Like many women, I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable catcalling, whistling and inappropriate heckling while trying to engage in daily activities.
While not every man who opens his mouth on the street has a sexual agenda, I have encountered all types of men–from 18-year-old boys walking home from school to a dad adjusting his child’s car seat–who have gone too far.
Degrading comments like “do you want to make a mistake, girl?” or “let me show you a good time, ma” turn a nice Tuesday morning walk to sociology class into an undesirable and displeasing experience.
In October, a YouTube video called “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” documented a woman’s experience while walking down a busy street in an urban city. The video shows the different reactions that women received while walking from point A to point B. The responses started as innocent greetings and compliments but quickly turned to vulgar, sexual offers.
Out of 54 randomly selected women on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area, 100 percent of them said they have been targeted with street harassment before, according to a study by Northwestern University.
Catcalling is already an ever-growing issue, but it is reinforced in our society by women who say that these comments should be taken as compliments. Fox News anchor Kirsten Powers said, “When I was younger it bothered me, but now if they don’t (catcall), I’m like ‘excuse me?’” If that kind of opinion of this issue isn’t a problem, then I don’t know what is.
These experiences of street harassment have subconsciously and consciously changed the way I walk down the street. Before I was old enough to understand what catcalling was, I would carelessly skip around the sidewalk and make friends with people passing by on my way to the local grocery store.
Now, I try to not engage in direct eye contact with any member of the opposite sex with whom I am not interested in interacting. This involves looking down at my feet while I walk or looking straightforward and pretending I don’t see the lurking guy yelling at me from his passenger window.
These incidents don’t only occur when women are caught alone. They happen when we are going out with a group of girlfriends for Friday night drinks or a Sunday morning brunch. Verbal street harassment does not have a timetable, and it only gets worse and increasingly vulgar as the sun sets.
After the videos documenting what women experience on the street went viral, many members of the media and public were outraged while others defended catcalling. Media outlets like Fox News disputed that the women provoked men with their appearance and clothing. If women didn’t wear such tight leggings and low-cut t-shirts, maybe they wouldn’t be verbally harassed in broad daylight, they argued.
The media should be more aware of the message they are spreading about the problem instead of defending catcalling. Instead of telling men to refrain from making sexual comments at women, the media have made it seem like women are at fault for tempting men with our bodies.
Many young girls are taught in their youth to look the other way, ignore or tune out the men in the shadows of city streets who bark out inappropriate slurs. But as I grew older I realized that feeling uncomfortable while walking to class in an outfit I was excited to wear was not something that women should have to accept or come to terms with.
It’s men and women, like the Fox News anchors, who belittle the wrenching feeling in the stomach of most women when they hear the unwanted advances during their daily commute.