We’ve all by now seen the video of model Shoshana Roberts walking the streets of NYC and receiving over a hundred catcalls during a 10 hour period of time. It sparked a firestorm of debate. “Verbal harassment!” said many feminists. “Giving a woman compliments!” argued a vocal group of men – and some women. Fox News got it on the action, with their political pundit Bob Beckel saying on air about Ms. Roberts – and I quote – “damn, baby, you’re a piece of woman.”
The two-pronged argument by those who dislike catcalling is first that it allows men to exert power over women by making them feel scared and threatened merely by walking down the street, and second that it makes women feel like nothing more than a hot piece of T&A for men’s sexual gratification. We are, the objectors say, objectified.
It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, and nearly always in the context of women being made to feel that way by men. Fellow writer Elf Ahearn and I were talking about this very thing the other day when she mused out loud, “are women objectifying men the way they do to us?” Interesting question. Are they? The answer, I’ve come to learn, isn’t all that simple.
Look up the definition of objectifying someone and you get a response along the lines of: viewing a person merely as the sum of her parts with no consideration of emotions, feelings, or thoughts of her own. So if a woman sees a guy and yells out, “Hey, Stud, oooooh! What’s going on with that rise in your Levis?” hasn’t she just objectified him? Strictly speaking, she has. Except wait! There’s more …
An interesting article on everydayfeminist.com by writer Shannon Ridgway points out that a fundamental difference between a man feeling objectified by a woman versus a woman feeling the same way by a man is that “men haven’t experienced systematic, centuries-long objectification like women have.” They may be insulted or demeaned by a woman commenting on their “package,” for example, but the occasional insult cannot be compared with what women have endured for centuries.
If you watch the video, some of the comments do seem to come across as men simply being flirtatious. “What’s up, Beautiful? Have a good day,” says one guy to Ms. Roberts as they pass one another.” Harmless enough, right? So say many guys, bemused by women feeling threatened by those comments. Video blogger Red Pill Philosophy taped a response to the video in which he questions feminists’ “petty, elitist, victimhood mentality.” Victim of what?! he demands to know. “Of too many men begging to hand over their money and energy to please you? Feed you?”
Red Pill is forgetting the Native American saying about not judging a person until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. He’s not capable of understanding how it feels to be a woman, preyed upon or threatened by a man’s unwanted attention. Watch the guy in the video walking next to Ms. Roberts for five minutes, refusing to realize that she doesn’t want him there. Would a man feel threatened by a woman doing the same thing? Generally speaking, men are bigger, stronger, and faster – so why would they? If a women whistles and makes obscene hand gestures, a guy can easily laugh it off. Or even, as some would argue, take it as nothing more a harmless compliment. So do they feel objectified? And if they do, do they care? Is the romance genre and our focus on the hot bodied males of our dreams make us any less guilty of objectifying men than they do to us with their whistles and calls?