As anti-street-harassment week approaches Megan Aldous investigates why an exhibition is making catcallers cry -and asks a catcaller why he does it.
13-year-old me on her way back home, where she faced her first catcalling incident.
There was nothing about me that day that should have brought attention to me. I didn’t stand out, I was dressed in a simple white vest top with black leggings. It’s funny how you remember these things, eight years later.
There was nothing revealing, bright or unusual about my appearance. I was just a child, struggling with her shopping bags.
I was half-way home when the traffic came to a halt, and the street harassment began. It started with a beep to get my attention.
This had never happened before, how do you respond to a car full of strangers beeping at you? I still haven’t figured out the answer.
The beep didn’t just get my attention, it got the attention of the traffic queue. Suddenly I had everyone’s eyes on me and I didn’t understand why. What did I do wrong?
As I cautiously glanced over I see 40-year-old men licking their lips at me. They asked me where I was going, if I wanted a lift, and how old I was. I felt embarrassed, scared, and confused.
I didn’t know how to act or why they were bothering me. I walked faster forgetting how much I was struggling with the bags, but as I moved the traffic did too and they were back in line with me. More beeps, wolf whistles, and yells.
That was just the beginning of my catcalling experiences.
Catcalling is also known as street harassment, it ranges from unwanted whistling, leering, and requests to know information about you. In 2016 a study by End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAWC) , revealed that 85% of women in the UK have been a victim of catcalling.
The EVAWC also found that one in four women have faced street harassment by the time they reach 16.
Artist, Terra Lopez, was also just a teen when she was first catcalled. Miss Lopez has now created a project designed to show men how horrible it is to be catcalled. The moving art project is called “This is what it feels like.”
The Sacramento exhibition requires you to walk through a staged dull alley way. As you walk through, you hear male voices harassing and objectifying you. Everything that you hear are examples from real life experiences. Terra interviewed 100 women to do this. You hear male voices asking you if you have a boyfriend, asking if they can come with you and then they turn into sexual threats.
The 31-year-old explains what influenced her to create the project.
“I’ve seen my mother experience some very traumatic experiences at the hands of men all my life, and I’ve always felt so powerless watching someone I truly love go through that. In a book club that I’m a part of, I listened to all of my female friends and partner express how scared they are to walk around in their own neighbourhoods. They plan out their days just to avoid harassment. I didn’t want to feel powerless anymore. I wanted to create something that would help educate men, and at least show men what we as women go though on a daily basis. I felt like it was necessary.”
4,000 people in one week came to view the exhibit, and it even reduced some catcallers to tears. Miss Lopez, also lead singer of Rituals of Mine, told The Huffington Post the best thing she has heard the catcallers say.
“The coolest thing I think I have heard is that a lot of men have said ‘I’m going to step it up. I’m going to tell my friends next time they’re doing that to knock it off and I’m going to change my own behaviour.’”
The Huffington Post published this in their article ‘Moving Art Project Puts Men On The Receiving End Of Catcalling.’
Unfortunately, with the project being in the states the catcallers of the UK are unlikely to visit the project. Terra had this message for street harassers who will miss her exhibition.
“This is only the beginning and that soon enough, this project and hopefully more projects will be created to educate more men. We will change this culture of catcalling and we will shift how we treat women in society. This is not going to be easy but we are determined.”
Walking past men can fill you with anxiety, because it is so common that a comment is made. They look you up and down like you are a piece of meat, and then get abusive when you ignore them.
Mother of one, Jade Forbes, has been a victim of this and says that she is always afraid to walk past a group of men. The 22-year-old revealed that, incidents of catcalling happen more when she is pushing her three-year-old daughter in her pram. She said:
“I am more afraid when I have my daughter in the pram, you would think they would respect that. But you are more vulnerable and less mobile, so it’s happened more with her there.
“I’m usually prepared when walking in public to stick up my fingers, and shout at a moment’s notice, because that is all I have. I’m training myself to remember number plates, in case another really worrying incident happens but fear makes you forget.”
When Jade was 18 she had her worst catcalling experience, it was pouring down of rain and she was on her way to a farm her auntie works at.
She explains: “When I was eighteen a man in a van shouted that I had ‘nice tits’ as he drove past. I was constantly being catcalled. I was sick of it, so I shouted at him and told him to f*ck off. “
Jade then walked towards the track that leads to the farm, when she realised the guy from the van was following her. She continued:
“The same guy stopped me before I could turn off to the track, this was 10 meters away from where he had catcalled me. He asked if I wanted a lift, I was terrified but you’re told to be polite so I said no thank-you and it wasn’t far.
“With that he drove another 20 meters onto the track that I needed to walk on, he spun his car around so it was facing me, so he was blocking my exit.”
Terrified Jade decided to take the long route to the farm instead, hoping that the road would be busy so she would feel safer.
“I stayed on my phone and walked real fast. He drove past me three more times before I got to the farm, I was soaked. I told my aunts who were instantly terrified and called the police, because they know what it’s like being a woman.”
The police came to the farm shortly after and took a statement, but unfortunately they weren’t able to track him down. Jade went on to explain how long she thinks Cat Calling will be around.
“Catcalling will exist as-long-as people allow it to. Grown ass men are doing this to young girls because they depend on the fear. We need to stop blaming women for what they wear, and where they walk and begin holding the men accountable. A lot of these men if they were stopped and made to stand in front of the woman, and asked what they said and why would be ashamed. But it’s ingrained in our culture, almost the language of white van men is flattery. It is not.”
However not everyone voices the same opinion as Jade when it comes to catcalling as flattery. Men’s rights activist, Katie Green* reveals that comments she receives from street harassers make her happy. The Men’s rights activist wanted to remain anonymous, so she has been given a fake name.
“I live in an ethnically diverse artistic community, and I get catcalled and commented on by both men and women frequently. Most of the time I am out in fact. It makes me smile and even laugh. Women do not spend hours to look nice in the hope that men will ignore us.”
Katie lives in Dallas and wants equal rights for men and women, however she feels this is not what feminists are striving for.
The 25-year-old doesn’t agree with the Women VS catcalling battle, here are her reasons.
“First, it is appalling that feminists want hegemony over all human communication and what is and is not acceptable for men to say to women. Second, it is belittling to women that feminists want to protect us from men talking to us, even coarsely.
“Third, the writings of the Guardian’s pet feminist Jessica Valenti are illuminating – she hated when men catcalled her, and then she hated when men stopped catcalling her. Women are not so frail we need a feminist enforcer to be a “white knight” for us.
“I believe feminists do not have the right to silence men any more than a man has the right to silence a woman. That sort of gender equality – an equal right to speak, even in a provocative or sexually suggestive way – should be at the core of feminism but for some reason feminists reject such equality.
“Instead, feminists are seeking to revive and even legally enforce a sort of chivalry standard of courtly niceness on men’s behaviour, without regard to men’s needs or desires or what those standards mean for women either.”
Former model Emma Kennedy, reveals that unlike Katie she does not get ready with the intention to have men look at her. In fact she has an outfit she no longer where’s due to the amount of attention it gained her. The 27-year-old explains her experience.
“I was walking through my town centre and I had a new dress on. It was quite figure hugging but in no way sexy or revealing. The number of looks and comments that day was awful. I’ve never worn it out in public since.”
Emma continued: “One guy sat next to me on a bench and just looked me up and down. I got up to move away and he grabbed my hand and said “can I have your number?” Still looking me up and down like a piece of meat, that hungry look that makes you feel seriously uncomfortable.
“I pulled my hand away firmly and said no, as I walked off and he called after me “f*ck you, you frigid b*tch”. I’ll never forget that leer. It was bone chilling.”
In July 2016 Nottinghamshire were the first County in England, to expand its hate crime category allowing misogynistic incidents to be added. David Alton, hate crime manager for Nottinghamshire police gave this definition of misogyny as a hate crime.
“Misogyny hate crime may be understood as incidents against women that are motivated by the attitude of men, this includes behaviour targeted at women by men simply because they are women. Examples of this may include unwanted or uninvited sexual advances; physical or verbal assault; unwanted or uninvited physical or verbal contact or engagement; use of mobile devices to send unwanted or uninvited messages or take photographs without consent or permission.”
Unfortunately, this law to help women against catcallers is still only a law in Nottinghamshire despite talks in September of it expanding to more counties in the UK. For the rest of us the protection of harassment act 1997 is still in place, this is a law designed to deal with any behaviour which causes alarm or distress to an individual. However, it is more commonly used for incidents of stalking rather than catcalling.
Finding a man who openly admitted to being a catcaller was harder than expected. But a Twitter user came forward and revealed that he is guilty of catcalling. However, the 39-year-old doesn’t believe that singular acts of catcalling can be classed as harassment.
“If a group of men are acting together and all do it then it is harassment. But if they are not these are singular acts which wouldn’t fall within the term harassment.”
“I have definitely beeped my horn. When I do so it is not sexual or perverted to me. It is appreciation for an effort someone appears to have made. I can honestly say that if I received a horn beep, I would be flattered.”
The anonymous Twitter user was then asked, how would he feel if his daughter complained to him about being a victim of street harassment.
“If my daughter came home and told me she had been wolf whistled, I’d ask why she felt it was rude, what else was being done?
“Did she feel uncomfortable just because of the noise, or was it accompanied with some other gesture or prolonged stare? I would then attempt to tell her that it means a guy thinks she is attractive”
The alleged Metropolitan Police employee explained why he feels the wolf whistle is harmless.
“The wolf whistle is a manifestation of a man’s feeling towards a woman. In his head, he might be thinking ‘wow’ but that is all. If that is offensive to women, then I am lost. If the argument is that it is all harassment and it should not happen, I think we have gone too far.”
Founder of Suffolk feminist society, Helen Taylor, was angry to hear the catcaller’s reasons for beeping at women.
“I would like to ask him to explore what he means by ‘sign of appreciation’. Does he mean appreciate the way someone would appreciate a work of art? Because art is an object. Women and girls are human beings. And he wouldn’t whistle and beep at a work of art!
“Why does he feel the need to share his ‘appreciation’? Why does he think he has an entitlement to share his appreciation with the ‘object’ in question, does she need to know what he thinks?”
The 46-year-old also went on to share her disgust, about the Twitter user’s plans to teach his daughter that street harassment is done because the catcaller finds you attractive.
“I want him to examine what he means when he says it’s because she is attractive. I assume when he’s attracted to a woman he means sexually. So basically, he’s not just sharing his opinion that a woman is attractive, he’s expressing his desire to have sex with her. He’s telling the world, or at least anyone who can hear, that he wants to have sex with this woman. A woman he hasn’t met, and doesn’t know.
“It’s quite animalistic when you put it into that context. He might as well shout across the street ‘I want to f*ck that woman over there, whom I have never met or spoken to!’. When we consider that most people like to think of themselves as civilised beings, that most people want to have a relationship with the person they’re having sex with, it’s quite a primitive way to behave
“When my daughter reached her teens and my husband and I were present as a car full of men drove past leering at her 14-year-old breasts, my husband didn’t say to her ‘Oh look, those men find you very attractive’. We were horrified that at 14-years-old she was already being made to feel self-conscious and vulnerable.”
Helen doesn’t believe attraction is the reason for Cat Calling, she thinks it is more to do with dominance.
“Most women who have experienced catcalling and challenged or objected to it, will have also experienced the retaliatory anger that usually comes afterwards. Now, how can that be about attraction? Why get angry with someone who a moment-ago you were telling the world you found attractive?
“I think it’s because it is not really about attraction, or at least not only about attraction. The type of guy who is saying to his mates ‘I’d do her’, or ‘I’d give her one’ isn’t pondering how he’s so very attracted to her and wants to have a relationship.
“He’s displaying dominant behaviour. He’s saying he wants to perpetrate an act on her not with her. It’s a way of saying to women in public spaces ‘You’re not safe, you are at risk of men doing sexual things to you that you might not consent to’”
However, it is important to realise that it isn’t just women who get catcalled, and it isn’t just men who are guilty of street harassment. Full-time student, Rafael Ortiz had to deal with street harassment when he was taking a walk around his neighbourhood. The 18-year-old, who lives in California, explained what happened.
“One night I was walking home, when I heard a car approaching. It is midnight and I live in the ghetto, so instincts had me aware of the car and the fact that there were only women in the car.
“The vehicle approached me, driving at my pace, and lowering the windows. That’s when I began hearing catcalls, sexual remarks, and them trying to engage in conversation. They whistled at me, made comments like “damn” “wassup cutie, where you going”.
Rafael said the situation shocked him and made him feel violated. He spoke about how it made him feel.
“That’s not the attention I’m seeking, that’s not what I want girls to be telling me, that’s not the kind of person I am. It made me feel not just angry, but shocked that these females would do such a thing.
“I didn’t need to hear their comments, at least not in such a rude and disrespectful way. I see it as disrespect because of the way they’re telling me these things. They are strangers and the first conversation they want to engage in is sexual remarks, that clearly shows they have no interest but to have sex. That’s disrespectful.”
The UC Irvine student says he has never been guilty of catcalling, however has friends who do it. Rafael doesn’t see the sense of it but he thinks he knows why other guys do it.
“The best understanding I have is that guys do it because they are still childish. Most girls are mature and have a wiser sense of reality so, when they see a guy they think of love, genuine love.
“These guys I hang around with, they see a girl and just think about having sex. So when they see them out in the streets it is all a joke to them. What girls don’t see, on the other side is that most guys after they wolf whistle, when they are driving off they are laughing like a child.
“They see it as a game, but don’t even take a second to think what it feels like to be that girl. Guys do it because they’re immature and careless.”
20-year-old me on her lunch break at her internship, when I faced my worst street harassment incident.
I was walking towards the building of my internship when my path was blocked with a group of men. As I got closer one of the men purposely blocked my way, he was dancing and refused to move unless I danced with him. I asked him to move, he continued to dance invading my personal space. I kept trying to get past him but that made him dance more.
Eventually I escaped the awkward and inappropriate situation I found myself in just because I am a woman. As I walked off he yelled ‘Come back and let me f*ck you’. While he blew kisses at me, and the other men around him cheered and laughed.
That was my most recent catcalling experience, I wish I could say it would be the last time I have to deal with this harassment. But I am sure it won’t be.