As of today, the woman who made this excellent video about catcalling is getting rape threats.

What is fascinating about this video is not just that she walked around in a crewneck T-shirt, sneakers and jeans, but that she did nothing to provoke these men. Over the course of 10 hours in New York City a woman just existed and got more than 100 advances.

As a guy, I find the lines even more misguided. Did any one of these 100 men think these were winners?

  • “Smile! You don’t want to smile?”

  • Walks by older men, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say ‘thank you’ more.”

  • Don’t even get me started on the guy who walks next to her, step for step, over the course of 5 minutes and says nothing

What’s worse are the comments on the video:
rape threats 1

rape threat 2

rape threat 3

Most catcallers are like dogs chasing cars. They wouldn’t know what to do with one when they catch one. But it comes from a tradition of prostitution.  Langston Hughes wrote about it while reporting on the Spanish Civil War in his excellent autobiography I Wonder as I Wander:

There is an old Spanish custom taken for granted that a man may whistle or even speak to a pretty girl on the street without offense … Only loose women even turn around to acknowledge such compliments. But with revolutionary zeal, some of the more ardent Loyalists ladies in Spain set out to put an end to what they felt was “intrusive and uncomradely” in the traditional Spanish way of flirting.  Women, they said were workers and citizens just like me, not mere objects of sex, and so should not be subjected to personal remarks from unknown admirers on the public streets.

Which is to say: Catcalling has been out of style since before WWII.

Here is the most important thing to know about dating/life/humanity: “Men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them, while women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them.” Margaret Atwood said this.

Men catcall for a lot of reasons, all of them dumb. This is how they sound:

The worst behavior of all the catcalling is territorial behavior: construction sites, otherwise empty elevators. What are women to do when a group of guys begin hooting at her? Following her down the street?  If she says something they may get angry. This happened recently to The New Yorker’s Sasha Weiss in the subway:

I formulated indignant phrases in my head —“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” “What you’re doing is disgusting”— but the words stuck in my throat like a wad of gum. I worried for my safety: if I confronted him, perhaps I would anger him, and he’d come charging through the turnstile.

There is, however, a way to speak to a woman of any age and still be a gentleman. This is important to teach and be taught because guys who do not have any idea how to talk to women are the idiots in the video.  Here is the method:

  1. Body language.  I mean yours. A woman’s first thought when approached by a guy is, “What does he want, and when is he going to go away?”  Your first instinct is going to be to approach with both shoulders and chest facing her. Your first instinct is wrong. Point your body (especially your hips) in another direction. Look over your shoulder, even.

  2. The compliment. It should never be remotely sexual. Compliment a woman the way you would compliment a woman of any age. Are you going to go up to somebody’s grandmother and tell her you like how her dress fits?  No. “That’s a great color,” however, works. If you find the need to look both ways in case someone overhears you: shut your mouth.

  3. The exit. Now be off with you. If you stand around looking like a bellboy waiting for a tip, you will undo everything you just did.

Lots of self-proclaimed experts on line will tell you to go and approach 100 women. Or neg one of them. See if she can guess a number between 1 and 10. Forget that. If you really want to master this, go out and say nice things to old ladies. When you can speak to a woman as a person, you are ready to be treated like a man. Not a little boy hollering things in the street.