The Birth & History of Piropos
“Piropos” is the Spanish word for cat-calling, flirtatious comments usually directed at women by men on the street, but it isn’t so easily defined. The word is said to be Greek in origin – (“pyropos” in Greek, means “burning face” – presumably referring to the blushing that occurs after a piropo is delivered.)
Piropos aren’t quite compliments, cat calls, or pick-up lines, and sometimes they’re a little of all those things. Some men, (though they’re in the minority), consider crafting the perfect piropo an art, but not everyone appreciates them. This type of cat-calling can be rude, cheesy, creative, disgusting, degrading, funny, offensive, sexist, inappropriate, sweet, abusive and romantic.
Before the 20th century, piropos were like beautiful bits of poetry, verbally gifted to women as they walked past. Obviously things have changed, and just as some believe “chivalry is dead”, so too are the piropos that were inspired by the heart instead of areas below the belt – at least for the most part.
According to a Time Magazine article from 1953, some time ago a pretty woman walking down the street could expect to hear words such as, “Blessed be the land, where grew the tree, from which came the wood to make the crib where you first drew breath.” Can you imagine? I think most women wouldn’t find such a lovely comment disagreeable in the least.
Unfortunately, eventually such good manners went out the window and the typical cat-calling became much cruder and less poetic. In response, some cities in Latin America tried to make piropeando illegal. One town in Venezuela actually made piropos a finable offense. This gave birth to the new piropo: “If I only had 100 bolivars!”
Today, the piropo lives on, seemingly unscathed. Here are a few modern examples. (We didn’t include any of the truly disgusting ones as they can be quite graphic.)
¿De que juguetería te escapaste, muñeca?
From what toy store did you escape, doll?
“Tanta carne y yo con hambre!”
So much meat, and I’m starving!
Si amarte fuera pecado, tendría el infierno asegurado.
If loving you were a sin, hell would be a sure thing.
Mi amor, si amarte fuera trabajo, no existiría el desempleo.
My love, if loving you were work, unemployment wouldn’t exist.
Si yo fuera un mosquito, ¿dónde tú quieres que te muerda?
If I were a mosquito, where would you want me to bite you?
How Women Really Feel about Piropos
When I polled a small group of my Latina friends on how they felt about cat-calling, feelings were predictably mixed. Some women feel objectified, as if they’re being treated “like a piece of meat.” An especially aggressive piropo can even make a woman feel violated or cause fear for her safety under certain circumstances. Other women welcome the comments as a self-esteem boost, finding the comments amusing or sweet. The majority of women fall somewhere in the middle and say that their feelings about piropos really depends on the situation.
Recent research by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln gives credence to these mixed feelings.
According to the study, an objectifying gaze has the potential to set a vicious cognitive cycle in motion. In the study, women who were ogled were then given math problems to solve. These women performed significantly worse than women who were not ogled. Even more worrisome, the ogled women were more likely to express a desire to continue contact with the person who had ogled them and had caused them to under-perform.
Latinas Have Mixed Feelings on Catcalling
Reaction across the blogosphere is equally mixed. Some women completely reject piropos, becoming enraged at the man’s audacity and even actively shouting back, others ignore them, but feel undressed and debased – a feeling they carry with them throughout the rest of the day, unable to shake off. Sadly, in a world that values feminine beauty over anything else, many women who struggle with self-esteem issues say they “need” piropos to feel good about themselves.
Gloria Pazmiño of the Manhattan Times newspaper writes about her experience living in “El Alto” Washington Heights, New York and the comments made to her on the streets in the summer time:
“Hollering in El Alto could make you feel naked no matter how well clothed you are. But keep your chin up. By walking with confidence you’ve already demanded respect.”
Pazmiño goes on to discuss the matter of respect, and how most cat-calling is offensive because that is what they lack.
Some women take an even harder stance and are fighting back by taking to the internet. iHollaBack.org is a website for women (and also those in the LGBT community), around the world to publicly tell their stories of street harassers and mark them on a map. Doing this, makes many feel like they’re back in control.
Another article, this one by Anna Jane Grossman for CNN, quotes a 31 year old woman from Los Angeles named Jessica, who declined to give her last name. Jessica is at the other end of the spectrum – she welcomes the piropos:
“Yeah, it’s objectifying and all, but you know, if I walked down the street and didn’t have men looking me up and down and cat-calling, I’d think, ‘Boy, I must really be getting old and dumpy.'”
Obviously the responses to piropos are just as varied as the piropos themselves.
Reader Feedback: So, how do you respond to piropos? How do they make you feel? Does the research change your opinion or how you might react in the future? Leave us a comment and let us know!