A message to catcallers

A message to catcallers

Emily Doran

This past week, I did something which I normally try to avoid doing (although, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s necessary): I walked across campus alone in the dark. In this case, my solitary evening amble was inevitable. I had attended a meeting and needed to get home. My situation was as simple as that. Still, as much as my inner feminist would love to scream “take back the night!” so that I could proceed to walk alone in the dark unfettered by fears of being criminally accosted, I can acknowledge that, realistically speaking, the world in which we live is not (and probably never will be) conducive to this type of action.

As I was walking alone on this particular evening, I was yelled at by a man in a passing car. I hardly had time to react before he sped away. Still, his verbal assailment immediately triggered my flight-or-fight response. In that instant, I feared for my safety, and I wondered if I would have to run, if I would have to defend myself, or if there were people nearby I could alert. That moment quickly passed as I watch the car speed away, and I was left feeling confused and angry.

Why is it that some people take pleasure out of scaring other people, making them feel unsafe, as in the case of catcalling? Personally, I can’t stand the excuse that “hey, I was just trying to pay you a compliment.” No, you weren’t. You knew perfectly well that you were putting a woman in a situation where she felt threatened.

I will admit that there are some scenarios in which being catcalled is inherently less threatening than in others. I was on a date once, for example, and a guy driving by yelled at me. Because I was with another person (and, specifically, a man), I didn’t feel particularly unsafe and was able to just laugh off the comments. I would like to add that just because a catcall may not be perceived as threatening doesn’t mean that it is welcomed by the recipient. I want to address catcalls that make women feel scared and threatened.

Catcallers who deny having nefarious intentions need to look at the situation from the opposing parties’ perspective: Don’t they realize that women are inevitably going to wonder how far their assailants are willing to go in order to obtain a favorable response? For example, might they engage in increased verbal harassment, or perhaps even resort to physical assault? For the most part, catcallers who claim that they are only trying to pay a compliment are refusing to acknowledge that whether or not their words are threatening depends less on their intentions than on the perceptions of their victims, and, for the most part, these perceptions are inherently riddled with fear and anxiety.

I could conclude this article by advising women on how to stay safe, but I won’t. We already know about the buddy system, about staying in well-lit areas, about not keeping our earbuds in and appearing distracted. Instead, I would like to offer a final comment to anyone who catcalls and claims that it’s an acceptable practice: Surely you have a sister, or a mother, or a female friend, or some other woman with whom you have a close tie. Wouldn’t you be angry and outraged if a stranger yelled at her and made her feel scared and unsafe?

Of course you would. Don’t be that person.