• Do men catcall because they're sexist or just confused? (Is Australia Sexist?)
Tyler’s brief appearance within the documentary had a profound impact on me. I now realise this – comments aren’t just comments.
Michael Jarosky

4 Dec 2018 - 7:56 AM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2018 - 8:25 AM

While taking selfies with ocean views, men drive by and shout obscenities and honk horns at her. In Perth’s CBD, they stare and make comments about her body: “you have nice long legs”.

Tyler, as seen in an experiment airing as part of the SBS Documentary Is Australia Sexist?  is just trying to go about her business.

Standing alongside the road side at a busy Perth beach, Tyler recorded how many times she was catcalled from passing cars. Filming the interactions, under the premise that she was taking a selfie, Tyler was catcalled eight times in as many minutes. Her male counterpart, Nathan, was catcalled zero times.

Is Tyler receiving a compliment, as 22 per cent of men believe according to a new survey? Or is she one of the 40 per cent of women in Australia that have experienced sexual harassment in a public place?

Webster’s defines “sexual harassment” as: uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student).

One could debate whether the man commenting on Tyler's legs seen in the documentary was in a position of authority or not, but one thing is certain – tooting horns, comments, and glances that turn into stares ended with Tyler feeling harassed and feeling she wanted “…to run away, cover up, never go out again...”

Tyler’s brief appearance within the documentary had a profound impact on me. I now realise this – comments aren’t just comments. They can snowball and cause daily psychological trauma to our neighbours, sisters, and daughters.

As a seasoned veteran in the world of singledom and app dating, I’d been asked by SBS to offer insight into why men think such behaviour is flattering. 

It’s the classic “cat chases mouse” game. Traditionally a man leads the dance, buys the first drink on approach, and a man makes the first phone call or SMS. A catcall is the bottom feeder’s verbal phenomenon of the “first move”.

To be noticed. A man won’t lob a pebble or break into a Fred Astaire song and dance to get a woman’s attention. Instead, they use the sleazy wink or unwanted words. Some men simply get aroused by “she noticed me”.     

Some men lack style and class. Men feel striped pants complement a chequered shirt. Other men put tomato sauce on freshly grilled lobster. Unfortunately, some men think “Hey love, great tits,” is a compliment.

Bullies continue to bully. Playground bullies turn 18 at some point, and unfortunately the adult playground for bullying is the Facebook comments section, within bars, and on the street as women pass by.

To dominate within the pack. When four lads speed pass a woman and one shouts something obscene, he does it to put his bravado on display. He’s the pack’s King Lion deserving of the Lioness. Boys will be boys – it still exists. There’s more… some might think it’s funny. Some clearly think women like it, and others might have found it worked for them once.

I’ve never catcalled per the construction site cliché, however not long ago as I stood at Sydney CBD street lights waiting to cross around lunchtime, I noticed what I’d call “a stunner”. I got schoolboy-passing-her-a-note nervous. I wanted to say hello. I stalled, but as we crossed I summoned the courage and said, “Pardon me. I just want to say you look lovely today.”

She turned and looked at me with such disdain – I know the look that Biblical lepers received.

I thought I was being kind, complimentary, and friendly. Yet that look is cemented in my mind- I haven’t taken that leap again. Am I a pervert? Should I not be giving women compliments? Is there a #MeToo guide to consult for such information?

Regardless of me being shot down, men need to re-think what being kind, respectful, and a tad flirty is in 2018 and beyond. Australian women are being harassed on the street, afraid to walk alone at parks at night, and domestic violence is sending women to homelessness, hospitals, and even worse.

Men generally know what’s right, but we are also confused… Five years ago, what was once considered a cheeky compliment is now potential harassment.

Is “you look lovely today” sexual harassment to one group yet a G-rated compliment to another? Is a 50-year-old man wearing tradie gear complimenting a 25-year-old woman a “harassing pervert” yet a 27-year-old peer in a suit considered a “nice compliment and opportunity to exchange mobiles”? When comments on Instagram are sought after currency, what’s acceptable and what’s not?

Inherently men understand that catcalling is weak, amateur behaviour. It’s a one-sided arrow being shot with no defence, and when it’s pack mentality vs. one woman it’s beyond confronting – it’s downright scary.

For those 22 per cent of men that believe such comments are compliments, pause first and ask yourself: “Is this the right place? And is my energy and the words I’m about to utter to a woman kind and respectful?”

In 2004, only 38 per cent of respondents supported same-sex marriage – 13 years later, 62 per cent voted “Yes” in the plebiscite. Further, 83 per cent of Australians support gender equality. I do know this: men love and admire their Australian mothers and sisters, and respect extends to female co-workers and strangers on the streets.

“Is Australia Sexist?” Nah, it’s a country progressing from its blokey past, and there are some growing pains in the process. Australia will continue to change for the good, replacing fear and harassment with equality, but even now it’s a damn fair place to live for men, women, and the next generation.

Michael Jarosky is the author of Swipe: The Game has Changed.

Is Australia Sexist?  premieres on SBS on December 4 at 8.40pm. The show will also be available to stream on SBS On Demand.

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