April 20, 2016

LEUNG | Avert the Gaze and Stop the Calls

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I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but it was night, and my friends and I were laughing and walking back from a party together. We were feeling good and the energy from the night was still coursing through our veins. That was when I heard a car full of guys drive past. I didn’t think anything of it until the guys honked a few times, rolled down the windows and shouted an extremely inappropriate and obscene thing to me and my friends.

I was livid. I don’t have a tolerance for catcalls — for sexualizing and objectifying a woman and her body. I instantly turned to the friends I was with and allowed my anger and frustration spill out about what the guys had just done. They could have been drunk, they could have been this or that, but there is no excuse for the sense of shame and embarrassment a female feels for simply being herself. But what might have been worse than the catcall itself, was one of my friend’s reaction to it. “I really don’t mind,” she told us.“It’s like a compliment. Honestly, it kind of makes me feel good about myself.” And just like that, the high from the night was gone.

I know it isn’t just my friend who thinks this way. Many women feel validated and flattered when a man or group of men call out to her, give her a “compliment” and make her feel like the object of their desire. If these comments came out of genuine goodwill and appreciation, that would be a different story. But the main motivation behind catcalling — by definition — is to get one thing from a woman: sex. This is an atrocious notion, for does a male think he can end up with a woman after a flippant remark directed at her? I personally believe that men don’t truly believe they can get something out of their call; they do it because they can. They do it because the culture we live in allows this to happen.

When a man calls out to a woman in a sexual manner, he knows that there will be no reparation. Whether at night, on the street, in broad daylight, in the park — catcalls occur all the time. And women are too afraid to respond, although the majority feel extremely uncomfortable and tainted by these remarks. According to the article, “Do You Respond to Catcalling? 23 Women Reveal How They Reply to Street Harassment,” most women react by walking quickly away, ignoring the men who call out or occasionally responding. In the article, Gabrielle Moss reveals that women would actually like to respond by yelling, “smacking them upside the head” or cursing them out. For various reasons, women are not able to respond in the way they would like, yet they should not be put in the position where they have to make such a decision. Men have no right to call out inappropriately to a female and instantly make her feel shameful for just being a woman. Furthermore, the sexualization of women and girls in media and popular culture is rapidly growing. Catcalling is just one of many direct effects of a culture that allows for the sexualization of females. I am not praising, putting down or comparing one culture to another; I am merely raising issues in the one we are living in.

The “male gaze” is a systemic creation which drives catcalls. The male gaze is a term coined by Laura Mulvey, a feminist film critic, for how visual culture seems to depict women from a masculine point of view, and thus, in terms of men’s attitudes. This gaze is ubiquitous. The portrayal of women in media confirms this gaze. In Barbara Kruger’s 1981 photograph, Untitled (Your Gaze Hits The Side Of My Face), she photographs a sculpture as a female-gendered object. The text across the photograph, “Your gaze hits the side of my face” emphasizes the objectification of women by the man’s gaze and how she is nothing but an appealing figure to view. Her personality, her likes and dislikes, her needs and wants — nothing matters in the eyes of the man. I am by no means targeting all men, nor am I man-hating. I want to bring awareness to the gaze women are subjected to every day, in their own lives and outside, and how it justifies many things women are eventually subjected to.

Being aware of this objectification is the first step in trying to subvert this patriarchal viewing of the world. Once the seed is planted, the growth happens on its own. This sexualization is everywhere. The things we are exposed to everyday, such as commercials, TV shows, movies and billboards subconsciously instill these notions into our heads that the role of women in society is to serve as the objects of desire. But after awareness comes action. Informing others of the problem and reminding women to stand their ground in the face of sexualization is the next step. While it is a systemic problem at large and one that will take a long time to change, a woman is powerful. She can put the men who objectify her in their place by reminding them that she is more than the clothes she wears and the way she looks. She can think for herself, she is intelligent and she is strong.

Gaby Leung is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached atgl376@cornell.edu. Serendipitous Musings appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

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