Femininity and the Male Gaze
Understanding the Negative Impact of Catcalling and Similar Behavior
Two weeks ago, my sister and I were catcalled as we walked into the mall. This isn't the first time this has happened to us, and it won't be the last.
The first time it happened, I was thirteen. She was ten. We were leaving the movies, having seen Bridge To Terabithia or something similar, and a couple of older men, at least in their late late twenties, began catcalling us as we left the theatre.
Keep in mind, this is by no means the first time I had been catcalled. As a young girl, I developed very quickly. By ten, I had B-bordering-on-C cup breasts and curvy hips that had no right being on a body so young.
The thing is, my sister didn't look like this. At that age, she was stick thing, barely breaking 80 pounds. She honestly looked closer to eight years old, if I am being honest. Yet she was catcalled with me. The men, if you can call them that, called us "sexy mamas" and that we both needed to "give them a smile."
In that moment, my barely grown baby sister was turned into a sex object, an object for male pleasure. She was expected to smile, to be there for them to look at. In that moment, she was forced into an adult experience that she had no right to deal with. And yet.
This last time we were catcalled also wasn't the most recent time I was catcalled. It happened the day after that experience at the mall, with a new man, at least ten or twenty years my senior, whistling after me as I walked away, making his admiration of my body known. A body that he has no right to, that shouldn't be his to enjoy unless I consent. A body that is already spoken for with a ring on my finger. None of that matters in the end though.
As a woman, I have constantly been made to feel as if I do not have autonomy over my own body, as if it is an object on display for men to drool over regardless of my comfort level. I hate that my sister has been made to feel this way too, especially considering that at the onset of her treatment as an object, she lacked the traditional feminine figure that I would associate with men catcalling.
Unfortunately, I think this speaks to the root of this issue: men view women, all women, regardless of age, body type, etc, as objects. Objects for them to observe. Objects to gaze upon. Objects to potentially touch. All of this, regardless of how this makes women feel.
This behavior is unacceptable. This behavior leads to entitlement in men. This behavior takes away body autonomy from women. This behavior contributes to rape culture. This behavior cannot be allowed to continue.
My sister and I may not be able to escape this treatment and the psychological effects it has had on us. But I can only hope that we as a society will progress and move past this behavior. Because I would hate to think that one day I will raise a child in a society that will treat her in exactly the same way as I am now.