Catcalling: Normalized Street Harassment

Written by: Sanjevni Prasad

Catcalling (n) the act of shouting, harassing and often sexually suggestive, threatening, or derisive comments at someone publicly (Merriam-Webster). Street harassment is common and experienced in a variety of ways by anyone. Included are testimonials directly from members of the UWB community. Each individual briefly described their experiences and shared a takeaway from the story that they would like to inform those that are participating or think about participating in catcalling. The reason behind this article is to educate our community of how frequent street harassment occurs.

DISCLAIMER: Trigger warning. Details in the following testimonials may be triggering. Please care for your personal well being if you are triggered at the bottom of the article UWB Violence Prevention and Advocacy Program Manager’s contact information.

K.P., sophomore:

“At the gym that I work at I was just working out in the morning. Wrapping up my workout this man approached me and told me that I was very pretty and asked if he could rap to me. Thinking it was funny I said sure. So this man pulled up a beat on his phone and started rapping to me and he thought he was really good at it. Afterward, he kept asking if I wanted to go to the studio with him so he can write me more songs and write me an album. I said sure sarcastically. Then he said that if other guys were to ask if I was single to tell them that I was taken and have a boyfriend. This was all just after meeting him five minutes ago. I told him I can’t do that since I don’t have a boyfriend and he said to tell them I am talking to someone instead. I told him I can’t do that either and afterward, he asked if I wanted to watch him shoot hoops for bae. Although this was an uncomfortable situation this was funny, it didn’t feel like a dangerous situation since I work there and my supervisors and directors were in the building. However, I can see how someone else in my position and wasn’t connected with the facility can feel extremely unsafe.”

Take away from the story- “if they have their AirPods in don’t talk to them.”

V.C., senior:

“Yea so it was just me and my friend walking in Cap Hill, we were going to a concert. We heard a voice and they were like “hey, how’s it going” and we turned around and saw two guys in a car. The guy in the passenger seat was sticking his hand out of the window and kept shouting “hey”, “how’s it going”, “I’m talking to you”, we didn’t reply and they called us a bitch and I did middle fingers up.”

Take away from the story: “Just don’t. It’s really aggressive and there are better ways of talking to someone. Their ego gets hurt and they call you a bitch.”

N.F., junior:

“I had an experience where someone that was an old coworker who was a classmate who messaged me over Facebook. And he was kinda persistent, showing interest, wanting to talk to me like ‘that’, it wasn’t sexual but you know they were interested in getting your attention. And then, they did ask me out but it was in a creepy way. He asked me if I could go out to get a drink or if I was a child if I was old enough to drink. Also, he did this with other girls. and he would message me on Facebook in class. After I said no he understood, but when I was in class he would talk to me and try to be flirty. Since the quarter ended he hasn’t messaged me anymore and I haven’t seen him.”

Take away from the story: “If it is obvious someone isn’t interested in you don’t be so persistent.”

S.A.:

“I was with students on a train in St Louis and noticed a man who wanted to, seemed like he wanted to talk to one of my students. He got closer and sat next to her and then told her “you have a nice smile”. She got really small and turned away and ignored him. He said again “you have a nice smile”, wanting him to go away and interrupt this harassment. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I decided to say “you have a nice smile too”. That seemed to catch him off guard and he asked me “what did you say” and I said, “you have a nice smile too”. He got up and ran to the back of the train and started telling his friend what had happened and said “can you believe what that guy said to me? he said I have a nice smile”. Then, he got off at the next stop, off the train.”

Take away from the story: “If you are a bystander or witness to harassment or catcalling and its safe for you to disrupt it, then it will make a huge difference to whoever is affected.”

A.C., junior:

“When I was 18, I took a trip to Portland and used the city’s public transport light rail to get around from my hotel. I ended up going to the opening night premiere of “Logan” and I was taking one of the light rails back to my hotel around midnight and there were a few people, including two maybe mid-twenty-year-old men, in the same car. I was on the opposite side of the train and one of them yelled something over at me which I don’t remember what he said because I ignored them but he persisted and yelled again “Hey pretty girl, you 18 yet?” I responded that it wasn’t his business. The guy responded back asking for me to smile for him and I told him no in which his friend piped in and asked why I was being mean to his friend. I didn’t respond and ignored him. I was getting close to my stop and I remember slowly inching towards the door. The first guy spoke again: “C’mon babe, I’m just tryin’ to be nice, I’m sure we’d get along great” in which he then proceeded to literally spread his legs. I don’t remember what else the guy said but the guy stood up right before the light rail door opened and I don’t think I have ever ran that fast in my life because I was scared the two would follow me. Luckily, I made it back to my hotel safely.”

Takeaway from the story: “If you have to ask if I am 18, just don’t”

Elizabeth Wilmerding is the University of Washington Bothell’s Violence Prevention and Advocacy Program Manager and when reached out for information on catcalling and whether recipients should counter. Her response was the following:

“Catcalling (making whistling, barking, and/or kissing noises at someone in public) is one type of harassment that falls under the umbrella of street harassment. Other types of street harassment include yelling sexually explicit comments, flashing someone, following someone or blocking their path, groping, and more. Street harassment is never okay. It degrades people, makes people feel unsafe, causes people of certain identities to feel unwelcome in certain spaces, has been found to have negative impacts on people’s physical and mental health, and can be especially harmful to people who have experienced other types of sexual violence or harassment.”

As a form of harassment Wilmerding clarified that, “[s]treet harassment is never the fault of the person who experiences it. We should all be able to exist in public spaces (no matter where we are, what we’re wearing, or who we’re with) without experiencing catcalling or any other form of harm.”

Wilmerding expressed her vision of the future, “we need to create a culture in which people who harass are held accountable for their actions. The most effective way that we can all contribute to this culture shift is by becoming active bystanders. The anti-harassment organization Hollaback! has a fantastic guide to bystander intervention, which includes the 5 D’s of intervention strategies: Distract, Delegate, Delay, Direct, and Document.”

Wilmerding shared that using the 5D intervention strategies can have a positive impact on the individual harassed, “[t]here has been some research that individuals who are harassed may experience less of an emotional impact if they respond to it in some way.” However, an individual is not required to respond, “To anyone who has experienced street harassment, please know that you are not at all obligated to respond, there is no perfect response, and that how/whether you respond is completely up to you.

If you do want to respond, try following these steps, as suggested by Hollaback!: 1) Trust your instincts, 2) Reclaim your space in the safest way possible, and 3) Remember that you are awesome, that this is not your fault, and that you’re not alone.

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