Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, has recently found himself in hot water over his views on catcalling women on the streets of Argentina.
A few weeks ago, he defended catcalling, a common practice in Latin America that has become increasingly controversial. The 55-year-old is now in the news again for a picture of him lasciviously eyeing a 17-year-old pop star, which went viral this week in Argentina.
Earlier Macri had said that women shouldn’t be offended by sexual comments directed toward them by men in public, even as groups are working to raise awareness that most women feel harassed by them.
"Women who say they don’t like it, and are offended by it, I don’t believe it” said Macri on the “FM Masters” radio show. "There is nothing nicer than a piropo, even if it’s accompanied by something offensive, if someone says ‘nice culo’ it’s all good.”
In most of Latin America, piropos — catcalls — are part of everyday life. It’s a tradition that’s gone modern, there are even websites that offer ideas for catcalls.
But women’s groups are trying to stamp out the practice, which often result in crass, offensive and threatening statements. Macri’s comments came just one month after the launch of a public campaign against catcalling in his city. An NGO named Accion Respeto posted signs around Argentina’s largest city last month, which displayed common catcalls that women regularly hear on the streets.
“Come here brunette, we want to rape you” read one of the many signs, which were posted on street corners and buildings all around Buenos Aires. “You look like a little whore my love,” read another.
Underneath each sign, there was a clarification, “If you don’t like reading it, how would you feel about hearing it?”
Source: Facebook/Accion Respeto
Macri and others believe the comments are made in a lighthearted way, but a recent study found that most women think the catcalls are menacing. The poll, conducted by the Universidad Abierta Interamericana (UAI), concluded that most women would prefer not to be catcalled at all, and feel threatened by piropos.
Over 70 percent of the women surveyed said they’d recently heard vulgar comments directed at them while walking on the streets. Fifty-six percent of women in the UAI study said they cross the street when they see a group of men, and 42 percent said they are simply afraid of walking alone in public.
Not all women agree. “I love [being catcalled]!” wrote commenter rita_frey under the piece about the survey. “I answer nasty catcalls with something even nastier, I laugh heartily at the funny ones, and I collect the gentlemanly ones. They are like pearls that make life funny. Good times!”
But another reader — Mechicabota — replied, “harassment is not just in the words. It’s in the attitude … I don’t go out into the street so you can call me ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’, ‘fat’ or ‘thin’. I go out in public because i’m trying to live my life.”
Soon after his statements aired, Macri apologized, saying one of his daughters scolded him for his comments.
“I made a gentlemanly comment, I apologize to those I’ve offended” he tweeted. “I am against any situation that makes women uncomfortable on the street. And I don’t catcall women like that.”
Reader carlos_gimenez2 wrote: “It it embarrassing that this … represents us. How can someone in a position of power say something so brutish?”
Then, just days later, this photograph of Macri staring lasciviously at a 17-year-old pop singer went viral.
The anti-catcalling efforts have found their way into pop culture too. Popular Argentine comedienne Cualca’s sketch about women’s dislike for catcalling helped catapult her to internet fame. In it, she fantasizes about brutally murdering the men who say threatening things to her on the street.
“Of course, we are completely against murder,” she clarifies at the end of the sketch. “Society is against killing people. But society doesn’t seem to be bothered by you flashing me, and society doesn’t seem to have a problem with you telling me that you want to rape me. So keep on saying it. Maybe one day you’ll work up the nerve to actually rape me.”