The Catcall Video, In Historical Perspective

I wrote yesterday about the infamous “catcall” video that has been the subject of much controversy on the web and in the news. We might think that the phenomenon of men accosting women on the street is a symptom of our decaying culture–I incline toward that view–but a reader points out that the issue has been with us for a long time. It’s just that the remedies used to be more draconian. This is from Slate, last June:

In 1909, Von Tilzer and Lucas’ song was anything but. “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!” played sexual brazenness for laughs, but to many it was an affront—a fire-in-a-crowded-theater provocation that crossed the boundary of decency. The song was a culture war flashpoint, the subject of legal imbroglios, and, sometimes, an inciter of violence. A Missouri farmer who sent a young woman a postcard bearing the legend “I Love My Wife, But Oh You Kid!” was hauled into United States District
 Court in Jefferson City, threatened with five years imprisonment, and given a stiff fine for the crime of “sending improper matter through the mails.” In Los Angeles, a “petite and pretty” woman, Marie Durfee, assaulted a man after he greeted her on the street with the song’s catchphrase. A police court judge sided with Durfee, ruling: “The salutation, ‘Oh, you kid!’ is a
 disturbance of the peace and is punishable by ninety days’ imprisonment in
 the city jail.”

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Other jurists were more severe. The Oct. 28, 1909, edition of the New York Times noted a bizarre ruling by a court in Pittsburgh: “Any man who shouts ‘Oh, you kid!’ at a woman on the street, even though she should be his own wife, should be whipped. The Magistrate said he would not fine any man who administered the whipping.” An editorial writer in Arizona went further: “The man who without cause or reason, says ‘I 
love my wife, but oh you kid!’ would not wear
 his button long, for the fool killer would start 
for him and mercifully end his existence.” That scenario was not, it turned out, farfetched. In October 1910, in Atlanta, a man named N.H. Bassett was shot by George Lambert, a railway company executive, after Bassett approached Lambert’s wife on the street crying, “Oh, you kid!” “It is believed Bassett will die,” wire services blithely reported. “Lambert surrendered, but was at
 once released.”

I-Love-My-Wife-But-Oh-You-Kid

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