Summertime means a lot of things to a lot of people — warm weather, vacations, elaborate justifications of ice cream as a breakfast food —but for most women who spend any amount of time in public, summertime is the season of catcalling and street harassment.
It’s crazy that we girls, have been taught that “boys are boys” and they do this, so we shouldn’t mind or feel bothered at all. Me myself I was taught like that! But I realized that catcallers are trying to humiliate you, reinforce their dominance over you; it’s an exercise of male power. It’s a way of communicating “I can say and do whatever I want to you, no matter how inappropriate or how uncomfortable it makes you feel” and you can’t do nothing about it. Catcalling is not a compliment, it is a threat.
Furthermore, it’s deeply upsetting that women are made to feel guilty or ungrateful for not
accepting catcalls as compliments. I can’t speak for all women everywhere, but based on my own experience and the experiences of my female friends, family, I think I can safely assert that most women don’t feel like they’re being complimented when they’re catcalled.
What do these catcallers even hope to get out of the exchange? Whistling at me from across the street and commenting how nice my ass looks in a pair of polka dot shorts is not the type of behavior I find attractive in a potential mate.
Ignoring the catcall while wishing I could beat the guy’s ass is my usual tactic, but I began to wonder about how other women coped with catcalls. What do we usually say to our street harassers? What do we wish we could say or do to them? And what does the distance between those two things tell us about life as a woman in public?
Bellow, some women answered my questions. Maybe their answers will inspire you — or at least make you feel less alone out there.
How Do You Respond?: “It really depends on the nature of the catcall. Whistles, hooting, any non-word-noises don’t get a response at all. A suggestively inflected ‘Hey baby, how you doing?’ earns a ‘I’m doing very well young man, and how are you?’ Too many men are socialized to believe that acting like wildebeests is the only way to get the attention they want; if you want to have an interaction with me, I’ll speak to you, but we’re absolutely going to elevate the exchange to my comfort level.”
How Would You Like To Respond?: “I wish I could get all ninja, female-empowerment, speak for my sisters everywhere, but my natural vibe is more to just take what starts as a very inappropriate and uncomfortable interaction and dial it down to vanilla.”
How Do You Respond?: “When I’m getting catcalled, I usually pretend they don’t exist and walk as fast as I can.”
How Would You Like To Respond?: “Actually, I would like to tell them my opinion on what they said, ask them why they do it. But that wouldn’t be possible anyways, they would laugh at me.”
How Do You Respond?: “SHUT THE F*CK UP I AM A STRANGER WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME LIKE THAT?”
How Would You Like To Respond?: “More loudly than I already do, so that all within earshot can hear me.”
How Do You Respond?: “I ignore them, but sometimes I say, ‘Alright, relax.” I feel like this diffuses the situation/ makes them feel like idiots (their faces kind of fall as if to say, ‘Oh, I’m being so weird right now’).”
How Would You Like To Respond?: “By punching them in the f*cking face. Alternatively, I would like for their daughters or sisters get catcalled in front of them.”
How Do You Respond?: “I actually don’t respond, I just look at them with the bitchiest face I can make and I try not to waste my time with people like that.
How Would You Like To Respond?: “I would like to go to them and ask them, what they want to reach with this kind of behavior, because I know that they just feel like they are BETTER, and I want to hear that from their own mouth so I can have a conversation about gender equality and disrespect towards women. Some males, weren’t raised right, and catcalling makes them feel stronger, that their sex is more worthy. It starts with catcalling and ends up with raping.”
How Do You Respond?: “I’ve experienced a lot of harassment over the last few years. I used to respond to catcalling with avoidance, averting my eyes and walking a bit faster. As a response to more tenacious harassers, I used to smile begrudgingly and respond politely (“thanks”) out of fear of what they wee capable of.
How Would You Like To Respond?: “I only recently started being more vocal in my dissent. I have found that turning to the man, making eye contact, and saying a firm “ew” or “don’t talk to women like that” can be powerful. I wish I could do more, (and lecture them about public safety, sexual harassment, and male entitlement!) but I worry about my safety, and the experiences often make you too shaken to respond how you’d like.”
How Do You Respond?: “I don’t. But after I pass those boys, I laugh quietly. Why you may ask. Easy. Because it’s funny to me how desperate those boys are and how much they crawl for attention from a random beautiful girl passing by.”
How Would You Like To Respond?: “How I would like to respond? To laugh in their face, and try to put them in my position, in my shoes, to make them understand what it feels like to be disrespected that way.”
How Do You Respond?: “It took me a while to figure that catcalling is wrong and it feels like you are submissive and dominance of a male. I used to respond with smile back then, but things are different now. I would rather be respected and asked how I feel toward things, than desired and miss treated.”
How Would You Like To Respond?: “I ignore them now, since I’ve decided that they can’t have a power over me.”