Catcalls, Evolution, and Online Anonymity

By Cyberquill 10/30/20144 Comments

Pounding the New York City pavement while tailing her undercover DP for ten hours, a callipygian young lady named Shoshana, garbed in formfitting black T&Jeans, reportedly scored a total of 108 catcalls (“This doesn’t include the countless winks, whistles, etc.”) from male strangers she encountered during her marathon stroll.

In general, catcalls are perceived as an unwelcome annoyance, but in this particular case they obviously were desired, the more the merrier, for the purpose of producing a video to highlight their undesirability and, in the process, racking up donations to “Hollaback! a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment.”

The dictionary defines catcall as a whistle, shout, or cry made to express “derision or disapproval.” By contrast, the subtype of catcall at issue here is uttered primarily in order to communicate a fawning approbation of the target’s physique: “Hey beautiful,” “God bless you, Mami,” “Nice [insert body part],” and the like.

Confining our discussion to this latter type, it stands to reason—does it not?—that the typical catcaller’s objective would be to attract the target’s attention in a manner so as to foster a climate of mutual interest in each other and lay the groundwork for a “beautiful friendship,” as Humphrey Bogart would put it, not send her absquatulating for the hills in revulsion at the unsolicited assassessment [sic].

Does catcalling ever work as intended? Does there exist a non-zero percentage of catcallers that actually succeed in having consensual congress with their targets down the line? If not—and I have yet to hear testimony to the contrary—how come evolution has thus far failed to select out such a stunningly ineffectual behavior?

My personal thesis is that, until fairly recently in human history, the eminently creepy “Yo mama, what’s up?” method of approaching a female stranger on the street must have been a sure-fire strategy for getting her to disrobe on the spot and throw herself into the catcalling gentleman’s arms. But then a random freak mutation occurred in one female’s DNA, which terminated the heretofore favorable reaction to being catcalled and put in its place a sense of loathing for the males who engage in this practice. Conferring some sort of survival advantage upon females, the mutation eventually spread to all women, but the male genome, alas, hasn’t gotten the memo yet.

Just a theory.

Anyhow, according to the latest news, Shoshana, the black-clad pavement pounder, has been getting “rape threats” in the wake of her anti-harassment activism. These threats (a) indicate to her that “we are hitting a nerve” and (b) have spawned a second wave of publicity for the issue, sparking additional outrage over the kind of chauvinistic rape culture that still obtains in spite of whatever external markers of a supposedly advanced civilization there may exist that could hoodwink one or the other simpleminded 21st-centurarian into believing that the laws of the jungle are a thing of the past.

These rape threats, of course, were submitted in the form of anonymous comments posted online.

Whenever there is a situation of vile, violent, or otherwise reprehensible sentiments authored and disseminated from behind the veil of anonymity, the question arises whether these sentiments genuinely reflect the mindsets of their creators, or whether they constitute false-flag operations designed to smear one’s detractors or otherwise inflame emotions beyond the point that might be attained without adding a little friendly fuel to the conflagration.

Imagine, for instance, a shockingly bigoted comment directed at President Obama posted on a conservative website, with an avatar and a handle that gives no clue as the identity of the poster. Who left the comment? A racist right-winger venting in his basement, or an Obama sympathizer intent on tarring conservatives with a racist brush?

Or, conversely, imagine that someone with a Che Guevara avatar, who calls him- or herself the_marxist_enforcer, posts “The Fox News building needs to be firebombed” in a liberal forum. Who’s the commenter? An anonymous Marxist revolutionary hiding behind his laptop, or an anonymous arch-conservative posing as a Marxist fanatic in order to do his part in convincing the world that that’s what liberals are like when emancipated of the specter of reprisals for their unvarnished honesty?

Impossible to tell. (Of course, everyone will deny their own camp’s need to go false-flag, insisting that the enemy furnishes ample self-incriminating material all by themselves.)

So who posted these rape threats? Goofballs? Sexual predators, real or wannabe? Guys mad at Shoshana for drawing attention to the scourge of catcalling? Or individuals sympathetic to her cause, be they active collaborators on the YouTube video project or spontaneously self-appointed co-campaigners, who decided that sprinkling a few rape threats into the mix would help sex up the story, add urgency to a worthy mission, hike the influx of donations, and thus the greater good would be served?

Again, impossible to say.

Because if we don’t know who’s hiding behind an anonymous message, we don’t know who’s hiding behind it, nor what their motives are. To automatically conclude that non-disclosure of identity equals the most candid disclosure of purpose, and in consequence to run around half-cocked, jaw dropped down to one’s ankles, screaming “Oh my God, now she’s getting rape threats!” without maintaining a healthy sense of scepticism with respect to digital declarations that could have been posted by anyone for any reason, seems a bit, well, naïve.

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  • Richard

    Most people questioning the motives of the young lady in the video condemn themselves as sympathetic to harassment. You cleverly avoid this trap.

    There will come a point where all respectable males will avoid any advance whatsoever to any woman. Perhaps that is the object of the exercise. It would be interesting to know if this consequence would be welcome to all women.

    I’m not sure I understand the connection to internet abuse. Is the young lady criticising or approving of her manifest admirers?

    • Cyberquill

      The connection to internet abuse has less to do with the young lady per se than with sympathetic observers, including professional journalists, who, upon hearing or reading that there had been rape threats, reflexively and unquestioningly concluded that these threats must be authentic. They did so, I think, because their authenticity would lend urgency to the cause of combating harassment, and so they choose to ignore the possibility that these threats may have been phony (as all anonymous comments may be, no matter the issue at hand).

      I recently watched a German crime drama on TV, where one of the characters, a post-menopausal female detective, bemoaned the fact men, by and large, had stopped paying attention to her the way they used to, and she listed a few examples that might fall under the general definition of catcalling.

      I think it’s safe to say that women love attention. Why else wear sexy clothes and put on lipstick before leaving the house? I guess — in fact, I am reasonably certain — it is the manner in which the attention is lavished upon the target that determines whether she feels flattered in a positive way as opposed to creeped out.

      • Richard

        You final para is, of course, entirely correct. The impossible task of deciding where the dividing line comes is, however, left to men to guess.

        Is is true to say that some women would be flattered by the attentions in the video while others would be creeped out? Who knows? No woman should be harassed or made to feel threatened, let alone threatened, anonymously or not,

        • Cyberquill

          I recall a hilarious scene in an episode of Sex and the City, where Miranda (the redhead), sex-starved after an extended spell of involuntary abstinence, turns tables on a group of catcalling construction workers: instead of ignoring their catcalls, she wheels around, walks straight up to them, and in resolute tones inquires which one of them was prepared to follow through on his implied offer for sex right then and there. All these guys suddenly wax rather tongue-tied, mumble sheepish apologies, and seemingly can’t wait to resume their construction chores. Whereupon Miranda sighs and resumes her walk in a huff, having now proved to herself that it’s all just empty male bluster anyway.

          I guess catcalling may be a bit of a mixed bag, bearing the potential to have a flattering as well as an annoying or intimidating effect to varying degrees. Just as we all dread the first time a polite young person offers us their seat on the subway, a woman may dread the day she realizes that the catcalls (or like demonstrations of interest) have stopped.

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