“Whooooooooh, baby! Aye, how ‘bout you bring your fine ass ova here and let me explore your candy land, sugar-tits!”
This is one example (albeit from Urban Dictionary) of street harassment or catcalling. But does it really matter? After all they’re just words aren’t they?
When I think back to the few occasions on which I have been harassed in public, I remember experiencing feelings of embarrassment, violation, occasionally fear and usually anger. It doesn’t often make a difference what a woman is wearing, how she is acting, whether she is alone or in a group – pervs will be pervs. Catcalling is not a compliment. A compliment is defined as “a polite expression of praise or admiration” given genuinely, in order to please someone or make their day better. Lewd comments made on the street are neither polite nor respectful and usually lead to women feeling uncomfortable or threatened.
I often wonder what the perpetrator stands to gain from shouting at women as they pass by. Are they expecting her to swoon when they tell her to get her tits out? I’ve read that when a male hippo finds a female hippo attractive, he shits and pisses on himself, as a bizarre form of mating ritual. On a primal level, it may be a way for the underdeveloped male to assert his dominance. When looking at it from a human point of view, catcalling is about as sophisticated as flinging your faeces or beating your chest at someone you fancy. It seems to be one of those oddly archaic activities which hasn’t dissipated despite us supposedly developing into a more civilised society.
According to the Telegraph, 90% of British women experienced street harassment from puberty. Globally, on average 84% of women had experienced before the age of 17. This means that it is not only an issue for everyday sexism and feeling comfortable while going about your daily business, it is causing many young girls to think that street harassment is a normal part of being a woman.
In this week’s instalment of ‘Ask the Audience’, we asked a group of women whether they thought catcalling was a problem. Read what they had to say below:
“Hannah”, 32, Solicitor, Hertfordshire
I’ve not experienced it too much myself so I can’t say it’s a problem per se but it is something which I feel is completely unnecessary and sexist.
“Shabana”, 19, Law Student, Norfolk
Yes. It’s aggressive and demeaning to women and may make them feel physically unsafe. It just needs to stop.
Meera, 24, Project Co-ordinator in Community Development with a housing association, Banbury
Generally, it doesn’t bother me. But it is still a problem because many women do find that it makes them feel vulnerable or ill at ease, and it can easily be a gateway to more aggressive or violent behaviour.
Hazel, 59, Family Lawyer, Surrey
It used to be but I am now old enough for it not to happen. I am appalled by the treatment of my daughter, nieces, younger colleagues etc.
Charlotte, 31, Marketing Manager, Essex
I hate catcalling I think it demoralises a woman … Why can’t you just walk down the street without someone bringing attention to you? They don’t know you or your life – I’ve had men say to me cheer up, it might never happen! I want to be able to go to shops without being stared at.
Nissmah, 22, Architecture Student, United Arab Emirates
Catcalling isn’t as much of a problem here, but I can imagine how bad it is in the west. Again both the genders are to blame. Knowing the nature of man, obviously if a woman goes out dressed in a provocative way she is bound to attract such attention. On the other hand, boys from a young age MUST be taught to be of respectable characters and lower their gazes.
Nisha, 24, Litigation Executive, London
Catcalling is a problem if a woman, at any point, feels uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with a man or woman giving another man or woman a compliment. But the method of delivery is key and the only person who can decide if they are offended or uncomfortable is the person who is subject to the catcalling. The second that person feels as though it needs to stop, it needs to stop.
Blanca, 57, Teacher, Santander (Spain)
I wouldn’t call it a problem, as it is becoming quite a thing of the past (at least where I live). Everybody likes getting a compliment from somebody you know, but quite a different thing is to be catcalled in the street by a bunch of men or by any man, really, who is not a friend.
“F.A.”, 23, Medical Student, London
Yes. Catcalling is unsolicited, and those who do it often expect a response to gratify their egos. When this doesn’t happen, when you don’t smile and play nice, it often turns nasty – you get called an unfriendly bitch, or you get threatened. This can be a frightening experience, and in this day and age, if I am going about my business and you are doing something that makes me walk a little faster to my destination, or worry a bit more about getting home safely, then that is a problem and it needs to be addressed.
So what do you think? Is catcalling a problem where you live or work?
Tune in next week for the next instalment of Ask the Audience!
Thanks for reading,