In the past century, our society has made enormous steps towards achieving gender equality, yet, bafflingly, it seems as if no one is addressing the major issue of catcalling.
Of course, there are groups dedicated to spreading awareness, such as Stop Street Harassment, and not every man is a catcaller. Some, like Carlos Andrés Gómez of the Good Men Project, also condemn street harassment. However, it’s clear that there are still many people who think catcalling is somehow acceptable. In a national survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment in 2014, 65 percent of female respondents reported that they had been sexually harassed on the street. In another survey conducted online in 2007 and 2008, over 99 percent of respondents had been harassed on the street at some point.
Even more worrying remains that a disturbing amount of men will even go so far as to catcall children.
I was propositioned for the first time when I was 12-years-old. A young man of maybe 18 or 19 shouted “Hey, baby! Call me if you want a good time!” as I walked past. I don’t remember the face of that man, but I remember with perfect clarity how I hurried home, shame burning hot in my gut. I felt somehow contaminated. Had I done something to warrant that? Was I dressed too provocatively; was I somehow exuding an aura of lewdness?
For the rest of the school year, I buttoned my uniform shirt all the way up, even though it pinched my neck.
Far too often people treat catcalling as some harmless joke. Women are told that they’re being too sensitive, that they should just take it as a compliment, or even that it’s their own fault.
However, it’s important to stress that being sexually propositioned is not a compliment, and catcalling can’t be interpreted as anything but a sexual proposition. No matter how that act is intended, a catcall isn’t a compliment; it’s an insult, only about the desires of the man. The message a catcall conveys is not “I like the way you look” ― it’s “I think your body would be pleasing to me.” Aggressive or persistent catcalling, in particular, is basically akin to saying “I think that I am entitled to your body,” which is kind of a terrifying thing to be told.
Yes, it’s true that most catcallers would never actually attempt to physically assault the women they harass. However, for her own safety, the woman in question must assume that every catcall could potentially escalate.
Returning to Stop Street Harassment 2014 survey, we see that 23 percent of women reported that they had been touched in a sexual manner, 20 percent had been followed or stalked by the catcaller in question, and 9 percent had been forced into some form of sexual intimacy. Women don’t distrust catcallers because they’re “uptight” or “sensitive”; they distrust catcallers because, according to the surveys, a third of all street harassment results in touching and/or stalking. It’s a self-defense mechanism, not “the cold shoulder.”
When I was 14, I was walking home from eight-o’clock Mass when a grown man began to harass me from the other side of the street. After a few shouts, I turned to glare at him, only to see that he was moving towards me. The resulting adrenaline rush was absolutely overwhelming. For the rest of the walk, I was absolutely terrified that I was about to be assaulted. Not knowing if he was still following me was driving me mad, but I was too scared to turn around and look. By the time I got home, I was trembling and damp with sweat, so nauseous that I thought I might puke.
It didn’t matter that he never actually touched me: I was a five-foot, ninety-pound girl on an empty street in the middle of the night. Any display of sexual aggression was a warning that something worse could be next, and there was nothing I could do about it but run away. Yet, when I told the story to my peers, I had someone tell me that it was awfully rude of me to give him the cold shoulder like that.
Perhaps our society should take some time to ruminate on why the egos of catcallers are apparently more important than the safety of their victims.