I have not been able to live a catcall-free life. Men catcall me at every street corner or public space for as long as I can remember. Highway is another common place for catcalling- yes, men catcall while they drive; it is dangerous and not sexy. Any weather condition from 10 degrees below in Chicago to 100+ degrees in Texas, men feel the urge to comment on my appearance or to voice their sexual desires. No matter what a woman wears, her outfits should not warrant any harassment or assault. And it turns out that what you wear isn’t even a trigger to street harassment. I get the unwanted attention with any outfit- from full makeup with long hair in a fitted dress to no makeup with messy short hair and glasses in my sweatpants under heavy winter coat.
Street harassment is such a common occurrence in my life; I expect it to happen as soon as I step out of the door. With catcalling, I never know what he is going to say or do to ruin my day. I have been followed a few times by strange men on the street- I would go into a store and wait for the stalker to leave me alone. There’s also incidents when a man attempted to touch or grope me.
The only time that I am safe from catcalling is when I walk with a man close-by as in shoulder-to-shoulder close. If I walk a few steps back from a male friend, I will still get catcalled. It’s happened a couple times when I was out with my husband and friends- because I was too far away from the pack, random man would assume I was alone and add me to their daily list of felines to hunt. The only way that I could think of to avoid street harassment is to not go out at all, but that is just not fair.
I thought about fighting back with different tactics.
What if I say something back to the catcaller?
What if I start wearing clothes with “NO CATCALLING” written allover?
Should I wear my headphones so I can block out any noise?
I decided not to take any of those actions due to fear. If I infuriate a man, he could hurt me even in public. If I start an argument, I may be late to my appointment since most catcalling happen while I am on the go. Wearing “NO CATCALLING” clothing isn’t exactly friendly for a corporate office environment and I do need my job. Listening to music or tending to an electronic device isn’t a good solution because I prefer to be aware of my surrounding at all times. Also, the good Samaritan in me always makes me remove my earphones and listen to what strangers are saying to me on the street. What if they need help with direction? Just to be annoyed that he is yet another catcaller who wanted to tell me how beautiful I looked that day and inquire my status of being taken or not.
Like free, on-demand porn, catcalling is an instant entertainment for men without any legal or societal consequence. Right, most catcallers don’t rape you physically and catcalling usually ends within a few seconds. But since when rape is only about physical assault and the duration? It isn’t even about sex! It is about the mental control over women that permeates your body and soul, dictates how you act forever, and discourages you from making choices freely.Every woman is on display for public scrutiny simply because of her gender. Street harassment reinforces both objectification and self-objectification of women along with other patriarchal values and norms.
So who are those catcallers? I don’t believe they are rapists or sexual offenders going around and looking for their next target. They are probably considered normal in a different context and have their own family with mothers, sisters, & daughters. The problem is that they don’t respect women outside of their own circle and they don’t feel like a man unless they humiliate or criticize women in some way. Many street harassers probably hate on women on the internet and dismiss their female coworkers.
Like most gender inequality issues, street harassment isn’t about women. It is about how men are taught and conditioned to dehumanize women. It is about what defines masculinity, femininity, and power in the rape culture. It is about how we educate our children about gender roles and stereotypes.