Written by Tender Youth Board member Liana.
Catcalling genuinely makes my blood boil. The Oxford Dictionary defines catcalling as “a loud whistle or a comment of a sexual nature made by a man to a passing woman”. As a 20-year-old woman I have experienced on-street harassment such as catcalling in a variety of contexts, from comments such as “alright sexy” to drivers honking their horns when driving past me walking in the street. Sadly, this is only a selection of my catcalling experiences and harassment. Cornell University evidences that I am certainly not alone with my experiences, with alarming findings that “85 percent of women in the US have experienced street harassment by the age of 17, 67 percent by 14, and a further 77 percent of women have reported being followed by a man that made them feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the past year.”
I sometimes wonder whether the perpetrators understand the effect catcalling can cause, or are they disillusioned in thinking that catcalling is complimentary? Catcalling certainly is not flattering and often leaves individuals feeling scared and intimidated. Chivalrous behaviour should not be dead; a far more desirable way to act is through personal interaction in an honourable, polite and respectful way, especially towards women. This involves a two-way conversation where individuals are willing to listen and respond. After all, an individual will soon let the other know whether they are interested or not, instead of shouting direct statements in the middle of the street. A Buzzfeed YouTube clip entitled What Catcalling Feels Like discusses the negative responses to catcalling; a few examples of these responses from this clip include; “it feels really scary”, “it makes me feel insecure because I wonder what I did to invite it” and “I don’t like it”. I certainly agree with these responses, highlighting the seriousness of the matter, as we all have a right to feel safe and respected.
Catcalling is certainly inexcusable, and often harassers would attempt to justify their actions by blaming the victim’s choice of clothing. Regardless of whether an individual is wearing revealing clothing or not, catcalling is intolerable. Excuses are unjustified and untruthful as catcalling occurs on a daily basis to a range of women in a variety of settings. A YouTube study shows the extent and examples of catcalling that occurred when a female silently walked for 10 hours through New York, wearing jeans and a crown-necked t-shirt. The experiment found over 100 instances of verbal street harassment which took place within those 10 hours, involving people of all backgrounds. This doesn’t include the countless winks, whistles, and more. The results of this experiment highlight how regularly catcalling is occurring within society.
A major factor which contributes to the seriousness of catcalling is that individuals are unaware of procedures to undertake when catcalling occurs. As an individual who has been both a victim and a witness of catcalling, I often find myself reluctantly walking on in silence, choosing to ignore the comment or action due to the fear that confronting the issue may hinder my safety. This is both disheartening, disempowering and results in me feeling defeated. Arguably there is not enough awareness on the correct protocol as to what should be done before, during or after catcalling or other on-street harassment occurs. I am included in this, forcing me to research this topic. My first observation from researching procedures around catcalling is that there are large quantities of contradictory information and a lot of advice from unreliable sources. Nevertheless, I did find a useful website (stopstreetharrasment.org) which has large quantities of information and advice both about dealing with harassers, what to do before and after harassment and more. I learnt from this website that if the individual feels it is appropriate to calmly but firmly tell the harasser that what they are doing is unacceptable. Other courses of action include handing out flyers, reporting incidents to the relevant authorities and, perhaps most importantly, intervening when somebody else is being harassed by simply checking if they are okay. After all, we all have a duty in educating others about the inappropriateness of catcalling and street harassment. Despite this website being somewhat insightful, the website is a US website and therefore some information such as harassment and the law is irrelevant. This suggests that there is a limited amount of information in relation to UK catcalling and harassment and that we should have more accessible information around this topic which is designed for UK citizens.
I question why some individuals within society view catcalling as acceptable, perhaps one explanation is due to the lack of education. The current quality of sex education is, in my opinion, poor, or in my educational experience, basically non-existent. I feel that sex education should be viewed as important, worthy and respected as a subject, and that it should not only involve safe sex practices, but also include lessons on abuse, harassment and respect.
My hope is that individuals become more aware about the negative feelings cat calling causes and that society adopts more respectful, less threatening approaches to talking to women. It is everyone’s duty and responsibility to support others who are victims of catcalling, and if it is safe to do so to intervene when catcalling occurs. Doing these things will hopefully lead to a safer, less threatening society.