But this one – from the Factual Feminist is the best response I’ve seen, that’s not intended to be funny.
And it’s not just this group, Hollaback, that is calling for legal action against cat calling. There was an article in the New York Times:
People would rather restrict freedom of speech than ignore inappropriate behavior.
As a GBG, I know a thing or two about so called street harassment.
I’ve been told to smile, I’ve been whistled at, I’ve had men come up and tell me that I’m beautiful or that they like my outfit. But I don’t count any of that as “harassment.”
My biggest beef with these groups like Hollaback is that they lump every unsolicited interaction under the heading of harassment. It’s not all harassment! Some of it is merely compliments and manners. Other times it’s being hit on. And a few times it’s harassment. The distinctions are crucially important.
Examples from my own experience – cat calling and actual harassment:
Walking on the streets of Austin, a man told me to smile. (Rude, but not complimentary, not hitting on me, nor harassment.)
Another time on the streets of Austin, I had a man say, “Damn, girl!” as I walked passed. (Complimentary.)
A man opened the door for me when I had my hands full and said, “have a nice day.” (Considerate manners.)
Once, I was walking at night with a friend to a bar passing a guy walking in the opposite direction. He circled back and said to me, “excuse me, but I just saw you and I knew I had to meet you.” (Complimentary & hitting on me. I wasn’t particularly harassed.) I told him that was sweet, and that I was sure my husband would agree that I’m someone worth meeting. We went our separate ways and all was fine.
Once, I was walking along 6th street in the early evenings when a wrangler (the opposite of a bouncer) actually grabbed my arm and tried to pull me into the nearest club. (That is harassment.) I ripped my arm from his grasp and nearly shouted that he was not allowed to touch me nor any other girl and then continued on my way.
And another time – not technically in the street, but certainly unwanted – a stranger tried to slip his hand up my skirt in a club. I turned around and punched him in the neck. (He was really tall and I couldn’t quite reach his face.)
Of all the experiences I’ve had that lots of people would describe as street harassment, only twice has something happened that actually fits that description. And each of those times, I did not let the harassment come with out consequences.
What if you out-lawed cat calling?
Now the NYT contributor, Laura Beth Nielsen, would have had a law restricting each and every one of those interactions – how that would work, I just don’t know. But she considers these things to be intimidating and examples of gender inequality. She’d propose a law
Here’s her exact wording:
The law would prohibit “uninvited harassing speech or actions targeted toward individuals in public spaces on the basis of sex or sexual orientation when done with the intent to intimidate.”
Here’s what’s wrong with this:
- We’ve already established that many people can’t tell the difference between a compliment and harassment. With such a vague language, someone could face legal consequences for saying “have a nice day.” That’s dumb.
- “When done with the intent to intimidate.” Intent is hard to prove. I doubt that most cat callers call out to people on the street to intimidate them. They want attention, pure and simple. And if they do intend to intimidate, that doesn’t mean that they will be. And vice versa, the douche canoes who actually touched me learned very quickly who is actually intimidating: me. I back up my determination not to be touched by strangers with actual action. It pays off every time.
- Laws like this don’t actually think things through.
What do you mean “prohibit?” Would the cat caller be fined, arrested? It couldn’t be enforced except for very rare occasions – like if a police officer witnessed it. And even then, all the police officer would likely do is tell the cat caller to stop.
What Nielsen actually wants is a law that would require the victim to sue the cat caller. Imagine the effort one would have to go to in order to sue a cat caller. You’d have to document the incident, find out the person’s name, get a lawyer ($$$$$), build a case, set a hearing/court date, show up, and maybe, maybe get the verdict you want.
Ain’t no body got time for that!
And then what? Would the cat caller owe you money? Would they have to do community service and take sensitivity training? Is it worth it? No – this is not thought through at all.
- And if the police and the courts spent the effort to track down the cat callers and prosecute, what is the opportunity cost? What couldn’t they do if they were chasing down cat callers? They’d have their already limited time and resources taken up by this nonsense instead of tracking down and incarcerating actual criminals, you know like murderers, rapists and terrorists.
- Whether you like it or not, cat callers have rights, including the rights to free speech. I would not have their rights infringed just so I don’t have to hear how someone thinks I’m pretty.
In some ways, I have to think that people like Nielsen have their hearts in the right place. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was set in stone that everyone treated each other with kindness and respect? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were the law of the land?
Yes, that’d be just as nice as riding my pet Pegacorn on a rainbow road to work every day. (A pegacorn is a cross between a pegasus horse and unicorn.) It’s also just as likely.
It is not possible to legislate morality. And the more that people try to set things like this to law, the more that rights are infringed, the more recourses are strained, and ultimately, the respect for law is diminished.
It’s like those goofy laws every state has like: you can’t keep an ice-cream cone in your pocket, or you can’t tie your giraffe to a telephone post. If you start making everything illegal, eventually, people will ignore the laws they don’t think matter to be enforced. This anti-cat-calling law would be just as useless as the ice-cream and giraffe laws.
For me, let the cat callers do their thing. I can differentiate between manners, compliments, being hit on and actually being harassed. And I know how to respond to each of those kinds of scenarios.
When in doubt, carry a weapon for self defense. ;)