I often get people catcalling to me. I walk along the halls of a conference room, a city street or into a bar, and random people call out to me. They want my attention. They want to talk to me.
And I normally engage back. Conversations ensue. Relationships are formed. Business is done. Friendships form.
And then I read tons are articles on the internet about how bad catcalling is. But like almost everything in life it’s not so black and white. There is good and bad.
But why is my perspective on cat calling so much different than almost every woman out there? Or at least different than most women writing articles on the internet?
Let’s see. Well first I am a man. I am a man that gets women calling out to me.
So everything is flipped here. It’s a complete reverse of perspective.
So I think it brings lessons for all of us.
1) Why is this happening?
So you are probably starting off by asking why is this happening? Who is this man that gets cat called by women (and men) so often?
First, you need to understand I am not like other men. You see I dress in Do Business Differently™ suits. I stand out.
And because I stand out people want to talk to me.
And what do you do when someone stands out and you want to talk to them? Well, one option is to catcall to them – and many women (and men) do just that to me.
So that explains why people are cat calling me. But why are men catcalling women?
I can’t explain for every guy. But In most cases I suspect it’s for the same reason. To get their attention. To explore a connection. To see what might be if a conversation ensues.
2) We All Have to Start Somewhere
Every relationship we have start somewhere. There was some spark, some start or some initiation. Some starts are more “standard” like meeting someone at a class or at a job.
But sometimes we meet somebody in a hallway at a conference. Sometimes we’re just sitting at a bench waiting for a table at lunch. Sometimes we’re sitting in a bar enjoying a drink in a conversation ensues. I’ve met people in all of these ways.
And, yes, I’ve met people through catcalls. Some people have actually yelled out and catcalled to me, I’ve had conversations with them and in the end we are friends. Sure, it’s an unusual starts to a relationship. But all of our relationships start with some connection, bond or reason to initiate conversation.
Maybe the reason that we have to initiate conversation is the clothes someone’s wearing. Or because they’re attractive. Or because they’re wearing a ring from the same university as us.
The point is we don’t know why someone is catcalling. They maybe catcalling to you because of some genuine point of connection. I know what some of the naysayers are saying. They are saying people catcall based on physical appearance. Yes, in some cases we pick out the people we want to talk to based on their appearances.
Is appearance really a terrible reason to find a start to connection? We can learn a lot about someone quickly from the way they dress and present themselves. If we are honest with ourselves we know we can tell a lot about whether we’d have a connection with someone based on how they present themselves.
People catcall to me because, quite frankly, I have the nerve to dress in an unusual way. That tells them that I know who I am and I have a high level of self-confidence. That’s often one of the first things I hear from people when I start a conversation with them after they catcall me. And for others being catcalled the person catcalling you may be reaching out because they like the outfit you put together or the fashion sense you show.
The point is there could be a lot of legitimate reasons why a relationship could start with a cat call. It could be the initial spark.
3) It’s All In The Eyes of the Beholder
And whether a catcall is good or bad is really in the eyes of the beholder. What significance do you attach to the person reaching out and trying to initiate a connection with you. Do you view them negatively? Or do you view them positively?
When someone shouts out to me and wants to start a conversation with me I start from a neutral frame of reference. In fact, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I assume there must be some reason why this person wants to have a conversation with me. There’s something in them that was sparked by my appearance or actions.
And what’s wrong with a little exploration? To see if we have a human connection.
Am I so good and so valuable that no one can engage with me? Because some of the materials I see talking about the negative side of catcalling focus on the fact that the person doing the catcalling is somehow imposing on the person receiving the catcalling.
Is it imposing on someone to walk up to them and compliment them? We are each drawing our own lines based on our own experiences and values. And I think the most enlightened version of the world takes into account that others have different values. Maybe we just need to understand their values and where they come from and stop attaching our judgment. Just because someone has different values and actions than us doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.
4) Is It Really Bad Someone Wants To Talk To You?
Rachel is an attractive and in charge women (Gina is too but Rachel is the one we put on the spot during the show). So what did Rachel say about a little catcalling – as she tends to get from time to time?
She says bring it on!
She knows there is a creepy side and a line that a man approaching her should not cross. But if someone sees her and likes her style of dress and her care for herself? She’ll take the recognition.
And isn’t that what a catcall really tells us? It’s just that someone wants to make contact with us. We really know nothing more.
I don’t know about you but I am always up for connecting with more quality people in my life.
5) Where Should We Draw The Line?
Of course as Rachel pointed out when I spoke to her there is a line. Sometimes a catcall goes too far. It definitely shouldn’t go into our personal space or physical safety.
But really where we draw the line is an individual decision. And that’s where this gets complicated. As in many things in a free society we must agree to disagree.
Talking to a number of women (and men) while preparing this article I found some say no to catcalls, some felt complimented by them and most were somewhere in the middle. Several women said getting a catcall is both flattering and awkward at the same time.
And while several find it flattering but awkward Zulie Rue states in Coping with Catcalls that catcalling is a “demeaning form of harassment [men use] to express their desire to control women”.
It’s interesting when we find things in society with no clear boundaries.
And, from talking to others I see that some think it’s cute for a woman to shout out to a man, but dreadful for a man to shout to a women. Why are we attaching different standards to different genders in a day and age when we shout for equal treatment?
As a man who was the only male speaker at a TEDxWomen event I struggle to see why we attach such different standards based solely on gender – I’ve had a lot of men (and women) look at me sideways trying to understand how a man is qualified to talk to women (and I do speak to a lot of primarily women groups).
So here we sit, today, in a world of claimed equality and many attach different meanings to similar actions based solely on the gender of the person taking action.
6) You Remain In Control
One of the keys, for those being cat-called – the recipients – is control. I never feel out of control when someone catcalls to me. I respond or I don’t. It’s really my choice.
And for the women that are generally OK with receiving catcalls I notice they usually feel very in control. They feel the ability to continue or end the interaction with the initiator.
And so it should be. If our laws in organized society work correctly a catcall should never turn into more – unless you want it to. So, like everything else, we must understand personal safety. Whether you are being catcalled or not always try to be in situations where your personal safety cannot be endangered by any one person whether they are catcalling you or not. This goes for men and for women.
7) We Live In a World of Possibilities
The honest truth is we don’t know what’s going to happen next in life. Our lives take twists and turns. I bet all of us can trace meeting someone of significance in our life to an expected event.
I met one of my business partners, Shannon J. Gregg, but being assigned to give a speech with her. We ended up writing It’s About Time, our time management book, together and building an entire consulting business because of the chance encounter.
I’ve done business with people that have catcalled me leading to an exchange of cards and follow-up.
Could someone end up marrying someone that cat-called them? (I bet it’s happened and I’d love to hear your story for a future piece on that – write me.)
8) No Matter What, Don’t Be a Jerk
Catcalls or not, please don’t be a jerk. We can debate on whether catcalling is good or bad. And what the social norms should be.
If you do do catcalling (and I am looking for you to whistle to me the next time I walk past) do it in a way that is respectful to them – and you.
Rachel Pitts has challenged me to do some catcalling so I’ll be looking for how to do it in the most respectful way possible.
I think catcalling is just another way to make new friends. I am in the very unique position of being a man who gets catcalled. But I find it fun and it’s a great way to explore a human connection with someone you may have never known.
So keep an open mind. As Rachel Pitts notes they are really complimenting you by expressing an interest in you.
Maybe take a slightly different view the next time you are catcalling? Or someone catcalls you?
As for me. I got cat-called the other day at a bar. We exchanged numbers. Now I’ve got to go get ready for my date.
By: The Our Shawn McBride who is constantly studying the Future of Business as the host of The Future Done Right(TM) Show. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
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