“Respect” for women varies between cultures, countries, and social classes. In the United States, many define respect as ‘the treatment or admiration of something or someone.’ All human beings are vulnerable, but possess many strengths. Respect for another person means being aware of and acknowledging their vulnerability as well as their strengths, yet supporting them, without condescension.
Women in American society face disrespect, sexism, and misogyny from men almost daily; where their vulnerability is being acknowledged, but their strengths are being overlooked.
In New York City, which has a population of over 8 million people as of 2015, in this day and age, public disrespect amongst individuals has become a norm, especially to women.
From time to time, female public harassment stories are printed in New York media sources, but media coverage does not grasp the severity of female public harassment in the city. New York residents have named this form of gender-based harassment as “catcalling.”
According to the 2015 Oxford Dictionary of English, ‘catcalling’ is defined as “a loud whistle or a comment of a sexual nature made by a man to a passing woman.” Catcalling has often gone farther than just whistling or harmless comments. Women have been called distasteful words and, at times, have been inappropriately touched or physically manhandled by strange men on the streets.
The New York Post journalist Doree Lewak called catcalling “flattering” in her August 2014 article “Hey Ladies! – Catcalls Are Flattering! Deal with it.” Lewak’s article received a lot of backlash due to her reasoning to why catcalling shouldn’t be taken seriously. In the article she says, “[Men] need something to look at while they’re on their lunch break. I can be that objectified sex thing for them! What’s so wrong about a ‘You are sexy!’ comment from any observant man?” Women who have read the article have called Lewak “disgusting” or “ridiculous” and have accused her of “encouraging low self-esteem in women.”
Many female New York Post readers felt offended by Lewak’s article stating that she “failed” to realize that catcalling is degrading, disrespectful, and can lead to physical violence. According to authorities, catcalling is a form of sexual harassment. In response to Doree Lewak’s article, blogger Michael Hollan wrote, “What Catcalling Really Means.” “The idea that women should appreciate catcalling is weird, because it’s implying that catcalling is done with respect,” says Hollan. “The guys doing it don’t care [that] it’s disrespectful. [They] are just hoping that the girl’s self-esteem is low enough that she’ll just be happy that somebody has noticed her.”
In France, there is a vast difference in how women are treated by men compared to New York. From random men pulling out a woman’s chair before she sits down to men giving their seats up to women on public transportation, men in France show more courtesy, decorum and chivalry to women than men do in New York. Gender-based street harassment happens in France as well, but the percentage to how often it happens is low compared to the United States.
Paris has a population of 2.2 million people while Nice (South France) has a population of over 343,000 people. There are many differences in each city when it comes to the behavior of individuals in public, but the courtesy and respect for people are the same.
On many occasions on the Paris Metro, men often offer their seats to ladies, regardless of if she was young, pregnant, or elderly. Other acts of chivalry include pulling out a chair or opening a door for women.
Catcalling or other forms of social disrespect for women rarely exist in France. Catcalling makes women feel disgusted, insecure, and many times, victimized, especially if strangers use derogatory language, talk about a woman’s body assets, or physically harm them. Most French men think of themselves as equal to women rather than superior to them. Unlike American men, French men do not have the egotistical hunger for male dominance and masculinity. French men do not obsess about the perfect body or being more dominant than women.
Body language is another thing that differs between French and American men. While the majority of American men seem to have a tough exterior, French men are very relaxed and serene. They are very comfortable in their own skin and comfortable with their sexuality; they do not feel like they need to show their masculinity to be confident or manly.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is an artist from Brooklyn who has spent years trying to raise awareness on street harassment against women through art. Because many women are afraid to speak up to their harassers, Fazlalizadeh draws portrait sketches of women who have experienced such harassment daily and puts a quote under each sketch on posters to give these women a voice. She then hangs these posters in various parts of New York City streets to get their messages out.
Culture plays a large part in the difference in behaviors and actions of individuals in France and the United States. America is a large boiling pot of different cultures, religions, beliefs and lifestyles, so respect for women varies from state to state and from community to community. The French do not separate themselves by community or state. They consider themselves to be more unified than Americans as a whole nation, so social behavior and respect between the north and south of France do not differ.
Though disrespect towards women happens worldwide, French men tend to respect women more than New York men respect their women.
In a nutshell, men in France seem to respect and value their women more than American men value theirs. A woman is not a man’s possession. She is a human being with free will, talent, opportunities, and choices. Acknowledging all of this defines “respect.”