How to be catcalled

It wouldn’t be bold to assume that most girls have been catcalled at least once. It’s just something that happens to girls, right? An inevitable event predicted by our second X chromosome. A little ‘catcall me’ sign actually gets sellotaped to our backs the moment the midwife screams out: “it’s a girl!”. I mean, how else are a group of men piled into the front seats of a white van supposed to react to a girl walking inoffensively down the street? Simply let her be? God forbid.

This catcalling, or (let’s call it what is) street harassment, is the reality of being female for the majority of women at some point in their lives. And since this is the case, and it’s clearly assigned to us at birth, doesn’t it seem a little odd that we’re not being trained for it, that no one’s telling what on earth we’re supposed to do in that humiliating and uncomfortable situation? Of course not. Women and girls alike inherently know that composed glare of disapproval. It’s actually a part of that second X chromosome I mentioned.

Ok. Passive aggression aside, it happens. And it happens a fair bit. In fact, it seems to have this bizarre place in everyday life. And that’s not ok.

Of course, this is recognised, and the work of male and female feminists alike play a big part in the rising awareness of this casualised form street harassment, that can also be labelled as a none physical form of sexual harassment. But while this is recognised, it remains true that it’s not only completely legal, but treated as a form of humour, a joke that girls simply have to brush off.

For me, as just one from a sea of those angry and unsettled about this largely accepted form of objectification, I am currently struggling with one of the many questions surrounding this difficult issue: just how do you react to this?

There’s no denying that there’s so many issues surrounding this question. Ignoring catcalling excuses it, reacting encourages it and, in my experience, flicking them the Vs encourages them even more. It’s not only a casual and senseless objectification of women, but it’s a cruel display of public humiliation. What’s more, catcalling belittles women, they are the ‘cat’, the small, innocent, powerless and adorable little creature. They are the prey. And the wolf-whistler is the wolf. The strong and majestic predator. These connotations from the names that we give to sexually motivated street harassment as a society tells us enough about its motivation as abuse and also, society’s attitude toward it.

So maybe as we wonder how on earth we’re supposed to react to the issue, the elimination of these colloquial, yet derogatory terms would be a good place to start. If we stop labelling abuse in a way that encourages the motivation of the act and start calling it what it is, the stigma it deserves may start to arise in the place of the blasé, jokey and lighthearted attitudes that currently surround it. And in terms of how we’re supposed to react to catcalling in the moment, as we’re caught off guard in the street, humiliated and objectified, perhaps the technique that was suggested by my father might just work best. Don’t give them the time of day until you sit down to write an article about them.

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