‘Hey baby’ this

Jun 22, 2005 at 12:00 am

Finally, warm weather has arrived; the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, the natives are out frolicking ... and as I’m strolling down Lafayette one bright sunny Partridge Family kind of day, my revelry is sharply interrupted with:

“Hey baby, shake that ass, ooh, uh-huh, yeah!”

... uttered by a man hanging out of a pickup truck screeching by at 45 m.p.h., leaving the tinge of burnt rubber hanging in the air.

Guys, I want to know something. I’m truly curious. Does this actually work? Have you ever, say, sparked a meaningful relationship after screaming, “Hey, baby, can I get some fries with that shake?” at a random woman on the street? Forget relationship, have you even gotten laid in this manner? Has a woman ever gone chasing after you, clutching her damp panties in hand, shouting, “Yes, oh yes! Take me, you stud, you!”?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Summertime — requiring less clothing for the sole purpose of comfort — is catcalling season. And if you’re a woman who walks in any public space, you’ve probably received your share of unsolicited comments and ocular molestation.

Why do these guys do it?

“Our society’s standing belief is that women’s bodies are public,” says Sue Rumph, special lecturer for the women’s studies program at Oakland University. “We receive messages through many areas of society and media that women like this sort of attention, that they’re comfortable with the role of sex object, or being objectified. So then it’s also confusing to men when women react negatively, because, after all, they’re only paying you a compliment, right? I think many men don’t understand they’re creating a feeling of vulnerability in the person they’re addressing.”

Gerald Shiener, staff psychiatrist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, has a similar take.

“It arises from two places: an immaturity in men, a need to be noticed and to have women notice them,” Shiener says. “I also think it’s a holdover from a time when women on the street were not to be seen unescorted.

“It’s more of a power issue. I don’t think it has much to do with flirting, it has more to do with cultural issues,” Shiener adds. “And I don’t think it’s a function of how women dress — men will always find something to notice.”

He adds: “Another thing to consider — men who harass women in public tend to be working-class men who come from a more traditional background, so it sort of becomes a class issue as well.”

After a group of women were publicly attacked by a mob of men in Central Park in 2000, the Street Harassment Project (streetharassmentproject.org) formed in New York City. An excerpt from its mission statement:

Street harassment is a form of terrorization of women in which men attempt to impose dominance and women are supposed to react with subordination.

Street harassment is primarily about power and control; we do not bring it on ourselves by what we wear or do. It is enough to be female and out in public to be harassed.

When women get catcalled, we have two options: ignore it or respond defensively. The Street Harassment Project advocates the latter. The Web site has a set of cards you can print out and hand to offenders. One card has a pair of voluptuous female silhouettes on one side, posed seductively next to the question: “Hey guys, wanna get laid?” The answer on the other side: “Then stop harassing women!” The group’s manifesto encourages confronting harassers, arguing that ignoring the offenders is a passive action, and won’t help put a stop to the problem. But Shiener thinks otherwise.

“The most mature, safest response is to ignore it. If you respond, these men know they’re getting attention and they’re going to do it more. They accomplish their goal,” he says.

Plus, there’s always the chance that a confrontation could lead to something nasty or dangerous. Last year, I encountered a fellow who was exceedingly graphic and vulgar (the “c” word was involved). I didn’t feel like remaining silent while some jackass felt he had the right to treat me in the lewdest manner imaginable. And after I turned around and told him off, he followed me. Spewing obscenities. For two blocks.

So, we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t, and stuck dealing with it until the first frost.

On a final note, something for you harassers to think about: Elementary physics should tell you that “Hey baby can I get yo digits” uttered from a vehicle moving at approximately 40 m.p.h. is going to sound more like: “HEYBABYHHHSSSSJUJJJGAHHUJAH ...”

Yeah, that’s what really turns my crank.

Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]