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Catcalls: A Catholic Response

Catcalls: A Catholic Response --

Far too many of us have been there.

You are walking in a park, or perhaps huffing and puffing and sweating while on a run, when someone crudely comments on your body or hits on you. Classic catcall.

Your may respond like:

Catcalls: A Catholic Response

Or if, like me, your feisty side takes over, you may be like

Catcalls: A Catholic Response

Campaigns against street harassment aren’t new. The scope of this global issue is such that Marlène Schiappa, the French junior minister for gender equality, recently spoke of a new law that, if passed, would impose fines for catcalling. A trendy topic among feminists, women and men are speaking out against catcalls and proposing different ways for how women can respond in the moment.

Which makes me wonder – as Catholic women, what might be our response?

From a Catholic perspective, I would argue that catcalling is problematic because:

  1. It is an abuse of the gift of speech.
  2. It insults the dignity of the person who is catcalled and the person who catcalls.

The theological virtue of charity requires us to love God and “our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). Practicing charity includes doing so with and through our speech. When we make lewd comments about someone, we reduce them to an object for our own gratification or amusement. Catcalls demonstrate a lack of regard for the person to whom they are directed; catcalls serve only the pleasure and whims of the person who makes them. They do not seek to highlight a virtue or laudable quality of the unwilling recipient. They do not constitute an effort to build a genuine relationship with another person.

Catcalls turn the gift of speech into a means of objectification.

Catcalls turn the gift of speech into a means of objectification.

Due to this, catcalling insults the dignity of both persons involved. Created in the image and likeness of God, human beings are created for relationship. Bestowed with the beautiful gift of human language, we can communicate through our words and transmit meaning to others. Charity demands that we use this communication to love God and others, for the love of God. Catcalling insults the dignity of the recipient by reducing them to whatever aspect “inspires” the catcall.

At the same time, catcalling insults the dignity of the one who catcalls, because they were made for far more than that; they were created for relationship with others and, ultimately, with God. Sin damages this relationship: “[i]t wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. . . . Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it” (CCC 1849 – 1850). Those who catcall are called to exercise the virtue of charity in all things, including speech, yet they abuse the gift of speech when making the decision to catcall. As a result of this sin, they separate themselves from their loving Father and their fellow human beings, with whom they are meant to be in relationship.

I believe that how we respond to catcalling as Catholic women matters.

how we respond to catcalling as Catholic women matters.

It matters because it is an opportunity to defend the gift of speech, our dignity, and the dignity of the person catcalling (as frustrated/irritated/angry with them as we may be).

Each situation may call for a unique response. Instead of prescribing a particular formula through which to appropriately respond to catcalls, I invite you to determine your own response. But consider the following:

1. Prudence

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that the cardinal virtue of prudence constitutes “right reason in action.” This virtue “disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (CCC 1806). In some situations, it may be best – and safest – to simply not respond to a catcall. Perhaps especially if we would only have something uncharitable to say. In other situations, a response may be called for in the interest of our good and the good of the other.

2. Fraternal correction

Charity demands this of us. If we know our brother or sister committed a sin, we ought to correct that sin in order that he or she may not commit this sin again. Fraternal correction must be done in a spirit of beneficence to be truly charitable (CCC 1829). If there is reasonable hope that fraternal correction would lead to – or plant the seeds for – reform, we should sincerely consider it. Will the random man who catcalls you be open to fraternal correction? Maybe, or maybe not. (Realistically, probably not, but I maintain a certain degree of optimism here.) You may, however, have an encounter one day when fraternal correction could be effective.

3. Charity in speech

Lest we respond to one instance of uncharity through speech with another, if we choose to respond, we should ensure that our response is charitable. If we cannot think of anything charitable to say, perhaps we should offer a prayer for that person instead.

Street harassment does not have to be a given in the lives of women. You do not need to tolerate catcalls, nor accept them as something you must simply deal with. We should not have to endure street harassment in the first place. Since it is an unfortunate reality at the moment, however, I believe that a bit of thoughtful reflection about our response could go a long way.

Amanda Bambury is a FemCatholic Contributor. She is a Coloradan who works at a Catholic college in the South and feels at home in the mountains. She studied French and Italian literature at the University of Notre Dame, where her love of Catholic education began. She firmly believes that all things can be accomplished through Christ and with good coffee.

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  • Reply Aileen

    Really excellent response – the notion that catcalling is contra-virtue for very specific reasons is absolutely relevant in any debate over how women are objectified in the public sphere. Having a Catholic response to this pervasive issue helps to highlight our role as Catholic women in combatting catcalling. Bravo!

    February 3, 2018 at 6:58 pm
  • Reply Madelaine

    Agreed and good post. I would add that it’s often best not to respond to catcalls when it is unsafe to do so. So much of the onus is on us as women to fix what’s happening and that message is not right. Standing up for ourselves is good. Staying safe is also important as catcalls are part of a larger context of rape culture and are meant to create fear and intimidate.

    February 6, 2018 at 12:26 pm
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