Cultural Variations Within Catcalling Culture

Megan Castle

Catcalling is when an individual–often in a loud tone of voice and in a public setting–makes a comment, usually sexual, as a means to express interest in another individual.
Upon my most recent adventures to Europe–Italy and Spain to be exact, I noticed for the first time that the ever-famous issue of catcalling, really isn’t an issue in many Western European countries as it is in America.
Although this was one of many trips to Europe for me, this was the first time I noticed the vast cultural differences between genders. Attribute it to America’s ongoing quest for evolution and from the younger generation’s perspective: the greater want for overall, complete, and total equality (not a bad thing to strive for).
In many countries around the world, catcalling is not seen as insulting or degrading at all.
But in American culture, catcalling is amongst the most prominent yet subtle ways in which individuals can completely undermine equality. Not only does it make the victim uncomfortable but it shows the ignorance and general tackiness of the catcallers themselves.
So what cultural stigma is embedded in the American culture that automatically makes us think it’s wrong?
It has to be the way American catcalling is done–it is simply the prominence of the tasteless and often sexual things that are shouted that results in our being so against catcalling.
In reality, this disturbing form of catcalling is not seen nearly as much in western Europe.
Could catcalling be flattering if imposed in a non stressful situation where genuine things are actually said? For example, “sorry for staring, it’s just that I’m single and you’re a beautiful person,” was something someone said to me on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I was honestly taken aback: catcalling is wrong, but I didn’t feel victimized or objectified. I immediately wrote this event off by saying to myself, “that wasn’t catcalling.”
The definition of catcalling doesn’t differ much between countries, but the way the action is performed does–it has a cultural definition, which might explain why the methods of catcalling varies so vastly between countries and cultures.
In America, catcalling has a sexually aggressive connotation and that has made all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, you still witness ignorant people yelling sexual remarks at individuals in countries other than America, but it’s vastly less common than in the United States.
But it’s possible that America is more advanced in regards to gender equality. Through pure observation during all my adventures in Europe over the past 17 years, I noticed the relations of the sexes together was different than it is here. Europe still clings to many fixed gender roles and old fashioned ways of chivalry.
The ability to have gender equality in the sense of social interaction, specifically friendships between men and women in the United States, has made us incapable of showing affection without the use of sexual language. Sexual language represents affection in our society.
The paradox of social equality has lead to a more sexualized culture in America, but I’ll take equality over more flattering catcalling methods any day.


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