Radio Rookies: Reformed Catcaller Explores Roots Of Street Harassment
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Growing up, Jared Marcelle watched as older men catcalled women in his Brooklyn neighborhood. He saw and heard it so much he thought it was the norm. His assessment was right, and it remains so. A study last year by Cornell University shows that 85 percent of women in the U.S. experience street harassment before the age of 17. Well, Jared set out to understand why that is and admits that when he was a teenager, he was one of those guys.
JARED MARCELLE, BYLINE: All my life I heard girls are cats and boys are dogs...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey, gorgeous.
J. MARCELLE: ...Except that most cats don't like dogs.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How you doing, beautiful?
J. MARCELLE: And most women don't like catcalls.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hey, beautiful, how you doing?
J. MARCELLE: But that didn't stop me and my friends. Yo, Ma, psst (ph). We'd shout that out to the girls passing by. Hollering at women on the street was what guys were supposed to do, or so I thought.
What's the youngest age you've experienced this that you could remember?
ALEAH MARCELLE: I think the youngest - maybe I was 14.
J. MARCELLE: That's my younger sister Aleah. Some local construction workers said something inappropriate to her.
A. MARCELLE: I remember what I was wearing that day. I was wearing a sweater, and it was zipped up all the way. It had snowflakes on it.
J. MARCELLE: She came home flustered, and the look on her face sent me into a rage. I rushed outside ready to put hands on these fools. I made her come along with me to show her that I was top dog and she was completely safe. Then I made the group of men apologize, but when I turned around to see if she'd accepted it, she was gone. That's when I realized I was a hypocrite.
A. MARCELLE: It's kind of ruined all men for me because obviously not all men are bad, but because any interaction I've had with a man on the street who I don't know has been a negative one, I tend to avoid every man that I see now on the street because of that.
J. MARCELLE: When I was introduced to catcalling, it was like a game, just trying to be funny or look cool. We saw older guys doing it, then started in ourselves around 13, 14. It was as easy as saying hi to your neighbor. If she looked developed, there was a comment for her. If a girl frowned across the street, it amused us. We weren't necessarily looking for a response.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: Hello.
J. MARCELLE: Hi, Mr. Kimmel.
I reached out to Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at Stony Brook University and an expert on gender studies to get his take on catcalling.
KIMMEL: It really has very little to do with the woman. It has to do with your relationship with the other guys. It's about, you know, doing it in front of other guys. You know what I mean?
J. MARCELLE: Absolutely, absolutely, and that was definitely it for me. You know, I - it never worked for me at all.
J. MARCELLE: It was just about me seeking validation from my peers, which is odd when you think about it...
J. MARCELLE: ...Because wouldn't you want to, you know, impress the woman, you know?
KIMMEL: Right, but the answer's no, and partly it's because we've always thought that the street is not a woman's place. It's a man's place. So it's not about making women feel good or wanted or desired. It's about making them feel, you know - feeling uncomfortable being in our space.
J. MARCELLE: Do you think that this behavior is learned, and if so, where?
KIMMEL: Well, we don't - we probably don't learn it from our moms.
J. MARCELLE: Definitely not.
KIMMEL: You learn it by standing around on a street corner with other guys, and one of them makes a comment and everyone goes, oh, you're such a player. And you say to yourself, you know, at age 6 or whatever, I want to be a player, too.
J. MARCELLE: His next comment caught me off guard.
KIMMEL: Although we think of street harassment as heterosexual, it is really what I call homosocial, which is it's done and performed for other guys.
J. MARCELLE: Wow, I've never thought of it that way.
But that's not the case for everybody. Sometimes guys actually want a girl's attention, so they have to change the dynamic and approach her by themselves. That's a different kind of catcaller.
SHAWN: Hey, beautiful. Damn, gorgeous, I love your hair.
J. MARCELLE: And they can be brazen about it.
SHAWN: You've got to actually approach as many females as you want until you find out which one is the one for you.
J. MARCELLE: I was talking to my friend Shawn outside my house. He's a handyman. Shawn can fix anything. He's also known for having a slick tongue, and sometimes it even works for him.
SHAWN: I still do it. I call to a girl and tell her hi, how you doing, beautiful? I don't mean no disrespect by it.
J. MARCELLE: Have you ever stopped and thought about how women feel about it? Because apparently not every woman likes it.
SHAWN: And that's the thing. It's not that some of them don't like it. They all actually really do like it.
J. MARCELLE: All right, bro. But, you know, not all women want to be spoken to. Sometimes they just want to walk down the block and have, you know, a moment to themselves. They don't always want to talk.
SHAWN: You know, it's respect. Sometimes the guy, he's just giving you a compliment. That's all it is. Like, for example - hey, beautiful. See? I was just calling to her just to call to her. No...
J. MARCELLE: ...Just to keep your sword sharp.
SHAWN: That's it. If she says no, I'm OK with that. I can move on because guess what? There's three more girls behind her lined up.
HAAJAR: See? That mentality is what's annoying to us girls.
J. MARCELLE: That's Haajar. We've known her since she was a kid. She was passing by, and the conversation caught her ear.
This is perfect because she grew up in our neighborhood, and she has opinions as well.
Shawn tried to explain his approach to her.
SHAWN: You're walking down the street, right? A guy say hi to you, what do you say?
HAAJAR: I probably just don't answer them.
SHAWN: All right, now you answer, right? A guy say hey, beautiful, how you doing, you turned around, oh, fine. All right, let me see where else this could go. Can I walk with you for a second?
HAAJAR: I usually say no thank you.
SHAWN: All right, now you say no thank you. The guy, he's going to look at it like, let me give it one more try. You understand?
HAAJAR: But why? Why do you need to give it one more try if I already said no thank you? Like, you couldn't take the hello, good day and my name is such and such and keep it going?
SHAWN: Yeah, but you got to understand, a female like confident dudes, period.
J. MARCELLE: So what is your response to what he just said, Haajar?
HAAJAR: I mean, I feel like we as females, or me personally, feel like I can't even be nice and say hello back to you as a courteous person because then you want to take it farther. Like, I'm sure my body language shows that I'm not interested.
J. MARCELLE: OK, so what are some things you do when you're walking down the street?
HAAJAR: If it's a group of guys, I don't feel like being annoyed, so I cross the street. I might look at my phone if I stay on that side of the street. I might have headphones in my ears with nothing playing, nothing on. I'm not listening to anything. Just when they speak to me, I can have a reason to not answer them.
J. MARCELLE: Hearing how this impacts people like Haajar and my sister allowed me to see it from a woman's perspective. As a man, I've never had to think about what women go through. I made myself think about it. I've taught myself certain things. Basically, I wrote on the chalkboard inside my mind a thousand times, women are not objects placed here for my pleasure. It was like studying for a test. And that's the hardest part. I had to write the test myself because as a guy, this doesn't really affect me, but as a human being it does. For NPR News, this is Jared Marcelle.
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SIEGEL: Jared's story was produced by Radio Rookies from WNYC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.