Catcalling is Not a Compliment, It’s a Threat!


By- Pomy Hailu

So like every other girl I have experienced being ‘catcalled’ (ለከፋ). And unlike most of you think Being catcalled does not make me feel pretty or desirable. When a man I don’t know whistles at me or comments on my appearance, it is not a compliment. Catcalling women and girls is a way to remind them that when they are out in public, they are public domain. That when a girl is on the street or in a store at night, her body is not her own. One of the reasons men continue to catcall and harass women they don’t know is because this behavior goes largely unpunished. It is difficult for women to push back against this kind of harassment, and onlookers certainly don’t often jump in to help.

The worrying thing about catcalling is that the catcaller must know that their target isn’t going to turn around and fall in their arms saying ‘thank you for the compliment’. A lot of the time they know that. Often, they don’t do it for that, someone who shouts ‘nice boobs’ from his car isn’t trying to date you. They’re trying to humiliate you, reinforce their dominance over you; it’s an exercise of male power. It’s a way of communicating; ‘’I can say or do whatever I want to you, no matter how inappropriate or how uncomfortable it makes you feel, and you can’t do anything about it.’’ Catcalling is not a compliment, it’s a threat.

I know many people blame the behavior on women. Saying it happens because they want it to happen. They wear this way or that way to be catcalled. But I, myself wear makeup and short dresses, which often are thought as main causes for catcalling, but I’m here telling you I DO NOT want to be catcalled. Us women wear whatever we are wearing for ourselves not to impress people or unlike most people think to be catcalled. Our mere existence does not revolve around men. Blaming a girl for being catcalled sounds like ‘a girl deserves to get raped because she was wearing a short dress, she was asking for it.’

What most people need to know is a woman realizes that there is nothing she can do to make this harassment (yes, it is harassment) stop whether she changes her appearance or her behavior. Maybe if I stop wearing dresses? (Which I will never do) Or if I move out of the city? Or maybe if I shave my head, I’ll stop being catcalled? This is futile, of course, because catcalls happen regardless of the lengths women go in order to avoid them and regardless of circumstantial details. I’ve been catcalled with long hair and short hair, in the city and in the countryside, while wearing dresses and while wearing baggy pants, when I was five kilos heavier and five kilos lighter than I am now, with makeup and without make up, in the presence of friends (both male and female) and by myself, in the daytime and at night. This is no humblebrag; this is an embarrassing and maddening reality for women. None of these variables provides immunity from catcalls, and yet, socially, the solution is for women to do whatever is necessary to avoid being catcalled instead of telling men to stop catcalling. Again, it’s a lose-lose.

It is my basic human right to wear whatever I want. That right shouldn’t be taken just cause MEN can’t control themselves. Furthermore, it’s deeply upsetting that women are made to feel guilty or ungrateful for not accepting catcalls as compliments. I can’t speak for all women everywhere, and I would never condescend to my sex by claiming to know the experiences of women whose reality is foreign to me, but based on my own experience and the experiences of my female friends, family, co-workers, I think I can safely assert that most women don’t feel like they’re being complimented when they’re being catcalled.

I don’t have an obligation to respond when a guy catcalls me. Whether he says “ሃይ ቆንጆ ” ” እስኪ ሳቂልኝ” or as what they say at the end “ምን ይዘጋሻል”. I am a citizen and I have as much right as everybody else to walk down a street wearing whatever I want and not be questioned about it nor be ordered to smile or get insulted cause I didn’t respond. This is my basic human right, and people need to understand that.

So for those of you who catcall women or think of it as a compliment,

Just don’t. She doesn’t want your input. She doesn’t want to know that you think she’s got a nice body. Her self-esteem does not depend on the opinion of a (creepy) stranger, and her body is not yours to comment on, whistle at or harass. She is a human being, and her mere existence does not mean she owes you anything. I know that some of you do not immediately understand why catcalling is a problem, as it is probably something that has never happened to you. However, if a woman complains about being catcalled, do not challenge her. Don’t argue with her. Don’t tell her that it wasn’t a big deal, or that it was just a compliment. Women have heard it all before, and the truth is, it’s not your place to decide if it is a big deal or not.



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    Thank you for writing this piece, hopefully as many men read it as women. Catcalling in ethiopia is a never ending distress to women and girls that had not even begun being addressed. I really hope Ethiopia, and the whole world, comes to the point that catcalling is not an acceptable behavior and punishable. I look forward to your other writing pieces!

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