your gender identity some men feel the need to assert dominance over others. And especially in an increasingly industrialized world where physical prowess is in and of itself less and less relevant, that dominance plays itself out in invasion of other people's social spaces and entitlement and anger.

  24. Paul Says:

    "The simplest way to refute your argument that this is actually about having sex is to ask you this, do you honestly think cat calling results in men getting laid?"

    What argument does that refute?

    "Furthermore, women have the exact same biological drive for passing on their genes that men do. So why can't you film a video of a hundred+ women harassing a guy on the street?"

    I don't know, Zach. Why can't you? Women being wired exactly the same way and all? Phire raises an important point below, that there's also male-male rape. And of course, there's male-male catcalling. Where's the female-female catcalling, if women are wired the same way?

    Male-male violence is clearly another sublimation of the reproductive instinct, being centered as it is around the reproductive organs, and seeking its fulfillment in the mechanics of fertilization.

    Phire, point taken re the traumatizing nature of rape. But the fact that this is what the victim suffers, doesn't at all mean it's what the perpetrator intends. A key characteristic of the criminal mindset is to go after the thing you want, damn the consequences to anyone else. This isn't to deny that complex power struggles sometimes enter into rape; complex power struggles can enter into anything. But the typical spectrum of sexual harrassment-assault, from catcalls to unwanted groping to date rape, is suspiciously reminiscent of male mammal behavior from horny dogs to monkeys at the zoo. Blaming it all on the male power structure is, to my mind, introducing a chicken-and-egg question.

  25. Paul Says:

    (Sorry—when I said "male-male violence" in my 5th paragraph above, I should have said, specifically, "male-male _sexual_ violence."

  26. Sagas Says:

    Like Ed, about a year or so I consciously started trying to be a better person. Not interrupting, trying to notice who sits where at meetings, who speaks, etc. Being conscious of space I occupy on the bus.

    The video is obviously horrible. Is it representative?

    I live and work in a major metro area – Seattle. I work downtown, I walk to lunch or errands 3-4 days a week. I walk to the bus, bus downtown, walk to work, and the same back home again. In the year or so since I've really been paying attention, I've never seen anything like that happen, not once. Is NYC that bad? Is Seattle that good? Is my awareness level that low? Are harassers just way more subtle here?

  27. Why do I want to hear this? Says:

    "And when you stop challenging and questioning people, they tend to get more comfortable telling you things. And then you realize that some of the behaviors that you know exist in the world are really, genuinely, disturbingly common."

    And I can avoid having my suspicions confirmed by unpleasant and personally embarrassing detail merely by tut-tutting and condescending? Sounds good to me.

  28. Elle Says:

    Paul, I think you should go and read some Cordelia Fine with all due haste. Attributing gender-based violence (which includes, as you point out, harassment of LGBT folks) to "wiring" is approaching anti-vaxxer levels of flim-flam.

  29. brian Says:

    So, when I was younger. This was long enough ago that a male was not supposed to have earrings or any kind of non-normal haircut.

    I had a mohawk and earrings.

    This periodically got me the obligatory "hey faggot" or "fairy" from men who were generally around other men. In fact, I don't ever remember it being a guy alone.

    When I see that video, I see that same behavior, just WAAAY more prevalent. If I had walked around for 10 hours, I doubt more than one or two people would have said anything.

    It is obviously not complimentary. It is an act put on for other men to display their power. That is it.

  30. Paul Says:

    "Attributing gender-based violence to 'wiring' is approaching anti-vaxxer levels of flimflam."

    I didn't attribute sexual violence to wiring. I said the difference between male & female tendencies in this area shows that their wiring is different.

    I don't mean "wiring" in a precise neuroscientific sense; I meant it in the more colloquial sense of "how we as social beings have learned to process our biological drives." And I don't think anyone would seriously disagree that not only are men and women in 2014 America wired differently, but male and female mammals seem to be wired pretty differently. When's the last time a female dog humped your leg?

  31. postcaroline Says:

    Happy birthday, Ed! Long live Gin and Tacos!

  32. mk Says:

    "The reason guys behave that way isn't that "they're socially inept" or "they're pigs who don't respect women"; at least not in most cases. It's that they have a strong biological urge to take a shot." — @Paul

    This statement has no basis in fact.

  33. Elle Says:

    I don't mean "wiring" in a precise neuroscientific sense; I meant it in the more colloquial sense of "how we as social beings have learned to process our biological drives." And I don't think anyone would seriously disagree that not only are men and women in 2014 America wired differently, but male and female mammals seem to be wired pretty differently. When's the last time a female dog humped your leg?

    This is the flim-flam to which I referred, yes.

  34. Paul Says:

    "This is the flim-flam to which I referred, yes."

    Odd. Because it really has nothing to do with Cordelia Fine's work.

  35. Rae Says:

    OK, I'm officially coming out with this one: you don't get to say that violence that occurs via a sex act or a sexualized action is more about sex than about violence.

    If someone hits you (on purpose) with a baseball bat, is that about baseball or about violence?

    This isn't that hard to understand.

    And, you can't have spent much time around female dogs if you've never had a one try to hump your leg. Seriously, this is a dumb argument.

  36. Mayya Says:

    All I can tell you, Paul, is that your comments here will most likely be widely quoted on various feminist forums, and the responses ain't gonna be pretty. But, you know, as long as you're so sure you're right about this…

  37. Paul Says:

    "you don't get to say that violence that occurs via a sex act or a sexualized action is more about sex than about violence."

    Where exactly did I say that?

  38. drop those coconuts Says:

    my most favorite/cringeworthy catcall (now that I can laugh about it) is "do you want to go home wit me? I got a job!"

    Although maybe it is not technically a catcall since he had been trying to hustle me for change. I told him to back off in a rather assertive manner and I guess that got him thinking in another direction. Oy

  39. Elle Says:

    Odd. Because it really has nothing to do with Cordelia Fine's work.

    Even odder. I am looking at a piece of Fine's writing on sexual harassment as we speak. She doesn't seem to be drawing any parallels with dog humping.

  40. Paul Says:

    "Even odder. I am looking at a piece of Fine's writing on sexual harassment as we speak. She doesn't seem to be drawing any parallels with dog humping."

    Well, exactly.

  41. Robert Says:

    I used to see men catcalling and think, 'dude, does that ever work?' I actually thought that they were "giving it a shot".

    Now that I know what they're really trying to, I realize that it DOES always work. Almost every woman who walks in public knows that, at any moment, from any man, she will be subjected to unpleasant and unwanted attention. Every man who engages in this behavior knows that it will not result in any happy fun times, and does it anyway. And the men who do not so engage often wonder why women are so on edge. If I, as a gay man, acted that way at straight men, they would be, at the very least, massively unappreciative.

    Shorter: they don't want to breed, they want to bully.

  42. Robert Says:

    Sorry, make that "may be subjected to". Google Schrödinger's Rapist.

  43. Xynzee Says:

    "Furthermore, women have the exact same biological drive for passing on their genes that men do. So why can't you film a video of a hundred+ women harassing a guy on the street?"

    The sound bite answer to this is, social conditioning.

    The pathetic response from women/society has been "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
    So women have been joining us in the mud and taking on our less than admirable traits. But hey, "equality".

    I'm nut shelling here, what I'm putting forward is far more nuanced than can be achieved for brevity:
    The historical "civilising" influence women have had on men and the development of society cannot/should not be discounted.
    Studies have shown young boys, 3-6, are generally more rambunctious in their manner of play—ie noisy, smashing things, whacking each other, etc.
    Because of these types of behaviours peer aged girls will sit closer together, and if there is an adult present, closer to the adult. When the boys are not present, the girls will spread out more and become noisier.
    When a boy is in the presence of a one or more girls, on his he modifies his level of play, not as much trying to bash and wrestle his playmates.

    How much of this is social conditioning—ie play nice with girls—in young children was unclear. The point was that the boy had to modify his behaviour to "socially acceptable" norms.

    Shorter: the presence of females encourages more socially acceptable behaviour lest the male be ostracised. Again is this generalised social conditioning, was unclear.

    If there was a part of the study that focused on what girls do in the presence of 2+ boys I did not see it. If someone has data on this please add.

  44. Paul Says:

    Robert: I'm sure that's true in some cases. I doubt it's true in most cases. You write like you've concluded it's true in all case; I don't see why.

  45. MK Says:

    @Paul…

    The same can be said of you in your first comment.

  46. quixote Says:

    Ed, if you're listening you are part of the solution. I'm sure you can be an even bigger part. That's true of all of us, unless you're already Bishop Tutu or someone like that. But don't kid yourself. You're helping more than you know.

  47. Paul Says:

    MK: Indeed. (I mean, in my defense, I did say "at least not in most cases" whereas Robert said "every man." But I realize I was painting with a pretty broad brush.)

  48. quixote Says:

    And now that I've gone through all the comments, I feel the need to add that "Paul" and his ilk are a waste of space.

    In the simplest possible terms: sex is about two people who want to enjoy each other.

    Intruding on another person without any indication they want to have anything to do with you is the *opposite* of reciprocity.

    Sex and harassment are not in the same universe. They have nothing to do with each other. Sex is fun. Harassment, and its more or less distant cousin, rape, are power trips that are the opposite of fun.

  49. Paul Says:

    Again, I must ask — re these statements:

    – "sex is about two people who want to enjoy each other."

    – "Intruding on another person without any indication they want to have anything to do with you is the *opposite* of reciprocity."

    …what did I write that is IN ANY WAY contradictory of them? And re this one:

    – "Sex and harassment are not in the same universe. They have nothing to do with each other. Sex is fun. Harassment, and its more or less distant cousin, rape, are power trips that are the opposite of fun."

    …I submit that, while sex is indeed fun, there are plenty of complications that arise from the reproductive instinct that are not fun, and believe it or not this is neither my doing nor my fault.

  50. mk Says:

    @Paul…

    What I'm truly curious about is what makes you think the way you do? What surveys or scientifically rigorous research are you drawing upon when you say that the obnoxiously rude behavior of catcalling men is based on "a strong biological urge to take a shot." That it is just them following a reproductive instinct. That it is not, as some who have actually experienced this behavior pointed out, about male domination and control.

    I'm genuinely interested in you backing up this opinion.

  51. Paul Says:

    MK: I think my conclusions are based on the same thing everyone else's here are based on: their observations, plus what they may have read or studied. I'm not aware of any studies that support my opinion, and indeed couldn't imagine the design of one that would.

  52. Andrew Says:

    Rape is clearly the opposite of fun for the person being raped. I wouldn't know, and of course it doesn't matter ethically, but mightn't the perpetrator find it fun? And mghtn't the perpetrator consider it sex? I think arguing about whether it's sex or violence is stupid. NOTHING, be it sex, violence, baseball, or Shakespeare, is okay to force on an unwilling participant.

  53. Andrew Says:

    Catcalling is never okay, but every six minutes in a city as crowded as New York seems low. What percentage of the men who can see her catcall her?

  54. noshoes Says:

    Thanks, Ed! I've been a woman my entire life and I've always wished I could be "one of the guys." Not an actual guy, of course, but just someone who didn't have to be on display at all times, walking around in a world where men feel perfectly entitled to comment on the state of my body at that particular moment. Sort of like being born on stage!

    I went to a garage sale once and the woman holding it was selling a perfectly good pair of Levi's 501s for $1. I asked her why she was selling them because they were like, perfectly faded and super soft, and she said; "I just don't want men looking at me in them anymore." I understood exactly what she meant.

  55. Arslan Says:

    By strange coincidence my wife stopped going swimming in the morning because of this guy bothering her. The guy obviously has some swimming knowledge and he's always giving her instructions on how to swim better. The thing is, she doesn't care; that's not why she goes to the pool. And it's not like she can say "I'm married" because he only talks about swimming(but he's apparently not concerned with the technique of others in the pool). She felt too awkward to tell him she didn't want any more advice, so now she decided not to go on those days. This is pretty fucked up, but there's little that she or I can do about it.

    It's perfectly fine to give a few tips to the person working out next to you if you have more experience, but when you start acting like you're a personal trainer for that one person every time, it puts them in a really awkward and difficult position. That can be as bad as catcalling, no matter how friendly and innocent it seems.

  56. Arslan Says:

    Two other points.

    1. Paul is full of shit. There's this really cool cure for bad economic theory as well as evo psych "It's hardwired into our brains!" bullshit. It's called history. See you make a claim, then we look throughout human history to see if that actually happened that way. Oh shit- it didn't! That means you lose and your theory is bunk, regardless of how many Phd's support it.

    So let's look at the hypothesis. Men are hardwired to see a beautiful woman and "take a shot." Well bad news. The concept of freely choosing your mate is relatively new in human society. In fact, much of human society today is unable to do that. For most of our history marriages were usually determined by parents and dating simply didn't exist. In caveman times, when all these things supposedly got hardwired into our brains, this concept of choosing mates, or even having one mate, was simply non-existent.

    So there goes you're little theory. I'm so sorry. History wins again.

    2. One thing that stuns me about catcalling is that I'm from a major American city and yet, when I used to live there, you didn't really see much of this. Every time I hear these complaints about frequent catcalling it seems to come from New York, LA, or some much larger city. And when I say city I mean real urban city, because mine is really just a patchwork of suburbs crammed together. That's a very different lifestyle than living in a place like New York. Part of me wonders if there's some kind of cultural thing in these big urban centers with high population density that could have something to do with it.

  57. Mayya Says:

    Arslan and others – I think now that you've seen the video and read Ed's column, you're going to see a lot more catcalling. Because now you're tuned in to it. It's not a New York thing.

    In my younger days, in a small, liberal, midwestern college town, I was catcalled and harassed to the point that I was literally afraid to go out in public by myself. (One thing to understand is that street harassment isn't all nice compliments about how pretty you are. It is often very graphic and very threatening). I could tell you stories…

    Yesterday, coincidentally just before I read this article, I was yelled at by two guys in a car, as I walked back to my office from the farmer's market, in a small-to-medium-sized Southern capital. They said, approximately, "Damn damn damn slut woo woo hey cunt hey." I won't try to punctuate that.

    I'm 53 years old and was dressed in boring business clothes. I'm literally old enough to be their mother! (Wondering what the procreative urge there is supposed to be. Maybe Paul can explain it). Also kudos on #1 above – very good point about mate selection.

  58. Misterben Says:

    A couple folks above said something to the effect that "it's not about manners". I think the remedy may be.

    I doubt anyone knows the exact blend of desires that drives a man to pursue a woman on the street and harass her. Lust for sex, a violent itch, the urge to dominate? Something else?

    I also doubt that those underlying urges will ever be completely unpicked and sorted out. Like so much else that drives us, they're too tangled and too deep.

    But thank goodness, we've got this wonderful tool that we can use to urge behavioral change on a broad scale: manners. The standards of acceptable behavior, enforced largely through social pressure and shame.

    So I think the question is, how do we apply social pressure to men so that we come to see harassment of women as a behavior equally repulsive to, say, taking a dump on the lawn?

  59. Arslan Says:

    I get what you mean. For one thing, catcalling wouldn't be directed at me(save for two occasions in my life at least), so the only way I would hear it is if I happened to be passing by in earshot. That makes it seem less noticeable. But when you're the woman and the target of the catcalling, you can't fail to notice it. Makes sense.

  60. Paul Says:

    "In caveman times, when all these things supposedly got hardwired into our brains, this concept of choosing mates, or even having one mate, was simply non-existent…History wins again."

    Although I'm aware of all internet traditions, I've never before been refuted by the citation of prehistorical history. Well played!

  61. Robert Says:

    Misterben – I can remember when smoking indoors was considered perfectly acceptable. It's taken a while, but that has changed. It would probably take that degree of social engineering over a comparable length of time to change this. And the pushback would be vicious. Google Rebecca Watson and 'Elevatorgate' for an example.

  62. peon Says:

    @Robert, yes, "it is about bullying not breeding".
    There is a certain anonymity that is the norm in a public place like walking in the streets of a big city like NYC. You do not expect to be engaged by total strangers who comment on your nice ass, "package", etc or insist you smile at them when you walk by. (who gave them the right to tell you what your facial expression should be like?) You do not expect to be followed down the sidewalk.
    Most people are not strolling aimlessly down the street, they are on their way to a destination-home, work, and do not want a stranger to follow them and find out where they work or live. Why does it have to be explained that this is CREEPY, in caps, behavior?
    When you lose your anonymity in a public place you feel targeted. In spy movies it is because you are being followed and are going to be murdered in the parking structure when you go to get your car.
    Even if you believed the breeding bullshit, your right to "take a shot" does not trump her right to be anonymous in a public place. Unless, of course, it is all about you.

  63. Arslan Says:

    "Although I'm aware of all internet traditions, I've never before been refuted by the citation of prehistorical history. Well played!"

    You did notice the part where I said most of human history, meaning up to the present, and I also pointed out that this is still the case in many parts of the world today, right? Also you do realize that anthropology has given us pretty reliable information on how prehistoric humans lived right? So I'm sorry but the whole choosing a mate AKA Flintstones dating thing doesn't fly, and thus all this alpha male bullshit goes down the drain.

    Well played indeed.

  64. Elle Says:

    So I think the question is, how do we apply social pressure to men so that we come to see harassment of women as a behavior equally repulsive to, say, taking a dump on the lawn?

    The programmes that evaluate best are ones that take a slightly different approach but do work to equip boys and men with the tools and capacities to challenge harassing and violent behaviour. They work from an explicit gender analysis of street harassment and violence against women, and encourage boys and men to explore positive masculinities, and to develop a sense of the way that they can contribute to their communities and reduce violence against women by stepping outside of the role of passive bystander. A great US-based example is Men Can Stop Rape, whose MOST programme runs in middle and high schools across ten states. They also have a university programme and general public awareness campaigns.

    A public health model is the one most commonly applied to violence against women prevention, and programmes like MCSR's fall under the heading of primary prevention. The evidence-base is developing, because systematic primary prevention has not been around for very long. However, although I principally work in a European context, and with supranational institutions that Europe engages with, I'm not aware of any question about whether primary prevention of violence against women should or shouldn't take a gendered approach. That's what I mean by saying that street harassment isn't anything to do with manners. If women's inequality isn't at the centre of our understanding of street harassment then we lose our grip of the problem and the (probable) solutions.

  65. sluggo Says:

    @Paul
    When you are in a hole…… STOP DIGGING!

  66. HoosierPoli Says:

    Isn't this all a little bit like taking a photo of the Leaning Tower? We're documenting a force that doesn't really care whether we're there or not. I guess I'm skeptical of human nature more than anything, but I'm open to an evidence-based approach (as Elle suggests). If training and education can do the job, then let's do it. I still wonder how far we are from a society where the explicit threat of violence against potential rapists is the only thing holding them back.

    Actually, I know how far we are: however many miles it is to Saudi Arabia.

  67. David Says:

    As an introvert, I'm naturally averse to conversing with people in general because it's always an energy drain. Just watching this video made feel drained realizing what this woman had to put up with. This drove home for me how exhausting it must be to put up with this crap daily.

    The simplicity of this video really illustrates the entitlement males feel in our culture – thank you for posting it.

  68. Paul Says:

    @Arslan
    "You did notice the part where I said most of human history, meaning up to the present, and I also pointed out that this is still the case in many parts of the world today, right? Also you do realize that anthropology has given us pretty reliable information on how prehistoric humans lived right? So I'm sorry but the whole choosing a mate AKA Flintstones dating thing doesn't fly, and thus all this alpha male bullshit goes down the drain."

    OK…I didn't respond to your post in full before, because there was just _so much_ wrong with it. But it seems unavoidable if the discussion is to continue, so…

    First of all, you're saying that because of arranged marriages, people weren't sexually selective from, say, the Bronze Age until rather recently. This is exactly like saying that because of Prohibition, no one in 1920s America was ever drunk.

    You then cite the historical record, which is kinda the very last place you want to turn to support you absurd claim. The thing is, whether ancient or modern, Eastern or Western, North or South, from Carlyle to Sima Qian, the written account of humankind has been unanimous in reporting that extramarital sex is indeed a thing. Indeed, quite the thing. The rampant polygamy of the ancient (and not-so-ancient) world, the harems for the upperclass and brothels for the rest; the convention of "courtly love" that blossomed in the very heart of the repressed Catholic era and was really an elaborate system of adulterous affairs; the epidemic of syphilis that covered Europe during the Renaissance; the "Houses of Heaven" of the ancient Near East and the more recent Islamic practice of Nikah al-Mut'ah, both sanctimonious ruses to cover organized promiscuity; leaving aside the copious stories of individual love affairs and philanderings — history tells us, pretty emphatically, that men were always preoccupied with getting laid. History is largely a record of vast energy expenditure seeking alternately to counteract and cater to men's desire to, as you put it, "see a beautiful woman and 'take a shot.'"

    That's only the relative blip of recorded history, which absolutely no one maintains shaped the "wiring" of the human brain to any degree. OK, so moving into prehistory: You: "In caveman times, when all these things supposedly got hardwired into our brains, this concept of choosing mates, or even having one mate, was simply non-existent." First of all, by "cavemen" we mean pre-civilized humans. You're saying society arranged marriages in a time before the existence of society. If by "having one mate" you're alluding to the theory of primitive gang-bangs in e.g. _Sex at Dawn_, it's an interesting theory, it's not what "anthropology" in the main has taught, and it doesn't really preclude the idea of mate selection (although it challenges traditional assumptions about the details of mate selection).

    Finally, there's this…
    "
    …all this alpha male bullshit…"

    OK. For the …third time? fourth time? …I have to ask someone where on earth they're getting the bizarre notions they ascribe to me. I've said nothing whatsoever about "alpha males." What are you on about?

  69. Paul Says:

    One more thing: The narrative of a man seeing a woman, and feeling the need to make some sort of sexual response to what he sees, is independent of any idea of "selectivity" anyway. It only depends on the idea that a man's sex instinct is strongly correlated to his visual sense. How many anthropologists dispute that, Arslan?

  70. democommie Says:

    "The reason guys behave that way isn't that "they're socially inept" or "they're pigs who don't respect women"; at least not in most cases."

    Is most more than 99%?

  71. Major Kong Says:

    The "alpha" and "beta" male terms have been taken up by the MRAs (Men's Rights Activists aka misogynists). I'm not sure if that's the context he meant it in, but when I hear those terms used today I assume I'm talking to an MRA.

    Note that "alpha male" is a term incorrectly used to describe the mating habits of wolf packs. I've never figured out how a term used to describe canines (lupines?) would apply to humans, which are primates.

  72. Alex SL Says:

    I don't really see the point of Paul's first comment, but certainly the idea that all marriages were arranged until recently is utterly ludicrous. Royalty is one thing, but why would every unskilled labourer or farm hand have arranged marriages?

    What is more, pick any literate culture on the planet and you will find stories in their heritage about people falling in love, be it Arabian Nights or Shakespeare. And of course the people who had to have their marriages arranged for dynastic and diplomatic purposes had mistresses and favourites on the side. Wanting to choose your partner is not a newfangled fad, it is a constant of human history.

  73. E* Says:

    I don't give a flying fuck about catcalls. I don't care if strangers objectify me, and I don't spend precious time in my life worrying that someone might rape me. What I DO care about is being able to ask for a raise without being perceived as aggressive and demanding for doing so, being able to state my opinion without being dismissed as bitchy, and being able to make my own medical choices, fetus on board or not. In other words, I don't want to be infantilized, and I sure as hell don't want Ed's or anyone's Protection from the Big Bad men. Because, Ed, your posts about objectification always come across as frustration about your inability to Protect the Helpless women. Just so you know, this attitude does make you part of the problem. Women who need protection can't fend for themselves, can't have real opinions, and can't make choices. Oh, and your women friends who complain about this stuff? Of course they do. When your only legitimate role in society is to be Protected, complaining about objectification from strangers is just about the only legitimate complaint you're allowed.

  74. rachel Says:

    E*, caring about street harassment and caring about equal rights in the workplace are not mutually exclusive. and i don't know why you would interpret "shit it sucks that i can't make people not be assholes" as "woe is me, i cannot protect the fair womenfolk!" i also don't know why you would interpret "hey, guys, listening to women when they tell you about this shit is a thing you can do that will not contribute to the problem" as an attempt to infantilize women rather than to acknowledge their agency by responding to them as equals and as the sole experts on their own experiences.

    this post, in particular, was about street harassment, in response to a viral video about street harassment that ed reasonably could have expected most of his readers to see. why are you reading chauvinism or malice or apathy into it? what response to this video would have been appropriate, in your view? because i don't think NOT talking about it would be more helpful, or more feminist.

    maybe i'm biased, though, because i'm one of those female friends that ed listens to, and frankly i appreciate the shit out of it.

  75. Keith Says:

    @sluggo, arslon and others here who seem intent on misunderstanding Paul's argument regarding the ultimate motivations of rude male behavior: check out Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate. http://www.amazon.com/Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial-Nature-ebook/dp/B000QCTNIM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414853515&sr=8-1&keywords=blank+slate

    No one is making an argument against the influence of culture here. At the same time, we are all products of our evolutionary history.

  76. Elle Says:

    I've read The Blank Slate. I didn't find it persuasively undermined a gendered analysis of violence against women.

  77. Robert Says:

    What I know from personal experience – if I allowed my 'rude male behavior' free rein with regards to the people I find sexually attractive, I would be at risk of physical violence. So I don't. That is culture at work.

    Heterosexual men apparently do not experience cultural pressure to refrain. If they did, perhaps they would. But women are actively and passively discouraged from visiting physical violence against men who inflict undesired attention on them. Change the culture, change the behavior, and evolutionary pressure can be overruled.

  78. Paul Says:

    As for solutions, I agree that catcalling should be treated as unacceptable behavior; also I think that every effort should be made to teach men who catcall that it makes many women feel threatened.

    That being said, I am against the modern tendency to take institutional problems and blame individuals for them, atomizing people and discouraging structural reform. The main reason women are victimized is that women have less power than men, and this is the thing that should be addressed in every neighborhood in New York and the U.S. I want more money for women, more education for women, empowerment for women. It's a shame that this girl, this outsider, has to walk through every neighborhood in Manhattan because the women who live in those neighborhoods aren't empowered to do what she did.

  79. J. Says:

    I'm a 36-year-old woman, which is to say I've been experiencing street harassment for about 25 years. In my experience it's an exertion of power intended to send a message that public spaces do not belong to women and that our ability to move safely through them is contingent on whether our behavior is sufficiently deferential/pleasing to the men to whom such spaces actually belong. The idea that street harassers are complimenting my appearance or that they are actually seriously "taking a shot," in the sense in which a guy who hits on me at a party or bar is, does not square at all with my experience.

    One reason for this is that street harassment (unlike expressions of actual sexual interest from guys) does not increase when I look better; it increases when I look weaker. My lifetime peak of being harassed in public was around age 14 or 15. It went down by the time I was 18, and way down by the time I was 22. It's stayed about the same since my early twenties. Some girls look good at 14; I did not. I was in an intense awkward phase, severely underweight, and always dressed in super-baggy unflattering clothes. No boys my own age liked me. But when I went out anywhere in public I was incessantly and aggressively harassed by strangers, many of them in their thirties or older. At 22 I was past the awkward phase and my appearance came a lot closer to societal beauty ideals; a lot of guys liked me, and a lot of guys approached me in social situations. So why, if I was so much more attractive to non-street-harasser men at 22 than 14, did I draw so much more street harassment at 14? Because this shit is not about sexual attraction, it's about asserting power, and a girl in her early teens in the easiest target. Really, no one in their right mind could say I was more attractive at 14 than 22, unless that person's definition of beauty is "awkwardness that suggests fear and vulnerability".

    Second, men who are "taking a shot" in social situations rarely react to rejection by insulting your appearance, whereas street harassers very readily shift gears to telling you how ugly you are. The reaction most street harassers want from women is not a thank you or some flirtatious banter, it's for the woman to shuffle past quickly in silence, looking down — to look like he's made her feel ill at ease. When the woman deviates from this script by telling him to leave her alone, the street harasser will often respond by telling the woman she's ugly. See, he's not hitting on her, he's trying to shame and humiliate her, and if tactic #1 — sexualizing her appearance — doesn't achieve this, he switches to tactic #2, insulting her appearance. (Or more rarely to scarier tactics, like threatening to kill her.)

    If I were to respond to a street harasser by saying, "yes, awesome, you're hot too, let's have sex right now," I bet he would be totally perplexed by this response. Because, as the other commenters put it, what he wants is to bully, not to breed.

  80. Paul Says:

    @J.
    Thank you for writing your experience in such detail. The behavior you describe is definitely fucked up. In my opinion it is unquestionably, as you say, harassment not flirtation.

    If you have time and inclination, I'd be very interested in your answer to this: Do you feel that that's the behavior on display in the video above? Or in all/most of it, or in some of it, etc?

  81. Robert Says:

    Paul, "this girl, this outsider" is, AFAIK, twenty four years old.

    Would you refer to a man of the same age as "this boy"?

  82. Paul Says:

    "Would you refer to a man of the same age as 'this boy'?"

    Probably "this kid." But, yeah, I get your point. Apologies.

  83. Paul Says:

    @J.
    Actually, having thought this over, I have to admit that the scenario of coming on to a woman and then, when rejected, angrily insulting her is…yes, it's a shame, it's an ugly fact, but it is very male behavior. Immature, un-self aware, clueless male behavior, but the world is crawling with immature, unaware, clueless men. Of all ages.

    You make yourself vulnerable when you hit on someone, even with a catcall. Rejection stings, so you react with hostility like a wounded animal.

    The ludricrousness of this isn't lost on me: the fact that the woman is _actually_ vulnerable and the stakes for her are real and she didn't even seek the interaction. Nevertheless I'd say that's often what is happening there.

    (But doing all this when you were 14? I got nothing; that's just completely fucked up.)

  84. mk Says:

    @Paul…

    How much of the behavior described by J do you think is in that video?

    All? Most? Some?

  85. mk Says:

    One small step I think would be helpful. In an industry I'm fairly well acquainted with. Construction.

    My proposal: At the start of every new job, as the new crew comes on and pre- construction meetings take place, one of the supervisors or project managers stands before the incoming crew and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that catcalling of any kind will not be tolerated.

    Something like this:
    "When you are working here, representing us, you will not catcall. Not ever. Not while working and not on your lunch break. No "hey baby!'. No "Nice ass!". No "Hey give us a smile!" Nothing. Anyone we see or hear catcalling while on this job site will be removed immediately. If we get any calls from women who've been harassed, you're out. No second chances. I don't care what you do on your own time — and you shouldn't do it then, either!–but you will not catcall here."

    And then they should be shown the video above and the "Stop Telling Women to Smile" video and even have a woman representative stand before them and give them a taste of what actual women think of that kind of harassment.

  86. Arslan Says:

    "First of all, you're saying that because of arranged marriages, people weren't sexually selective from, say, the Bronze Age until rather recently. This is exactly like saying that because of Prohibition, no one in 1920s America was ever drunk."

    Good thing I wasn't saying that, huh? What I was saying is this idea of people choosing mates the way we date in modern, industrialized countries, was rare throughout history. Yes, I'm well aware of extramarital affairs and whatnot. This doesn't change the fact that sexual activity was often highly restricted and that sort of dating culture whereby we try to attract or appeal to women who strike our fancy is relatively new.

    This argues against your explanation of catcalling as some kind of evolutionary thing, because for much of our history that behavior would easily get you killed, and thus be bad for survival. In fact it will still get you killed in many places today.

    Also someone brought up references to affairs in literature like Shakespeare and the Arabian Nights. In general it tends to be good to separate literature and romantic notions from actual history. Don't forget that it was Shakespeare who gave us the idea that Richard III was a terrible asshole of a king when in fact he wasn't.

  87. Paul Says:

    "your explanation of catcalling as some kind of evolutionary thing"

    Sorry. No. That, like nearly everything else of mine you've responded to, was grafted onto what I wrote by your own imagination.

  88. democommie Says:

    "I'm a 36-year-old woman, which is to say I've been experiencing street harassment for about 25 years. In my experience it's an exertion of power intended to send a message that public spaces do not belong to women and that our ability to move safely through them is contingent on whether our behavior is sufficiently deferential/pleasing."

    Oh, you people all havi'n teh vaporz! It makes me think that you would see the way black people are treated by many whites as racist instead of just a natural progression of the ever growing supremacy of people that are not bla–, oh, wait that's not coming out right.

  89. Robert Says:

    So Paul, catcalling is driven by a 'strong biological urge', but is not 'an evolutionary thing'? You specifically claimed that men are driven to 'take a shot' due to biology and the reproductive urge – but that is unrelated to evolution? PLEASE explain – I am very interested in how you reconcile those statements.

    Also, even IF the behavior was biologically driven, how on Earth does that excuse ANYone for engaging in behavior that is socially condemned? Men only do it because it is socially permitted – as per my personal example above, if women were socially empowered to beat the snot out of catcalling men, as men would do to catcalling men, the problem would go away on its own. But they aren't, and it doesn't. I think this explains some of the anxiety certain straight men feel regarding being around gay men; they are bothered by the idea of being treated the way they treat women.

    As objects.

  90. Paul Says:

    "So Paul, catcalling is driven by a 'strong biological urge', but is not 'an evolutionary thing'? You specifically claimed that men are driven to 'take a shot' due to biology and the reproductive urge – but that is unrelated to evolution? PLEASE explain – I am very interested in how you reconcile those statements."

    Sure, it's evolutionary — in the sense that we, as a species, evolved this trait somewhere along the line. Man sees lady: feels sex urge. One can see how this is a useful trait for reproducing the species. One can see how this trait could widely replicate itself. Whatever. This doesn't mean I have a particular _theory_ regarding evolution, or about how any particular coupling that originated in a catcall would work out from an evolutionary perspective. It just means this trait arose, long ago, somewhere on the road to becoming human, just like EVERY SINGLE OTHER trait we have (like laughter, or necrophobia, or the tendency to blow our nose when it's runny).

    "even IF the behavior was biologically driven, how on Earth does that excuse ANYone for engaging in behavior that is socially condemned?"

    But I'm not saying it excuses the behavior! I EXPLICITLY, REPEATEDLY said it doesn't excuse it. I just said this component of it, which imo is a fairly big component, is being ignored, which leads to confusion and misapplied tactics.

  91. democommie Says:

    Here's an exercise to try.

    Imagine that you're working with a guy on a scaffold and he sees a woman get out of a car across the street and proceeds to tell her how hot she is and tells you how much he'd like to sodomize her and make her bark like a dog.

    Imagine it's your wife, who is bringing your lunch because you forgot to do so.

    Men who catcall women are assholes. Men who tolerate them are also assholes.

  92. Andrew Laurence Says:

    It's no worse if it's my wife. It's not okay either way.

  93. Paul Says:

    Here's another exercise to try:

    Imagine you're a pubescent girl in a real part of America that's likely pretty different, culturally and economically, from where you live now. You and a girlfriend are walking through the center of town. You pass a group of men loitering on stoops and crates who eye you with interest. One of them, looking at you, utters two words of appraisal: "Pig meat."

    How does this make you feel? How do you think it's intended to make you feel? And is there room for divergent views on these questions?

  94. Andrew Says:

    I suspect it's intended to make you feel bad, but in the end you control whether complete strangers have the power to insult you.

  95. Robert Says:

    Andrew, nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent, true. But they CAN make you feel intimidated, threatened and endangered without it. In some cases, they can also make you feel raped, assaulted and murdered without it.

    The fun part is (if you're a woman) you just don't know which it will be until too late.