Friday, 22 August 2014

'Hey girl, what's your number, where you from?'

When walking anywhere on my own, there is one thing I can be certain of wherever I am going, whatever time it is, regardless of what time zone I am in: I will always receive comments, opinions and catcalls from men.

We are all familiar with the misogynistic comments directed at us: 'Hey girl, what's your number, where you from?', 'Hey girl, you busy tonight?', 'Damn girl, you better be single'.

Interestingly, during Victorian times, the public sphere- the street, the work place and public social settings- was considered to be an authoritative, male space. And the private sphere- the home and the family- was considered to be the 'proper' female space. If we extend the theories of public and private spheres to the present day it could help understand the attitude of some men on the street.

Secondly, the idea of ownership of one's own body is important. There is a recurrent pattern of women seeming to be owned by men, rather than by themselves. For instance, historically, in the home, women were owned by their fathers and then by their husbands. This age-old male ownership of the female person and body reduced the woman's agency. She no longer had the control to make her own decisions or to have her own personal or financial independence. You could extend this argument to present day female music artists and actresses, who appear to be owned by their male managers and producers. It is the male authority who controls what is presented to the public and what is not.

Perhaps therefore, it could be suggested that the street is male territory, according to the Victorian idea of separate male and female spheres. So a woman walking alone in male territory can expect to receive a certain amount of harassment and opinions from men, since she is not in the 'proper' female space.

Something else I have noticed when walking around in public, is that the catcalling completely stops when I am accompanied by another man. This might explain why every man I have spoken to denies having any knowledge about this experience (or perhaps they are simply denying being the culprits themselves). So, it could be inferred that the reasoning behind the relentless catcalling is rooted in the belief that a woman not accompanied by a man is under no ownership. Therefore she is 'available'.

Although women have many more rights than a century ago, the attitude of some men has not kept pace with the legal changes. Many men may not realise that they are a part of this misogynistic pattern. Some believe that these attitudes are not conscious; the idea of separate male and female spheres is a cultural phenomenon that has been unconsciously instilled and passed down many generations.

If women have won the right to vote, and the right to equal pay, what can be done to bring about the cultural change that is needed to shift these attitudes?