In the past few weeks there has been a lot of coverage in the media about men and catcalling. It kicked off when Doree Lewak wrote a piece in the New York Post claiming that she finds catcalls from men flattering. This was met with a forceful response by feminists, who argued that catcalls are degrading and offensive.
I happen to side with the feminists on this one—catcalling is vulgar and obnoxious, and should be shamed the way we shame smokers. Yet there’s another component to the verbal war between the sexes that has been ignored: the way women reject men. Younger women seem to have lost the ability to graciously turn down a man who politely and non-aggressively shows an interest in them.
We’ve all seen it—at bars, in clubs, at parties. A dude screws up the nerve to take that long walk across the room and ask a woman for her number or out for a date. For classy and polite ladies, the reply is a simple no-thank-you. Something like: “Thank you, I appreciate the interest, but I’m seeing someone right now.” Or: “I’m flattered, but I have some other things I’m focusing on now.” Yet for too many women, raised like the boorish catcallers, without the verbal social skills that allow for pleasant interaction, graciousness is just too much to ask for.
The results can be brutal to observe. Women giggle derisively, or hide behind a more punitive friend who dishes get-the-hell-out-of-here abuse at the man, or the girls-night-out group-laugh right in the guy’s face. In her book Self-Made Man, journalist Norah Vincent lived life for eighteen months as a man. She discovered a new empathy for guys, most acutely in one scene where she is in a bar and approaches a woman for a date. Vincent found women “ever ready to criticize men for being emotionally distant yet clearly preferring men who meet stereotypical images of strength and virility.” She was also appalled at how cruel women could be when even a well-mannered man approached them for a date.
So by all means, let’s end the catcalling. It’s Neanderthal behavior in a 21st century world. But when and if men do manage to civilize themselves a bit more, let’s have equal graciousness and civility on the other side. You might even tell the would-be suitor that what he did took a fair bit of courage.