Catcalls and Precautions

“Why do girls always go to the bathroom in groups?” Why, indeed. Are we incapable of relieving ourselves in solitude or going five minutes without sharing our innermost thoughts and latest ongoings? Maybe, but, given the high rates of rape and sexual harassment of women, it might also be for the equally common expression, “safety in numbers.”

We live in a society in which women and girls (and their parents!) must always think twice about the impressions we may be giving by what clothes we wear, how much of our bodies might be exposed, the amount of makeup we apply and whether or not we make eye contact and smile. Essentially, we live in a “rape culture” in which the possibility of rape and sexual harassment is normalized, accepted and often left for the potential victims to take precaution against, rather than for the problem itself to be addressed and extinguished.

In fact, a common attitude toward the issue of sexual harassment toward women (who are most often, though not always, the victims) is, “women get treated the way they allow themselves to get treated,” as expressed by two Atlanta-native men in their mid-twenties in the CNN article “Hey baby! Women speak out against sexual harassment.”

This is a prime example of victim blaming, in which the victim of any type of maltreatment is regarded to be partially or completely at fault for the crime or abuse that happens to them. These two men in particular were alluding to how a woman dresses and physically presents herself as the basis for how she “allows” herself to be treated. This is not far from the typical cry of “she’s asking for it,” or “she asked for it.”

Another factor in the famous “she asked for it” excuse is that a woman was drunk, or otherwise intoxicated, or out by herself at night. (And keep in mind that the perpetrator is not the only one who cites these reasons; plenty of people, men and women alike, who have never been involved in sexual assault situations tend to examine the victims “missteps” before the actions of the perpetrator.) So if a woman is wasted, naked and alone in an alleyway, is that just cause to come on to or rape her? If so, what about the fully-clothed, eye-averting, sober woman who is spotted and targeted in broad daylight? In my opinion, the only reason that a person gets raped is because someone decided to rape them.

Of course, this is not a generalization of all men or all women, and not all unwanted sexual attention is rape. But the fear of rape seems to be the reason why people are cautious of sexual or even romantic advances. And the word “fear” here is not literal; caution against sexual aggression is so ingrained in women’s routine that it is simply culture: rape culture.

Men and women’s sexuality are simply held to different standards in our society. Sex and promiscuity in women are looked down upon more so than in men; there are even more degrading names to call a woman regarding her sexual activities, whereas the nicknames men have relating to sex are often self-claimed or said with pride. Even laws against nudity are different for men and women.

So is it fair that we, as women, must sometimes treat completely well-intentioned, or no-intentioned men with coldness or mistrust or even ill-founded accusations? Of course not. Is it fair that women are hardly ever suspected or accused of rape or sexual harassment, despite evidence to the contrary? Of course not. But this is because of trends and attitudes in our society that are rarely questioned, and are accepted as is. So what is our first priority? Start questioning.

Karam Johal is a third-year women’s studies major. She can be reached at johalk@uci.edu.