Please before reading my post, I encourage you to watch the video below or read the brief summary article linked below!
In November 2014, a viral video went up of a young woman walking around New York City showing her getting cat-called numerous times by men. CNN interviewed Amanda Seales and Steve Santagati to talk about their reactions to the video. Santagati expressed that the “bottom line” is that women are upset about cat-calling because not all the men who do it are attractive. He expressed that if the men cat-calling were “hot” then they would be “bolstering your self-esteem, bolstering your ego,” essentially saying if the men were hot then women would be grateful for their comments. Amanda Seales responded to him by stating “you are wrong,” and that most women leaving the house “are not looking for compliments.” The rest is a back and forth between Seales and Santagati, with Santagati defending the male perspective.
The reaction I had from the assigned readings was the same as the one I had fr!om watching this interview, which was FRUSTRATION. Frustration from how close the Moral Reform Society came to getting into women’s rights but couldn’t let themselves criticize the traditional family structure. Frustration that even when women choose to express passionlessness, men acted like it was their decision. And frustration from the idea of women owing sexual favors to men in the 1840’s still is mirroring viewpoints in today’s society.
The New York Female Moral Reform Society accomplished a lot as women of that time. They were the first women to travel the country without a male escort. They financed and published their own journal, and joined women all over the country together as a sisterhood. They gave jobs to women, proving they could do them just as good as a man. The Moral Reform Society joined together to end the double standard and manage men’s sexual behavior. I loved and disliked this essay. This society achieved so much, but when faced with feminist issues they pulled away stating that they wouldn’t go against the traditional family structure. That it was too risky for respectable women to be associated with such a “forceful role for women.” (Rosenberg, 583) With such a large following, I feel like this society really could have made a difference earlier on in women’s rights if they hadn’t shied away from the issue. I also think people today still tend to shy away from feminism in fear that they will come off as too forceful like the society claimed.
Nancy F. Cott’s essay states, “passionlessness favored women’s power and self-respect.” (MP, 136) Using this technique, women were not seen as mistrusting and as weak as they had been in years previous. With that weakness towards passion gone, the clergy saw women as “complementary” and a couple as “marriage partners” not as a hierarchical relationship. (MP, 137) Women expressing passionlessness enabled them to be in control of sex within their marriage as well as the size of their families. The irritating part of this reading is the fact that there was still a double standard surrounding this issue. Women used this to dominate their own bodies, while men “wanted to desexualize relationships to maintain their domination.” (MP, 140)
The CNN interview reflects a great deal of what was going on the same city almost 200 years ago. In the 1840’s the Bowery Boy was produced. The Bowery Boys were neither for women, nor against women. They acknowledged women as their companions, and defended them against men who were purely looking for sex. Yet, the Bowery Boys still saw women on the sidelines. Within the working class were men who believed “that women owed sexual favors in return for men’s generosity.” (MP, 131) Take Caroline Wood’s case for example. She went on a late night outing with a suitor, who took her for ice cream and a boat ride. Since the suitor deemed himself as generous he expected sex from her, regardless if it was consensual or not. The unfortunate similarity between this reading and the CNN interview is the theme of shaming. Men tried to shame women like Caroline Wood in the 1840’s for not returning the generosity. Today, men like Steve Santagati are shaming women to leave New York City if they aren’t appreciative of the catcalling comments. This just tops off my frustration, while I learned a lot from the reading, it’s crazy how some of the topics covered haven’t seemed to change in 175 years.