“‘Hello miss beautiful,’ ‘good morning idol,’ ‘smile naman dyan miss’… Consider this, how would you like it if unfamiliar men said that to your mom, sister, daughter or girlfriend?”
Thus says Mica Cruz, whose infographic about street harassment, written in Filipino, has gone viral over the past couple of weeks. Since it was posted the image has received thousands of Facebook shares and likes, two TV segments, and the attention of men and women all over the Philippines. Most women, of course, came to say how much they could relate to the creator’s experience and frustration. Others shared that they believed modesty was the key to avoiding this kind of attention, while a few could hardly even believe that catcalling was an issue at all.
To address why this image has received so much attention, perhaps it is important to first explore why street harassment is so threatening from a women’s perspective. When a man cat calls, he is asserting his dominance and sexual interest over the female target. Society has taught women that when they call attention to themselves, whatever happens as a result of that attention is their responsibility—unwanted or not.
That means when you catcall, you are alluding not just to the dangers that come with unwanted male attention, but also to the societal constructs that pardon this violence and marginalize sexual harassment victims. A woman can dress in a short shorts or labor under jeans and sweatshirts in the hot sun, and in both instances they will still draw the attention of men, and what’s more, be blamed for it. Perhaps, then, instead of thinking of women as oversensitive, we might ask ourselves why women feel like they need to be defensive. Is it so hard to believe that women indeed have something to fear?
Other reactions to this piece have uncovered a second but perhaps even more prevalent issue in Philippine society, which is that of classism. Women choose who to be insulted by-- if he has a nice car or is good looking, then a catcall is actually a compliment, but if he’s a ‘kanto boy’ then it becomes an insult. This is a sentiment which a few comments on the creator’s original Facebook post have shared. What’s more, a few have implied that if a man is well educated, then he has been brought up with proper morals and would not catcall in the first place.
The truth, however, is perhaps a bit more nuanced than that, and using classism to associate negative behaviors to the less fortunate is simply an insulting and invalid justification for this behavior. A catcall is a product of entitlement—a man feels he has the right to express himself to a woman, just as she is obligated to listen to his comments and take them without insult. Thus whether or not you are wealthy enough to have a nice car, or receive an education from our country’s top schools, male entitlement transcends these class divides. An unwanted advance is an unwanted advance, because women know how easily even a small compliment can turn dangerous.
Yes, even though our country is one that does not shy away from strong, influential women, catcalling is still an issue in the Philippines. It is an issue anywhere that women live. The matriarchal culture passed down to us by our ancestors has fortunately created ample space for women to influence history, and influence current affairs, but women need to be comfortable in their daily lives as well. This is all we ask when we ask men not to catcall: to be able to feel safe and secure no matter where we are.