What is catcalling?
Any type of shout, yell, comment or noise of a sexual nature directed at a woman for the purpose of getting their attention.
Stop Street Harassment.org defines it : Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.
Why is catcalling an issue?
I often hear from people and read in articles (like this) that women should consider catcalls a compliment. Also that women should be flattered a stranger on the street thought they were so attractive that he had to say something.
But few women respond to catcalls this way. In actuality catcalls make women feel scared, threatened and demeaned. Several sites created by women to document harassment stories prove this. The Tumblr site How Many Women Find Street Harassment Flattering is one site that documents women’s street harassment stories and how their experiences made them feel.
One story, posted August 25, 2011, explains:
“It makes me sick, thinking that every car and every group of men I pass on the street will insult and harass me. I feel myself tense up when I pass them, expecting to be jeered at, and then a jolt of suspicion and fear if they don’t say anything. I wish I could understand what makes people think they have the right to speak to me, to anyone like that.”
I know this is how I feel when I’m walking down a street and see an individual man or a group of men. I always prepare for a lewd comment, whispering or staring. My body will tense up and I avert my eyes as I quickly walk by.
Catcalls are demeaning because they impose a right over your body in public. Catcalls tell a woman that her body is for public consumption and that men have the right to turn a woman into a sexualized object in public. Catcalls are also threatening because they indicate possible assault. Women do not know if they stranger who called out ” Nice legs baby, come over here,” is going to follow her down the street and grab her.
Why do men catcall?
It seems many men think they are flattering women or that women appreciate the attention.However this is not the case. It is my opinion that men catcall to elicit a reaction from women. Occasions where I have negatively responded to catcalls I still get an amused reaction from the cat caller. I do feel better for confronting them though.
In an article posted on BBC.com Hollaback! Founder Emily May explains,
“It stems from a broader culture of gender based violence,” says May. “To shift that culture it takes people standing up and saying street harassment is not okay because most people in our society don’t want it to exist.”
In an article for Alternet, Lou Paget, an AASECT-certified sex educator and best-selling author of The Great Lover Playbook, Explains that there are three types of catcalls.
- The “lunch buddies” catcall
-This apparently involves the group mentality and men do it to impress their friends.
- The “Bitch Would Never Fuck me” catcall
-When a man sees a woman he thinks is out of his league he’ll resort to catcalling for her attention; which he couldn’t get otherwise.
- The “I Just Adore Women” catcall
-This reason involves men thinking it’s their responsibility to tell women how beautiful they are.
Perhaps men catcall for attention, for dates or for some primeval need to attract a mate. However, catcalling rarely works. If these men truly wanted to interact I would prefer a “hello how are you?” instead of a lewd comment about my breasts.
How can women respond?
Each situation is unique and a singular response may not be the solution. Many women choose to ignore the catcall, some verbally respond. I know that ignoring a catcall only makes me feel powerless and angrier. It is possible that the catcaller doesn’t realize his behavior is unwelcome. So by telling them to stop, you may be deterring him from future catcalling.
Stop Street Harassment.org has several options for responses.
Six suggestions for how to talk to a harasser:
1. Use strong body language. Look the harasser in the eyes; speak in a strong, clear voice. Using your voice, facial expressions, and body language together, without mixed signals, show assertiveness and strength.
2. Project confidence and calm. Even if you do not feel that way, it is important to appear calm, serious, and confident.
3. Do not apologize, make an excuse, or ask a question. You do not need to say sorry for how you feel or what you want. Be firm.
4. You do not need to respond to diversions, questions, threats, blaming, or guilt-tripping. Stay on your own agenda. Stick to your point. Repeat your statement or leave.
5. Do not swear or lose your temper: This type of reaction is the most likely to make the harasser respond with anger and violence.
6. Decide when you’re done. Success is how you define it. If you said what you needed to say and you’re ready to leave, do so.
Although these are all valid suggestions, each individual has to assess the situation. if you feel safe to respond, go ahead and say something in your defense. If you would rather ignore it, that is alright too.