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How do we solve a problem like catcalling? – Part 3: Becoming a male ally

Illustrations of multiracial fists raised in unison
Credit: Freepik

Deep dive / by Conor D'Andrade


This is the third part in a series of three articles about street harassment. You can read part one here, and part two here.


Despite decades of progress pushing for parity between women's and men's rights, catcalling remains an unwelcome – and all too common –occurrence for women. In the third of 3 articles on the issue, Conor D'Andrade examines the crucial role of men in the fight to end street harassment for good.

A common opinion shared by organisations whose sole aim is to end street harassment once and for all is that the behaviour of men plays a crucial part of the solution. Not just in challenging their own views and beliefs, but also in challenging those of their male peers too.

Many suggest that, by providing other men and boys with healthy definitions of masculinity, whilst exposing them to powerful and accomplished women, male allies can help other males recognise women as role models. And the research seems to confirm this.

The reason for this seems to come down to the general interests of misogynistic and sexist structures. In layman’s terms, men’s complaints of sexism are taken more seriously because it runs against a system that benefits them.

In any scenario of inequality, these types of argument are significantly more persuasive than those that serve one’s self-interest. So, while women are completely correct to call out any form of sexism when they receive it, because this act is perceived as being in their own self-interest, it carried less weight and legitimacy compared with if the same complaint was made by a man.

This is undoubtedly deeply unfair. But it is the social context we unfortunately live in.

Speaking up to encourage speaking up

Ultimately, this all means that men have a responsibility to speak up. And in doing so, the likelihood that other men will come to realise how unacceptable their actions are, the more likely they are to confront sexism when they see it themselves.

This is especially important when considering the number of women that self-silence due to fear of the negative consequences women receive when confronting sexism. For male allies, calling out sexist behaviour can help create an environment where women experience a lower cost when confronting it themselves, increasing their confidence that they will be heard and their concerns taken seriously.


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Catcalling is an unwelcome and all too common occurrence for women. Conor D'Andrade examines the impact and intentions of street harassment.


Being an ally not a white knight

There is, however, a way to go about speaking up against sexism. While it is certainly an area where male allies can help significantly, speaking up should always ensure that the needs of the woman are put first as she is the victim.

Unfortunately though, many men can cross the line between being an ally that supports women, to being a ‘white knight’ – a term that describes a man who takes part in so-called ‘benevolent sexism’, which is a type of sexism based on the perception that women are weaker and therefore in need of protection.

Often, being a white knight comes in the form of paternalistic helping which can not only be condescending and threatening to its recipient, but can also result in the victim’s concerns being overlooked and the situation potentially being made worse. Playing the role of a white knight is also often thought to be done so with the hopes of increasing their favour with the woman they are ‘protecting’ and even hoping to receive sexual favours in return.

It should go without explanation that a true male ally confronts sexism because they recognise it is an injustice, not because they expect something in return from women.

Equally, this means that men should not confront sexism on a woman’s behalf, and instead they should be willing to provide their support. One way of doing so could be letting the victim know that sexism directed towards them was witnessed and that support is available for them if they want it. The victim is then given a choice to accept help or not, the latter being an option they are fully within their right to choose without concern of the man taking offence.

How to solve a problem like catcalling

So, with all things considered from this series of articles, how exactly do we solve a problem like catcalling?

It is clearly important for catcalling to be confronted, as doing so helps others realise it is unacceptable. But, as most catcallers hold traditional values as well as an inability to recognise their pro-social ‘compliments’ as sexist, it is unlikely confrontation from the victim would be very effective, highlighting the importance of men in working toward a solution. That isn’t to say that men should be confronting catcallers directly as doing so can be life threatening for men too.

Considering 12% of catcallers wanted to intimidate the victim, it would be unsafe to advise immediate confrontation with catcallers as clearly some of these men are dangerous.

Instead, a focus should be placed on educating boys and men on the harms of sexism and benevolent sexism, which catcalling ultimately is. Alongside providing them with strong female role models and teaching men to empathise with the difficulties sexism presents to women, conversations between men – led by male allies – can hopefully be facilitated. Then, healthier ways of initiating interactions with women can become more commonplace, with catcalling finally becoming a thing of the past.


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