The Daily Caller's Patrick Howley has a new essay complaining that liberals want to trample another American freedom: the sacred right of males to stare at the boobs of women they see on the street. It's all a troll, of course. (No one can espouse lines like, "51 percent of the U.S. population is a victimized group now. Don’t you know? Women are like Indians now," and keep a straight face.) It's not so much a sincere attempt to grapple with the world as it is, but instead a naked effort to spark "politically correct" outrage and hate-reads. And that's fine. Who among us hasn't been starved for some clickies? But there is one paragraph in Howley's essay that is actually revealing, even if unintentionally, because it gets at what makes street harassment so strange and infuriating: harassers always think they're the first one to comment on a woman's anatomy. They think that if they don't live out a cliché, no one else will. It's not harassment, it's public service! Or something. As Howley writes:
Ladies, how are you going to feel when the progressives prohibit men from paying you a compliment on your walk home from the bar? You know there’s always one friend of yours who waited all night for that.
Well, no, I don't know any lady who's ever waited all night for that. While Howley ticks through some common experiences that might ring true from the male perspective — "catching a side glance of some cleavage on the subway," etc. — the passage above has no relationship to reality.
More rapes are committed by acquaintances than strangers. But the late-night walk home always feels a little dangerous, even if, at age 11, your dad taught you how to hold car keys so you could easily gouge someone's eye out if attacked in an empty parking lot. (Or was that just me?) Ladies might love a compliment from their boyfriends, but receiving one in a deserted parking lot is just creepy.
That second sentence is even more telling: "You know there’s always one friend of yours who waited all night for that." What is this supposed to be? Your "fat friend"? Your wingman? Your sidekick? "Hey Ashley, did you have fun at the bar tonight?" "No, no one said a thing about my butt." "Oh that's too bad—" **Wolf whistle** "Whew I feel better now, thank you."
Take away the time and location factor and Howley still (accidentally) hits on the most annoying and weird part about street harassment — the expectation of gratitude for the male gaze. Howley's imaginary woman's imaginary friend waited all night for a catcall, and she's relieved when she finally gets it. This is typical of street harassers who think they're the very first to ever positively rate a woman's physical appearance, whether it's a "Hello gorgeous!" or a "HOT TITS!" They stand there for a beat, like they're waiting for you to say, "Why, thank you!"
Howley seems to imagine these stranger boob comments to be charming in an old-school-finger-guns kind of way. But he doesn't seem to be aware of more bizarre greetings, like the time a guy on the subway offered to have anal intercourse with my friend until she got diarrhea. A few years ago, I was walking home and saw a grandfatherly old man walking towards me. I'd seen him before in the neighborhood, and he smiled at me. So I smiled back at him. "Hi," he said. And I said, "Hi" back. And then he said in a monster voice, "I'll lick your pusssayyyy" and stared at me hopefully. I did not say thank you.
I blame the cult of female humility. There is an expectation that a woman be attractive at all times but never know she is attractive until she is old and nostalgically looks at faded photos of her youth. This idea is spelled out in the insidious teen pop hit, "You Don't Know You're Beautiful," by One Direction, ("You don't know you're beautiful/ that's what makes you beautiful") as well as countless teen makeover movies like She's All That.
But for Howley it's just a log to throw on the liberals-are-no-fun pyre because they don't want guys to check out boobs. It would be more troubling if he actually believed what he was writing. But he should think is troubling is that he's teetering becoming a One Directioner, erroneously imagining that the women he sees walking alone on the street is dreaming about the day, some day, when a man (maybe a man like him!) will say for the first time ever that her butt looks hot in those jeans.
This is not true. And Howley will not be the first.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.