Public harrassment

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 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.

Men will catcall at women regardless of how they are dressed. Source: Every Stock Photo


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 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 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.


I’ve experienced street harassment for much of my life. I often try to ignore it, suppress the resulting anger and continue with my day. I did this because I was unsure of how to respond effectively.  If I reacted it seemed to only excite the person. Instead I responded with silence and glares.

It was not until a recent incident, which seemed to encapsulate all other  experiences, did I decide to change and create this blog to help myself and other women find their voice to stop street harassment.

A Light Rail station. There are rarely any security officials on the platforms Source: Everystockphoto



Hey Sweetheart

I take the Phoenix Light rail to  ASU three days a week. Our light rail is on street level, so the platforms are  well-lit and public. Despite this I am on a slight level of alert when I take the light rail.

Several weeks ago, I was waiting on the light rail platform. It was 11:20 am on a Tuesday. After the typical rush hour period the platform was sparsely populated. I noticed two men rush across the street and jump onto the platform, but dismissed them.

Then, as I’m looking down at my book, I hear someone yell out, “Hey sweetheart!”

I look up, silently indignant that someone would say this and I see the two men who had just jumped onto the platform. They appear to be Hispanic and in their late thirties. They walk up to me and one sits down next to me and shakes my hand.

He then proceeds to try to sell me a bus pass, saying he and his friend need money to eat. I tersely explain this is not my concern. After repeated  refusals, he tries a different tacit and tells me I have a beautiful smile, even though I’m not smiling.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes” (I lie).

“Girl you need to drop that motherfucker and get with me, I’ll treat you right.”

I grimace and say, “He treats me exactly the way I want him to.”

He finally gets up to leave, but not before saying,  “You dropped something-your beautiful smile,” and laughing at my confusion.

Immediately after this another light rail pulls up. A man gets off and hollers, “Hey baby girl, hey there baby girl.”

All I do is look down and shake my head no.

Maybe if I covered up like this I would be left alone Source: Everystockphoto

A Place of Rage

I was filled with  intense anger and frustration.  I didn’t know how to respond to these men, who thought it perfectly  appropriate to invade my personal space simply because I’m a young woman alone in public.

Even during this exchange I knew my response was wrong. I should have told this man to leave or walked away from them. This is not to implicate blame on myself or any other women who has reacted similarly,  for his actions, but I was disappointed in myself for not asserting my right to be left alone.

Assert Yourself

Stop Street Harassment has a useful list of assertive responses to harassers. However, before being able to respond this way you have to access the anger these incident cause and utilize it.

Realize that whoever is bothering you does not have the right to do so. Just because a person is in a public area does not mean they need to experience these types of interactions. You are allowed to tell a harasser to leave you alone. Try and take the anger and anxiety the person is causing in you and unleash it back onto them. Don’t bundle those feelings inside and ignore the person. Remember you are powerful and many harassers are cowards who will leave you alone if you talk back.

How do you respond to street harassment?

Every girl has been harassed in public.  You’re waiting for the train, walking down the street,or waiting in line when you notice a man staring at you. He’s either looking you up and down or just staring so you’ll know he notices you.  You don’t want to cause a scene and certainly don’t want him to approach you, so you simply frown and look away. Despite this maybe he smiles, calls you sweetheart, or even touches you. He has suddenly violated your personal space without an invitation.

I’ve been caught in these uncomfortable situations many times. My standard reaction has always been the wrong one. I’ll politely smile, nod my head and engage in small talk. But I am frustrated with these ineffective methods that place responsibility on the woman. I’m tired of strange men thinking they can call me baby and ask for my phone number.

The below video, titled “Objectified,”  by Tiye Rose Hood contains further stories about women reacting the same way I do to harassment.

According to a study by Stopstreetharrassment. org over 99 percent of women have experienced some form of street harassment.This includes:

  • leering
  • whistling
  • shouting
  • vulgar gestures
After talking with several women I’ve noticed they don’t  know how to handle these situations. Although they may have a can of mace or knife, most do what I do and ignore the catcalls. Yet, woman should take a more empowering and proactive response. Instead of looking away or walking faster, woman should actively deflect and refuse harassment. A friend of mine has also repeatedly encountered these situations. However she uses a different tactic; she screams at them. She recalls one time she was waiting for the train and noticed a man staring at her. Instead of ignoring it, she turned around and yelled ” What the f*** are you looking at !?”  The man quickly stopped staring.

Hopefully this blog can find ways to defend against these encounters without resorting to  pulling out a knife or can of mace.