Catcalled: A look into the life of an everyday Filipina

  • According to United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Social Weather Station survey has revealed that 3 out of 5 women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime. 70% of sexual harassments come from total strangers, 58% of harassments are experienced on the streets, major roads and eskinitas, while 70% happens during the day from 6AM to 6PM.
  • 3 out of 5 men admitted to committing a form of sexual harassment, the top forms being wholf-whistling, lascivious language, and exhibitionism and public masturbation. Other forms include stalking, voyeurism, groping, rubbing, touching, cat-calling, indecent gestures, cyberviolence, and sending of pornographic pictures and videos. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/lifestyle/healthandwellness/558251/the-numbers-are-alarming-sexual-harassment-vs-women-in-phl/story/

A few weeks ago, I was walking through Baclaran when I noticed a padyak driver looking at me, or rather my chest. As I walked past him, he whistled and said “miss, laki naman nyan (miss, that’s so big).”

This isn’t the first time I was catcalled. Ever since I started high school, I have experienced catcalling in many different forms – from co-students trying to get my attention with “hi, crush” to drunkards at the sari-sari store whistling and calling out “pst, sexy”. This also wasn’t the last – just yesterday I went out to buy soy sauce, and a tambay (bum) winked at me and said “morning, ganda.” However, this particular scenario at Baclaran was when I finally realized the severity of the issue.

The driver looked at me like he was undressing me with his eyes, like I am a piece of meat he would so willingly devour. I immediately looked at what I’m wearing to check why I warranted this kind of reaction, but my get up was conservative and unassuming. This wasn’t like any other catcall incidents I have experienced. This time, I wasn’t just annoyed with the unwanted attention, I actually shivered with fear. I felt disgusted and unsafe. I walked faster in order to get away from his malicious eyes but confronting him didn’t even cross my mind in fear that things might escalate.

Sadly, this is an everyday occurrence here in the Philippines. According to an SWS report, 88 percent of Filipinas aged 18 to 24 experienced different forms of sexual harassment in the streets. Like me, 50 percent of the victims do nothing about the incident while 20 percent are unable to respond due to fear.

With such high numbers, you’d think that something would be done to stop it, and yet every day men continue to whistle, shout and make sexist or offensive comments, leer, and even grope women without receiving any repercussions. They continue to catcall and objectify women whenever they have the chance because their lewd actions are generally ignored and dismissed as ‘boys being boys’. What’s worse is this kind of behavior isn’t limited to the poor, the bums, the non-educated who don’t know any better. Many of my male friends and even relatives who came from the best schools and have respectable jobs still show their ‘appreciation’ by whistling and catcalling women. They ogle and stare at the mall, they rate girls according to physique, they nudge each other when a woman walks by and follow her with their lingering stares.

This is the reality for every Filipina. Catcalling has been accepted as a societal norm, and women are expected to adjust instead of addressing the main root of the problem.

Catcall vc compliment

Back in high school, I was repeatedly told that I was ‘maarte’ and overreacting for feeling threatened or disgusted whenever I receive unwanted attention. Some of my male friends would even tell me to loosen up and to learn how to take a compliment, because according to them that’s what it is – a compliment. “Nagandahan lang yun sayo (they just find you beautiful).”

For a while I tried to look at catcalling as a compliment, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling of uneasiness. I couldn’t feel grateful when men over twice my age ogle me, nor could I smile and take it positively when strangers call me hot or sexy despite my efforts to dress modestly.

It took me some time to realize that catcalling is in fact not a form of flattery but a form of harassment and objectification. The reason why men think it’s okay to ask you to smile for them is because they think they’re entitled to make comments and demands about your body. It is rooted in their sense of supremacy. When he catcalls, it’s because he thinks you’re a commodity with which he could express his sexual interest to. The words they spew out are not in good faith but a show of dominance, and women have a valid reason to feel threatened.

The problem is, many still can’t see the difference between the two. Nowadays, the usual argument men use is classism – saying that women are fine with being catcalled when the person doing it is rich, handsome, or presentable and calling foul when less desirable people do the same. This is besides the point. No matter which social class you belong to, unwanted attention is still unwanted attention.

The fact is women don’t like being catcalled. We do not like to be treated like a piece of meat. We do not enjoy being blocked on the streets. We do not appreciate it when you whistle or call us pretty. Catcalling is not a compliment, stop insisting that it is. 

Online Catcalling

Unfortunately, catcalling doesn’t only apply in the streets. Nowadays, it bleeds out to social media, too. Just visit the Facebook page Catcalled in the Philippines (https://web.facebook.com/catcalledinthePH/) and you’ll see how catcalling has managed to infiltrate the virtual world. The page, which has over thirty thousand followers, actively posts the experience and stories of those who are virtually harassed in order to speak out and raise awareness about the topic.

The most common form of online catcalling is leaving lewd remarks on photos of women. These can range from “ang ganda mo, idol” to disgusting and sexually explicit comments. Others would even go as far as sending unsolicited dick pictures. However since we are talking about online harassment, senders have an easy way out and could easily claim that they were hacked whenever they get called out. Rarely do they ever apologize.

What’s sad is that women are still blamed for these things. We’re chastised for not keeping our social media accounts private or for posting photos that might attract unwanted attention. We’re repeatedly told not to accept people we do not know or to simply delete anyone from our friends list if we feel violated, never addressing the main issue at hand.

Not harmless

While many believe that this is a non-issue blown out of proportion, catcalling is something we need to talk about and acknowledge. Catcalling is not a harmless jesting from appreciative men. It instills fear and affects the mental health of the victim.

According to objectification theory by Fredrickson and Roberts, the internalization of sexual objectification leads to constant self-monitoring, creating a state of self-consciousness that breeds feelings of shame and anxiety. Another research in 2010 found a direct link between the experience of street harassment and a greater preoccupation with physical appearance and body shame. It is also correlated to heightened fears of rape and being attacked.

The study Experiencing the Streets: Harassments and Perceptions of Safety among Women indicates that stranger harassment is more prevalent and more extensive than nonstranger harassment. They also found out that stranger harassment more strongly influences fear of victimization. Catcalls have also been associated with heightened stress levels among women. Repeatedly experiencing catcalls makes it a chronic stressor, which affects mental health over time.  

I can personally attest that catcalling leaves a mark on the victim. After the Baclaran incident, I was more self-conscious. I became even more wary of the clothes I wear, making sure to cover up as much skin as I could. I no longer walk through Baclaran and just ride jeepneys despite the longer route. It is an added expense, but at least I feel safer.

This is what every Filipina is going through. We are forced to adjust ourselves in order to feel safer; in order to be able to go through day to day life without being harassed. We are living in the 21st century, don’t you think it’s high time for us to stop treating women like they were born to accommodate the wants and pleasures of men? Don’t you think it’s time to draw a line between what is normal male behavior and what is considered threatening to the life of others?

Let’s be honest here, although I have adjusted my personal habits and style, I’ll still experience being catcalled because no amount of adjustments will be enough to stop men from doing it. Even if I cover myself up and go out as little as I can, some bloke on the street would still think to disrespect me because it is what they’re used to.

In order to see change, we need to drill into the minds of men that what they’re doing is wrong and would no longer be tolerated. We need to stand up and speak out about this injustice. We should no longer pretend to be okay when we’re disrespected. This scenario isn’t going to change by keeping mum and taking precautionary measures because women are not the problem – the men who catcall are.

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