Catcalling Should Be Illegal, But Until Then, Fighting Back Is The Answer
12:45 pm, June 12th | by Laura Donovan
Summer, my favorite time of year, is here. A misplaced Californian in dreary New York, I should be thrilled that the season I live for has finally arrived, but I’m actually dreading the coming months. Warm weather means I finally get to wear the gorgeous flowing Italian sundress that has been collecting dust in my closet since September, but also that I’m going to be more vulnerable to catcalling and inappropriate street harassment until fall rolls around. And I’m not alone.
Countless times a day, women all over the world are targets of demeaning catcalls and street harassment, which, as anti-street harassment nonprofit HollaBack! puts it, “is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against.” Up until the campaign started, few had addressed the issue publicly, and it’s bothersome that something that has been proven to be detrimental to everyone could remain under the rug for so long.
But most women, especially in big cities such as New York, were so used to getting eyeballed or bothered on the streets by random men that they chose to ignore inappropriate, unwanted, and creepy advances from strange dudes. Not the fiery redhead in the video below, though. After a weirdo allegedly approached her with his condom-covered phallus on the subway, the young lady started screaming and exposing the man for the perv that he was. While some laughed at the feisty woman’s theatrics, others poked fun at the classless jerk and gave him a dose of his own medicine:
The clip went viral and many cheered the fierce lady on for calling the guy out, but some managed to turn the tables on the victim. One commenter argued, “I am not condoning what the man did, but when I live in NYC, a lot of times, I would see women ‘Rubbing Up’ with there [sic] Breast, on men holding the pole’s in the middle. They are the one’s encouraging Guys to do his kind of stuff and make it hard for the rest of the women. I use to feel sorry for them. I guest [sic] they didn’t have a man in their life and missed the touch of a man, and would do just about anything for that feeling !”
I hear responses like this all the time. When I’ve complained about strangers ambushing me on the streets or saying things such as, “I’d pop that,” some have berated me for being “unable to take a compliment,” as if the gesture is in any way flattering or intended to make me feel good about myself. One blogger argued in a blog post that “New York women pretend to hate catcalling, but only if the guy isn’t cute,” which is incredibly off. If someone makes me feel violated, I’m uncomfortable regardless of how attractive the violator is.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t boil up and lose my cool when faced with street harassers, but I refuse to accept this kind of behavior as a social norm. A friend of mine laughed when a guy on the sidewalk shouted, “Baby got back! Back that ass up!” in her direction, and while I take my hat off to her for being able to brush it off rather than get worked up, I don’t want to live in a world in which I’m expected to tolerate inappropriateness anytime I step outside my apartment or be grateful that I’m getting attention.
Hollaback! pushes for the use of mobile devices to put men who catcall in their place, and while I started a movement in the same vein a while back with my “Creeper Watch Blog,” I know fighting fire with fire doesn’t work for everyone.
Chloe Angyal of Feministing said the same thing. Though not a fan of street harassment herself, she says she doesn’t believe every single man who catcalls is a pervert or that humiliating him is necessarily the right move for everyone.
“There can’t be that many creepy pervs in the world. I don’t think every man is a creepy perv, I think that men who street harass do it because there’s something wrong with the culture, not them,” she told The Jane Dough. “A lot of times it happens with groups as ‘male bonding’ or because they can, not because they think it’s going to get them a date. That’s how they express their ownership of public space, it’s not about being being attracted to someone. It’s about who gets to move freely in a public space and a reminder that she’s not in charge in this situation.”
Angyal, like me, will sometimes tell catcallers to “f off” or yell at them before large groups of people, but she recognizes that some women worry this could put them in danger.
“I would never want to give blanket advice because everyone has to do what feels safe and right to them,” Angyal said. On the other hand, she said, women can also put themselves at risk by saying nothing at all, as men could interpret that as the female “failing to acknowledge that he’s the king of the jungle and in charge.” You can’t win.
As Angyal said, there’s no universal solution to this that works for every woman. While I always make a point to call out men who carry themselves this way in public, some might not feel comfortable pushing back. Ignoring works for some, but until street harassment is banned or punishable by law (and I really do hope I live to see the day when this happens), there need to be more groups against it and people agreeing that it’s unacceptable.