Dear New York Post: Catcalling Isn’t Flattery, It’s Harassment

"Stop Telling Women to Smile" by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

In case you weren’t already tired and upset by the ongoing stream of bad news this month, The New York Post’s Doree Lewak is here to give you a rage aneurysm. In her op-ed today that contributed to making the cover of the Post one of the troll-iest in the land, Lewak takes a stand for catcallers everywhere, and wags her finger at all you uptight fellas and ladies who say otherwise. “Hey, ladies—catcalls are flattering!” the headline reads. “Deal with it!”

If only that was the least terrible part of the article. But no, Leewak isn’t that merciful. She goes on to describe how she intentionally walks past construction sites in skimpy outfits to elicit catcalls to boost her ego, and to chide women who don’t as, apparently, uptight feminist prudes. “Oh, don’t go rolling those sanctimonious eyes at me, young women of Vassar,” Leewak wrote. “I may court catcalls, but I hold my head high. Enjoying male attention doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender.”

And, the piece de resistance: Bringing slavery into the equation:

I imagine the catcall stretches back to ancient construction times, when the Israelites were building the pyramids, with scores of single Jewish women hiking up their loincloths, hoping for a little attention.

Right, yep. That seems like a fair assessment of slavery. Kind of lame, but check out all those hotties! Loincloths are pretty fetching, amirite? Not all bad.

Of course, catcalls aren’t actually compliments. They’re harassment. They’re invasive and sometimes straight-up scary. Catcalling is about control, not about your cute shorts. It’s an assertion that women are just visitors in a male space, there to be assessed by appearance and summarily dismissed or flirted with. There are numerous campaigns, including one that Leewak cites, attempting to bring attention to catcalling, including one by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh called “Stop Telling Women to Smile.” Why? Because women are not outside for your entertainment.

It’s a problem not because women can’t enjoy male attention or risk being thrown out of the Betty Friedan fold; it’s a problem because it encourages a culture where men feel entitled to women’s bodies. It’s a problem because verbal harassment can lead to physical harassment. It’s a problem because it contributes to women feeling unsafe and uncomfortable occupying the same space as men.

Leewak’s focus on construction workers is also odd and insulting. Catcalling is not a phenomenon limited to areas where scaffolding is up. It’s not something you can avoid by just walking around the blocks with men in hardhats, nor does every person on a construction site—some of whom are also women, surprise!—engage in that behavior. Catcalling is something that happens everywhere, and that’s what makes it so insidious. The message is one of male dominance and enforced inequality. The message is that women who dare to wear shorts in the summer are “asking for it.” The message is that it’s women’s responsibility not to tempt men into crude behavior, not men’s responsibility to treat women like human beings. Rejecting catcalls isn’t sanctimony; it’s questioning sexual entitlement. Deal with it.

Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby.

5 Comment

  • Thanks for the excellent piece. I read Leewak’s this morning and was truly horrified for all the reasons you stated. Utterly offensive and dangerous.

  • its called using your brain to ignore it. You know what else is harassment? spouting religious beliefs on the subway, which happens at least once a day. Ignore it. Want some more examples? Those “dancers” on the subway who harass me by invading my personal space. catcalling isn’t illegal, but has been happening since women have walked by groups of men. I’ve seen MANY women react to it in a positive way- smiling, giggling, saying “thank you”. Please get over yourself.

  • Imagine a straight man wrote this about getting cat called in Chelsea. You’d laugh at him. Like we’re all laughing at you.

    Get over yourself

  • “I may court catcalls, but I hold my head high. Enjoying male attention doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender.”

    I agree.

    Good for her.

  • At first I was willing to give Lewak the benefit of doubt; but then she dared to drag in a made up example about what “happened” in the Hebrew bible. As a Jew, I find it repulsive that she has to desecrate my religion in order to make her very trivial and ill-supported view.