Catcalling: cat + calling = calling the cat. The article could end like this, actually. A single word and its literal meaning could answer every explanation and every story but, since this is a much discussed subject and one very close to me, I will try to open some old wounds with you. I wish the literal meaning of the word was also the concrete meaning of its use; maybe you were calling your cat or your own cat... maybe. Catcalling, as anyone knows by now (and if it isn't so, now is the time to find out), is a very widespread phenomenon that indicates a whole series of appreciations, words, alleged compliments, boos and other vulgarities addressed in comparisons of women by unfamiliar men. All of them, at least once in their life, have undergone catcalling. Unfortunately, however, this issue is still greatly underestimated and taken lightly by most people and institutions; there will always be someone who will tell you that you are exaggerating, that they are just compliments, that you really can't say anything anymore, that if you are dressed provocatively it is normal for men to boo you by scanning every single part of your body, that you have a laugh that it's better, that there's no need to get angry or be so sour. However, it happens that catcalling is to all intents and purposes a harassment and, as such, must be reported (in France, for example, it is considered a crime with fines ranging from 90 to 1500 euros, depending on the seriousness of the harassment itself). Why is it harassment? The answer lies in one word: consent.
Yes, because without consent, our freedom and our freedom to feel safe also disappear.
For an eliminated consent, for a freedom taken away and a security that disappears, there is the appearance of a feeling that prevails over all the rest: fear.
Yes, because catcalling does this, catcalling deprives you of your own freedom and makes you insecure, makes you feel in danger: it makes you feel wrong.
I remember perfectly all the times when, walking alone or in the company of friends, I heard behind me: "Ciao bella" - "Mamma mia" - "Bellezza" - "Where are you going, beautiful?" – whistles, languid glances and x-rays at my body. Here, in those contexts, there was NO consensus, MY CONSENT. I didn't want to receive that kind of appreciation, I didn't want to hear how beautiful and sexy I was for them, I didn't want people booing behind my back, I didn't want words being said to me for the umpteenth time that I hadn't asked for. Leaving aside the fact that, if you decide to answer firmly: "What a slut you are". But not only. Bologna, many years ago. I walk in one of the main streets of the university area in the company of a friend of mine (or maybe I was alone? I don't remember, it's been some time), broad daylight, full of people. I felt that behind me there was someone stealthily following me in some way; a few minutes later she joins me and begins to insist that I looked a lot like a dear friend of hers, how beautiful she was, how beautiful I was and, as she said these things, she got closer and closer. I told him no, I wasn't his friend and I didn't want to continue the conversation.
My country has also been the protagonist of unpleasant situations, unfortunately. Even in the place that I consider safer than other places (precisely because it's my place), alas, I didn't feel safe. That glass bell I thought I was immersed in actually has many cracks on the surface; that "soap bubble" - as a dear friend of mine would say - day after day finds air from everywhere, risking collapsing on itself and throwing away that certainty that I thought was indestructible. My country, a summer evening, a bar, a drink in the hand and a chat with friends. I have to order drinks at the counter and I feel more than a stare at me, but I ignore it. I order, take my gin and tonic and go out. A few minutes later I find the same looks upon me, but I ignore it. I admit my timing has never been the best and guess what, I have to go to the bathroom. I get up, go up, go and, when I come back and go to sit at the table, I hear comments and appreciations about me from this couple of grown men (they could have been my father or my uncle, I'm not kidding): "Wow... princess... " - "Would you like a drink?" - "How beautiful you are". Silent and totally uncomfortable but also deeply pissed off, I sit down. It happened to me but it also happened to some of my friends, always from grown men who think they are kind and nice, without even realizing they are annoying. “What breast size do you have?” one asks my best friend, but I could stay here another ten pages to tell. Here, according to you, in these examples, was there my consent? In your opinion, was I happy with those situations? No. Did I go looking for them? No. What prompted these men to behave that way? Why did they do it? Alas, and here comes the most complex step, the so-called privilege comes into play.
What drives men to say certain things and behave in a certain way towards the women they meet on the street (but not only, of course), is the privilege they themselves have and which very often find it hard to admit.“Not all men I'm like that”, you must be thinking now – “I have never said or done certain things”, you will continue to confirm undaunted. Now, this sentence finds in itself no meaning and no justification with respect to what happens, what happens to us. You may be the most perfect man in the world, the one who has never molested any woman in any way, the one who distances himself from such an attitude but remembers well that you are the first to become aware of what is right and what is wrong. You may be the perfect man, but since perfection doesn't exist, it's you who has to adjust the shot and, when your friend verbally harasses a girl passing by on the street, stop him, correct him, try to make him understand that those words are offenses and are NOT OK. Try to put yourself in our shoes and try to understand that we can change, that those words fired for no reason destabilize us, make us feel uncomfortable, upset us, make us feel inferior and helpless. You have this privilege, but it doesn't mean that you necessarily have a fault: you act to improve, you act to change, to correct yourself and to correct those who are like you. Context and consensus are the two cornerstones of this whole matter: compliments are compliments when my reaction doesn't destabilize me and when I'm happy to receive appreciation because the context I'm in allows it and it's a safe area for me. “Ciao bella” – “Che bel culo” are exactly the same thing and trying to minimize their meaning is a bit like hiding your head in the sand, further confirming the action of a power and the desire, in a certain sense, wanting – even for just a second – to make you feel sexually uncomfortable or thought of. I know for sure that I'm not the only one, there are so many of us and every story is proof of how much more there is to work together.
In the meantime, narrating is already a big step forward.