Since I have arrived in France there has been something that I did not expect, something weird, not right, intimidating even, that bothered my days, my walks home and my late nights with friends: catcalling.

Do not get me wrong: I know what catcalling is, and I have known it for a long time. Living in a big city in Italy means being constantly aware of one's surroundings, always being careful while walking in crowded roads, trying not to listen too hard to what people say because most of the time it is not something anyone would want to hear.

Yet, over here, catcalling has a different nature: maybe it is because I cannot understand the sentences, but only recognize the words I was asked to never repeat in French class. Perhaps, it is because Le Havre truly gets lonely in the evenings, lit up only by the kebab shop lights at the edge of the roads. One reason or another, catcalling became such a constant thought in my mind, that I decided to do some research.

According to dictionaries, the word catcall originates from the mid 17th century, and it was used to describe the sound of disappointment made by an audience at a play.

So imagine this: a man is watching a play performed only by men and he is angry. For some reason, some sort of general conduct and agreement of men at theatre, he emits a sound, that quite scarily reminds one of a cat. Here it goes: the audience of men turns to the stage and emit a sound of disapproval: the performers, those who were supposed to entertain the audience, fulfil the expectations of those who had payed a ticket to watch them perform amd observe the men who are dissatisfied by their performance. Those watching are shamed for not complying to this criteria.

Now imagine. The man who is disappointed by the play exits the theatre and starts walking on his way home. A woman is walking by, she is going home too. She has her own life, her own problems, that the man does not and cannot know. The two had never met before. For some reason, the man turns to her and emits the same sound he did when the play ended. Disappointment. Unmet expectations. Lack of entertainment. The woman, like the performers, has failed, but this time, she has failed to do something she did not sign up to do. She did not know she was meant to do. something no one is paying her for.









Now, you may say my story has some flaws. Maybe a man who went to the theatre in the 17th century is more likely to go back home with a horse rather than by foot? I have to admit, I am not sure. But that is not why you may disagree: in the 17th century, someone may well argue that a role of a woman was in fact to entertain. To interest. To not disappoint the man. Her pay was life, protection, not being killed but rather being fed by her male relatives. Yes, you may well say that, just like a performer, a woman in the 17th century has the duty to give the audience what they want, whatever that may be.

You would be wrong. The fact that society was unfairly biased towards man should have never been a burden to what women could or could not do. But we cannot change the past.

So let's talk about the present.A man goes to the theatre. It is the 21st century. He is deeply unsatisfied from the performance: the performers were not convincing and the plot was seriously flawed. No one makes cat-like sounds if they dislike a play anymore but he deeply complains as he walks out, loudly, so they can hear him.

It is now time for him to go home. As he is walking, a woman crosses his path. Is he pleased with what he sees? Is he not? Is it none of his business? It does not matter:as he decided that he is entitled to make a comment. Just like the play he just watched, he regards this woman as someone of his concern, that he will vulgarly praise or insult as he wishes, because, he believes, by being accidentally under his sight, she is an object for him to derive entertainment from. And so he decides to comment. He does not know her, does not know what she is doing or why she is there, but because in his idea she is now in someway of his concern he will make her uncomfortable, without hesitation.This is obviously a generalization, and a story. Not all men and not only men can catcall and the catcalling is not necessarily against women. Not everyone who catcalls is doing it with harmful intentions, however, in no way am I trying to imply that there is any sort of causation or correlation between going to the theatre and making a women highly uncomfortable in the streets.

But I hope that my hypothetical stories showed some links. Shed some light. And proved some points.

thoughts on catcalling

a Theatre piece by paola lupi