"Tatcalling" - Harassment or Dumbassment?
08:38 AM
the tattooed wonder otto dix.jpg
The Tattooed Wonder, Otto Dix, 1920.

There's a new tattoo hashtag trending on Twitter: #tatcalling. It's a clever play on "catcalling" that came out of Melissa Fabello's piece yesterday entitled, "My Tattoos Aren't an Invitation for Harassment - So Please Stop 'Tatcalling' Me."

As a tattooed sister in the struggle, I know of what Melissa speaks when she talks about that dude crouching near and telling her, "Can you turn a little this way? I'm trying to look at your legs." He (or one of his bros) was crouching by my newly tattooed legs last week.

It's summer time here in NYC and you can't escape the tattoo creeps -- those who celebrate the heat and the showing of more tattooed skin, just so they can pay the ladies some innocent compliments like ...

"Let me see more of that ink." "You must like pain, baby." And even if said innocently, "Nice tats!" still makes me cringe.

Last week, Melissa tweeted -- using the hashtag #tatcalling -- every tattoo-related catcall she received. Her total came to ten -- 10 times in 40 minutes. Sounds about average in my life, if not on the lower end.

It's important that she notes just how many times she -- we -- get called out for our tattoos, because it's often the aggregate effect of all those calls, and not just that one "Nice tats!", that become so annoying, and does interfere with going about our day peacefully.

Melissa breaks it down like this: "If your comment or question cuts into a woman's right to space, time, or bodily autonomy in a way that makes her uncomfortable or distraught, it's street harassment." She outlines points on tatcalling to support this.

As a tattooed feminist, I agree with a lot of what Melissa has to say. But there are some points she makes that I don't find universal.

She writes "tatcalling is a direct comment on a woman's body - because tattoos are literally part of our skin." True dat. But there's no way of getting around the whole body thing when one wants to have a serious conversation or pay a legitimate compliment to the work that is on that body. When I see really beautiful tattoos on someone -- whether it be on a man or woman -- I just want to run up and ask the person about them. To learn who did it. What the process and experience was like. And then, of course, run back to all of y'all and blog about what I found. I do try to gauge the right time and place for my special form of nosiness, but if I gauge wrong, I'd say it would be more about dumbassment than harassment.

I thought it was great that Melissa mentioned Elon James White's hashtag #DudesGreetingDudes in raising the question, "If, when men street harass, they're really just paying a friendly 'hello' to the women they encounter on the sidewalk, why aren't they paying that same respect to men?" Melissa states that the same would apply to men talking about tattoos to other men in the street. But I have witnessed, often, men coming up to one another talking about their tattoos because -- when it really is about the art and design -- gender doesn't matter.

What isn't fully fleshed out in her list is that a lot of people, like myself, still feel some sort of community or kinship to other tattooed people. When I fell in love with tattoos as a teenager, tattooing was still banned in NYC (up until 1997), and you just didn't see that many beautifully and heavily tattooed people around as you do today. Despite being so immersed in the tattoo world today, I still get excited seeing great work and often feel a connection to the person wearing it because of our shared experience. While Melissa rightfully notes that she's not calling people with an actual interest in tattoos as "tatcallers," I'd hate for anyone reading the article to feel that he couldn't legitimately talk about my work for fear of being deemed a street harasser.

Also, a lot of the usual questions we all get, like "How much did it cost?" and "What does it mean?" are not really meant with bad intentions. Again, it would probably fall under my dumbass than harass category.

Overall, though, I think Melissa's article makes some good points and is a conversation starter (even if she doesn't want her tattoos to be), and I recommend reading it. Share your thoughts on it in our Facebook group or Tweet at me.

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