After listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the Friend Zone, which encounters everything from pop culture, mental health to natural remedies, I am often sparked with new knowledge or perspectives about being my true self or naturally getting rid of a cold. This week’s episode, We’re Not Gonna Take It, the hosts discussed street harassment and catcalling from their city of New York and the recent death of Pittsburg woman, Janese Talton-Jackson. Talton-Jackson was murdered after rejecting advances and followed from a bar. Cases like Talton-Jackson are not unique. There is an overflow of cases of women expressing their lack of interest and shortly after assaulted or killed.
Catcalling and street harassment has become such a integral part of my life and so many others. When something becomes a integral part of your life, we often forget its weight. Catcalling is unwanted and non-consenual shouting, yelling at an individual with the intent of portraying sexual attraction. On the other hand, street harassment can vary from catcalling, approaching to disregarding physical boundaries. I cannot count the amount of times that I felt unsafe due to unwanted comments thrown at me. Being an African-American woman, many comment on my skin color. While visiting New York City, an older man referred to me as chocolate. This was not the first time someone has hypersexualized me and made me feel like a body instead of a soul. A large part of those experiences have not been on streets, but in familiar places to me. One afternoon (2 pm- 3pm) while in a grocery shopping alone, I was followed from aisle to aisle. I cringed while avoiding the stares of the male stranger and hurried to find what I needed. At one point, I called a family member and stayed on the phone to avoid further interaction.
Harassment has progressed from brief encounters to conversation starters. Now, I experience individuals trying to insert themselves in my daily life. I know others have stories similar to mine of harassment beyond the street. To the individual, they may think it is harmless in a public place. But it is quite terrifying. For someone to follow you and then try to start a conversation that goes from ‘hello’ to ‘what’s your name’ is really invasive. There is an expectation of complying with advances like I should be flattered to receive such attention from a stranger. As a response to this expectation, I have set responses for when harassment happens. I personally do not respond. In order to avoid further interaction, I avoid eye contact. But not every person is like me, some respond in a way they are most comfortable with. An interesting article from Bustle, “Do You Respond To Catcalling? 23 Women Reveal How They Reply To Street Harassment”, describe the response of women and what they would like to really say to their harassers. Many of the women, express wanting to be a confident and confrontational but end up ignoring or being polite instead. It is understandable to want to make an uncomfortable and cringe-worthy experience as pleasant as possible. With all the cases like Talton-Jackson’s, many fear their actions could lead to their harm.
It is not okay. Our culture should not normalize catcalling or harassment. Women should not be hesitant to give a genuine reaction in fear for their lives. Everyone wants to exist without interruption. While operating in our daily lives, we should not expect to be confronted or harassed.