After that NYC catcalling video went viral online, some men (not all men!) were upset, not because they were trying to defend their right to shout “nice tits” at a random woman, but because even non-sexual comments were being defined as harassment. For instance, Michael Che, co-host of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, wrote on Facebook, “I want to apologize to all the women I’ve harassed with statements like ‘hi’ or ‘have a nice day.’”
In response to comments like these, This Week in Blackness CEO Elon James White created a hashtag called #DudesGreetingDudes:
The #DudesGreetingDudes tweets are hilarious because they’re ridiculous. After all, everyone knows men would never actually talk to each other like that.
But why wouldn’t they?
The common explanation is that street harassment – yes, including the “nice,” non-explicitly sexual kind – is ultimately about asserting male dominance over women, forcing them to give men their time and attention. It wouldn’t make sense for a man to infringe on another man’s mental and physical space in that way.
But I think there’s also a little more going on here, and it has to do with the ways in which men are socialized to view women not only as sexual objects, but as their sole outlet for companionship, support, and affirmation. They’re socialized to view women as caretakers and entertainers, too.
Why do men so rarely approach other men like this? Probably because they don’t see other men as receptive to it, and because they know that most men, just like themselves, were socialized to ignore this type of thing.
Women, on the other hand, are often socialized to tend to men, entertain them, and grant all of their requests for time and attention.
Men who approach women in this way may or may not be consciously aware of that gendered difference. It may be simple social learning – throughout the course of their lives, women have tended to pay attention to them in this way and other men haven’t, so they’ve learned to approach women and not men. A more cynical (but still probably accurate) explanation is that men know quite well that women are taught to indulge them, and so they choose women as the targets of their attempts to make conversation with strangers.
There’s also the rarely-spoken fact that many men are almost as afraid, if not as afraid, of other men as women are. If a man pesters a woman on the street, she is very unlikely to respond with physical violence. Other men are more likely to.
In this way, toxic masculinity – which perpetuates the idea that men should respond to irritation, anger, or offence with physical violence – hurts men, too. But the solution is to work to dismantle toxic masculinity, not to pester those who are less likely to respond with physical violence.
The expectation that women indulge random men’s desire for socialization and affirmation may be slightly less gross than the expectation that women indulge random men’s desire to spew sexual profanity at them, but it stems from the same basic premise – namely, that women must be willing to fulfill men’s desires at all times, whether it’s in the bedroom, in the workplace, in the subway, or on the street.
Over and over again we are told that men just want to “brighten” our day or make us “feel good.” But this was never about women’s feelings. If it were, then the moment mass numbers of women started speaking out about street harassment, these men would collectively go, “Oh, oops, I guess that didn’t make you feel so good.”
Instead, they insist over and over again that we actually do like it or that we’re actually too sensitive or that we would like it if only the guys were hotter or that feminism has ruined us.
It was never about how it makes women feel. It was always about how it makes men feel.