Yes, demanding women debate you is like catcalling

Conservatives are very upset this week — one might even say ‘triggered’ ?— because New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez likened the expectation that she respond to Ben Shapiro’s “debate” offer to catcalling:

How dare she, the right is screeching, claim that a man asking to debate her is akin to sexual harassment. CNN host S.E. Cupp, for example, tweeted that Ocasio-Cortez was diminishing real victims of catcalls and that “women in politics shouldn’t conflate sexual harassment with debate.” (Naturally Shapiro is using the opportunity to drum up publicity — which was always the point.)

But here’s the thing: Ocasio-Cortez never said Shapiro was harassing her — or even that the offer to debate was like catcalling. She tweeted about the expectation that women respond to any random offer from men, no matter how disingenuous the offer or how unserious the man.

And that is exactly like cat-calling: It’s the idea that women owe men their time and attention, no matter what. Both the stranger on the street trying to get your number as you walk to the subway and the stranger online who challenges you to a debate come from a place of believing that they are entitled to women’s conversation, time and attention.

There’s a reason this “debate challenge” is the strategy du jour of sexist men. It allows them to rile up their fan-base by suggesting that women are just too cowardly to face them head-on, while they feign bafflement as to why these women would find the offer aggressive rather than genuine. (“But I just wanted to talk!,” he said on Twitter or walking next to you on the street.)

Most of all, it allows them to glom attention and publicity from smarter and more serious women. The idea that women should respond to debate challenges from men far beneath them is sexist, full stop. Debating these men — or even responding to them —suggests that they are people worthy of your time. It elevates them.

Take a lesson from the hat I’ve been wearing on the beach this last week: “Women don’t owe you shit.”

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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