Cat calls happen in most places — in the US, in El Salvador, in Europe — and no matter what they cultural context, it’s just not ok. Or at least, i’ll just never be ok with it. And that’s because it’s about silencing a woman, about cornering her, about reminding her that men get to decide what (and who) is and isn’t valuable in this world.
After 10 months living in Guajoyo, I have gained the respect of most people in the community, and even the confidence of some. And yet there is a handful of boys who continue to catcall me every time they get the chance. “Hello, mamacita. When are you going to bring your dad again so I can meet my father in law?” “Uuuy mami look at that skin, how did you get so beautiful?” “Hola bonita, you’re looking at me because you can’t wait to be my lover.”
My first response was simply to ignore. But it did not wane. Then, when I started getting to know (and teaching class to) these same boys, I would respond to them, telling them I found their words offensive and wanted them to leave me alone. But my responses simply fed their flame. They did what they wanted to, they had me cornered.
Because if I am silent, I’m asking for more. And if I respond, it’s because I like it.
I didn’t grow up around catcalls, and I will not accept them. But for most women, that’s just normal. The women are the first to laugh at me when I respond with anger or frustration to these unsolicited remarks. “Es que la Cati…” they say between laughs at the hilarity of a woman who thinks she has the right to tell a man that she does not appreciate his comments about her body or about her future.
I asked a friend, a young man and a member of the youth committee, what I could do about this problem. He knows all these boys and they respect him. I explained to him my dilemma, that my silence or my words condemn me. And I think, perhaps, it was the first time he realized what a truly frustrating and degrading experience that is for a woman.
He shrugged his shoulders and said,
I don’t know.