By Miranda Krump
The Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)
It’s eight o’clock in the morning and I’m walking to school. I stop at the crosswalk as cars fly past me. I look tired and groggy, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, yet one driver rolls down his window to whistle and honk at me.
Being a teenage girl, I have become accustomed to getting catcalled. However, this does not make me any less upset each time it happens.
Do men think they are complimenting women by yelling out to them in the streets? Does this make it okay? No.
I remember watching a YouTube video posted by Hollaback!, a nonprofit that aims to end street harassment. After perusing the comments section I was disgusted to see just how many people were defending the harassers in the video instead of the victims.
“I hope your cause gets no money. They literally complimented you on how pretty you are and you see that as harrasment [sic],” one comment read.
It seems that men who catcall believe that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Some men even make the argument that the woman’s clothing provokes them to call out.
“If you’re trying to walk out and have guys not attracted to you then try not to wear tight clothes,” one man interviewed by the Huffington Post for an article about catcalling said.
His friend shared the same opinion.
“If a girl comes out in public wearing tight leggings and I can see something back there… I’m saying something!” he said.
However, this is the same interviewee who, when asked if he’d be happy if someone catcalled his mom or sister, said, “No! No, no, no.”
According to Hollaback!, 71% of women are catcalled for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17.
If these results are true, girls as young as 11 years old experience some form of sexual street harassment. There is something seriously wrong with that. It makes me outraged to think girls have to deal with objectification at such a young age.
“[Catcalling] teaches us that from a young age we are sexualized even when we don’t wish to be sexual,” Rachel Gunnerson, a junior, said.
Movements to end street harassment are relatively new, so very little improvement has been seen. It is a difficult problem to solve because in a lot of instances catcalling is not illegal, just wrong and degrading. In these cases there is no real way to punish the offenders.
However, street harassment in the extreme case can be punishable legally. If threats are made, someone is stalked or physically assaulted, then a complaint can be filed. The problem is that many people do not want to speak up about their experiences with harassment, making it difficult to address the issue. According to a non-profit organization called Stop Street Harassment, 91% of people who have been harassed or catcalled think that there is a solution to the issue, but only 53% of them do something proactive about it, like report it or tell the harasser to stop.
So, why don’t women speak up? Maybe they have gotten used to it and have accepted that this is the way things are. Or maybe they are embarrassed that this has happened to them and do not want people to think lesser of them for speaking up.
“I just get so angry and then when you want to say something back because you’re a woman,” Gunnerson said. “You’re seen as a bitch because you want to fight back. It’s also an issue of it can be unsafe to say something back which is completely unfair. They think they have freedom of speech to say whatever they want to you but when you try to say something back it’s not okay because you’re a woman.”
A way that we can make progress is to educate both young boys and men about street harassment and create public awareness. If boys are educated while they are still young, we can instill that street harassment and catcalling are unacceptable things that should not be done. This does not mean that every boy if not taught will yell out to women on the streets, it is just a preventative measure. We also need to create a safe environment in which boys and girls can talk about their experiences with street harassment to show boys how it makes girls feel.
Some men may not even realize that what they are doing is considered harassment.
“This guy came up to me and he had his hand behind his back and he said, ‘I have something for you’ and he takes a rose from behind his back and hands it to me and said, ‘I just wanted to say you’re pretty,” Gunnerson said. “That’s theoretically nice but I feel so uncomfortable.”
By creating more public awareness and letting people know how degrading, damaging and simply unsuccessful catcalling is, hopefully some men will stop.
“Later that day he came up to me and was like, ‘What happened to the rose? Didn’t I give you a rose?’ and I just mumbled something and kept walking,” Gunnerson said. “I’ve had a nightmare about him that he has come to my house and tried to kill me or rape me.”
If we want street harassment to stop, then we need to speak up about it. Write a letter to organizations, file a complaint, tell the harasser to stop, just do something.
Photo Credit:Neil Moralee