Some evenings ago while riding home, I passed a group of young men lolling around, smoking; one was dancing to music from a small Bluetooth speaker. One of the "youthmen" called out, "Dahhhhhhhhhhhlinnngggggg!"
I ignored it, but thought: “What is it about the average TT man on the street that makes him feel entitled to call out to women in the ways that some men here do?"
“Pssssst”... “Dahlin”...”Sexy!”... “Take me wit yuh, nah!”
It is such a "cultural norm" here that one might even overlook it as a familiar noise, like traffic in the background or like the pounding of a piledriver that at first is annoying but then "disappears" with repetition.
In the past (in Trinidad...I haven't done it yet in Tobago) I've stopped on many an occasion when men catcall and cordially ask why they find it necessary to do so...if they really think they're going to get a response, and if they really think women like it, because most (maybe all?) don't.
When confronted about it, they always appeared stunned at first, not expecting to be asked...or maybe never having been asked before.
Often, responses have been the same: "Ah didn't realise ah was doing it"... and/or "Daz how I did grow up."
Some men, when confronted, ended up chatting further with me about it and, at the end, said they would try not to do it again. Maybe they never stopped, or perhaps they thought about it differently when they did it again and eventually stopped...perhaps they asked female friends about it and gained other perspectives...perhaps, on account of the way in which they were socialised, it was a part of their culture, somewhat like an addiction.
Yet they would go to another country (eg England, Canada, somewhere "developed") and not do it. Maybe they might silently think "Psssssst" in their heads, but would be less inclined to let the sound leave their lips, just as in those countries they would not push and rush in lines, throw garbage out of car windows or stand at the side of the road, whip out their "manhood" and relieve themselves for all to see.
So why do they do it here?
Rhetorical question. No need to answer.
The following is a blogpost I had written years ago when living in Trinidad:
“On the way back home, walking and glancing at the papers, I heard a loud 'Pssssssst!' coming from a nearby building. I ignored it and kept walking. Again, I heard: 'Pssssssssssssst! Pssssssst!' It persisted, so I walked a bit further, stopped, turned around and went back to the Pssssst point. Two men were sitting in an office. One was looking at me through the window. The other was smoking a cigarette, peeping now and then and looking evasive. I stood at the fence and beckoned with my hand for either (or both) to come out. After about a minute, the one who was looking through the window came out. I estimate he was in his early 30s.
"'Hello. Was it you who just said psssssssssst when I passed?' I asked when he got to the fence.
"'No, no, it was’n’ me. It was he.'
"'Well, please let him know that he would get a response when he says a genuine good morning.'
"'I ent mean nutting by it, yuh know. Is just psssssssst.'
"I told him that women don't like to hear pssssst.
"He responded that some do and some don't.
"'I don't think any woman likes it,' I said. 'Not even those who look like they do.'"
"He looked sheepish and surprised.
"'Well okay, den. Ah could tell by de way you was walking by..., He paused, looked at my headwrap: 'You is a rasta? I could tell you prefer good morning. An' you know what – I respec’ de way you come back here to tell me all what you tellin' me. I could see you follow de Order, den. De way how you come back. Respec’, respec’.'
"I told him that I respected him too, for the fact that he listened to me and that we could have had our conversation and come to this understanding. We shook hands, exchanged names, wished each other a good day and parted.”