The first time I was catcalled, I was twelve years old. I was on vacation with my family, walking along the beach with my little brother, when a man around fifty years old yelled at me from afar. He was with a group of roughly five other men his age when he made an inappropriate comment about my body. As most women are taught to do, I completely ignored him and kept walking. Right when I thought it was over, he aggressively yelled to me, “You’re not even gonna look at me, bi*ch?” I felt extremely threatened and scared. Not only did this old man sexualize my pubescent body, but he also screamed at me and called me a bi*ch. I felt violated; I didn’t know how to react. How was I supposed to react?
Throughout my life, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and have visited many countries worldwide. I have witnessed or experienced catcalling in various ways everywhere I’ve traveled. Catcalling is a form of street harassment, and it happens every day all across the world. Unfortunately, almost all young girls and women have experienced catcalling at some point in their lifetimes. Although I don’t think I will ever fully understand, I have tried to understand why a man might think catcalling is acceptable.
From my personal experiences, I have identified two possible (still unacceptable) explanations for why men may participate in catcalling.
First, I believe some men think catcalling is socially acceptable and that it’s just another way to flirt with women. If a man isn’t confident enough to approach a woman and attempt an appropriate conversation, maybe he thinks saying something in passing will catch a woman’s attention. Catcalling catches a woman’s attention but in a highly uncomfortable and threatening way. It is unlikely that a woman will respond to catcalling by engaging in further conversation with someone who just disrespected her.
Second, when men are in groups or with their friends, they might catcall women to seem macho. When men are together in groups, they often do and say things they wouldn’t if they were alone. As a woman, all catcalling is humiliating and scary, but I feel like getting catcalled by a group of men is significantly more threatening. There is power in numbers, and when it comes to street harassment, it can be genuinely terrifying.
No matter what the explanation may be, catcalling is inappropriate, disrespectful, and a violation of women. Catcalling can lead to sexual violence and physical assault, which no woman should ever have to experience. So what can we do about this ongoing issue? Although I don’t have all the answers, I have some advice for any woman witnessing or experiencing street harassment:
- If you find yourself in a situation where you’re a victim of catcalling, ignore the perpetrator as best as you can. Avoid all eye contact and remove yourself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible. Harassers want you to acknowledge them, so don’t.
- If you experience catcalling and you are around a group of people and feel safe, take your phone out and very obviously take a picture or video of the perpetrator. (I’ve done this countless times. They get so uncomfortable and don’t know how to react— it’s great.)
- If you witness someone experiencing street harassment, you can kindly approach the victim and ask them if they are okay and need help.
- If you are in a situation where someone won’t leave you alone, and you feel unsafe, don’t be afraid to call for help. Remember, street harassment is illegal in most states in the US as well as in many other countries.
I wish that I had more answers and advice for you all. Catcalling is truly dehumanizing, and I wish there was more that we could do as women to prevent this from happening. I want to hear from my readers: what advice do you have for women that experience or witness street harassment?