How do you talk to a woman wearing headphones? That’s a question self-proclaimed ‘dating expert’ Dan Bacon answered back in 2013. The advice he had for men who wanted to talk to a female with headphones on was, “Stand in front of her (with 1 to 1.5 meters between you). Have a confident, easy-going smile and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ to start a conversation with her.” But what if she doesn’t hear you? Bacon has an answer for that too, “However if she hasn’t looked at you or hasn’t noticed you yet, simply get her attention with a wave of your hand. Wave your hand in her direct line of vision so she can see it and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?'”
I’ve been at UAA for less than two months, and it seems like a quarter of the male population here regularly subscribes to Bacon’s ‘dating advice.’ We constantly hear about rape culture in colleges but as I have experienced, catcall culture is just as prominent and just as bad. These days, it is a sad but accepted fact that one in five women will be raped while in college, but I dare you to try and find statistics on how many women face street harassment in college. I will save you the time and tell you that it is unlikely you will find anything but have no doubt, catcalling is an unpleasant, unremarkable part of everyday life.
Catcalling and whistling are derogatory ways of trying to get the attention of another person. I have yet to meet a single female who found the nature of this type of harassment flattering or complimentary in any way. The word catcalling is in and of itself counterintuitive. I mean honestly, since when do cats come when called? If the point of catcalling is to get the attention and affection of a woman, then there are dozens of more effective ways to do so.
Successful relationships are built on mutual respect, and these unfriendly shouting matches detract from a positive culture. One good way to garner a positive culture is to respect her space, headphones or no headphones. Another good way is to learn how to identify body language. For example, if she is wearing headphones she is not asking for attention, stating she is open for conversation, but pointedly listening to something that is not a catcaller. Or, if she is walking on the street by herself, it is not because she is asking for attention or soliciting advice on how not to be alone, but because she must have a place to be.
Complacent acceptance of catcalling feeds toxic masculinity and rape culture. There are few better examples of toxic masculinity than Presidential nominee Donald Trump’s comments about sexual assault in a recently recovered video of him and Billy Bush. Trump’s justification for these comments was that it was just ‘locker room talk.’ College locker rooms tend to be the breeding place for some of the worst rape scandals. Look no farther than athletes convicted of rape at the University of Montana or Vanderbilt University. In fact, a study by Jeffrey Benedict and Todd Crosset, researchers at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst respectively, found that student athletes make up only about 3.3 percent of the population but they are 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators. Acceptance of ‘locker room’ comments Trump makes just perpetuates a culture where entitled and demeaning views of women are accepted and enables actions like catcalling to be permissible. The point is, locker room talk or not, this kind of commentary is toxic and avoidable, just like catcalling.
I take this type of harassment very personal, not just because it is uncomfortable, but because this is where I live. I want to live and attend school in a place where mutual respect is a requirement, not a courtesy. Catcalling erodes that requirement perpetuates a disrespectful culture, and doesn’t actually accomplish anything for the guy doing it. I wish students took on campus harassment more seriously. It’s not funny, it’s disrespectful. To the Dan Bacons out there: if she is wearing her headphones, leave her alone. Don’t become part of the world she needs to shut out.