The men shouting to women from fire escapes and construction cranes to tell them that they "look beautiful," or that they should "smile more," never seem to understand why the subjects of their "compliments" never seem to take them in stride.
But one tweet from author Kate Harding offers a succinct explanation for why women so often take issue with catcalling: they see it as the thinly-veiled threat that it so often is.
"Why don't we think harassment is a compliment? Because we know "fucking bitch" is on the tip of your tongue," she wrote.
Harding's Tweet came in response to an anecdote of street harassment writer Anne Thériault had just relayed, which closely mirrors the experiences of many women who make the grievous mistake of trying to use public walkways to try to get from one place to another.
The encounter that Thériault describes, which had presumably just happened to her in real life, involves her walking past a "dude" who tells her that she's "...cute...very cute."
When she continues on without acknowledging his comment, the man says, "fucking bitch don't let it go to your head."
Receiving a threat masquerading as a compliment is an experience that a disproportionate number of women experience at some point in their lifetime.
According to an informal online survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment in 2008, over 87 percent of the 811 female respondents said that they had been the target of sexist comments in public. Nearly 57 percent reported having been touched or grabbed by a person they didn't know.
The close link between rude catcalls and physical forms of harassment is well-documented.
In a 2013 article for Ms. Magazine titled, "When Street Harassment Is More Deadly Than Catcalls," Holly Kearl, the founder of Stop Street Harassment, explains why both are forms of sexual violence:
More importantly, both catcalls and assault are forms of entitlement. The (primarily) male street harassers believe they have the right to access girls' and women's bodies. They feel they can say and do whatever they want, and if women don't comply, well, then they're a bitch or ugly, and the men may feel justified in grabbing them, throwing trash at them, assaulting them or running them over.
While a common refrain among men who catcall is that women should "learn to take a compliment" when receiving their unsolicited attention, the violent impulses that so often fuel these scenarios is cause enough for all of us to make eradicating street harassment a priority.