We see street harassment, sometimes affectionately known as cat calling, all the time. A man sees an attractive lady walking down the street and he’ll yell “Hey baby!” or “Give me a smile, beautiful!” or “Damn girl you got a fat ass.”.
For the most part these incidents go unnoticed or unchallenged. Sometimes women just nod or wave to acknowledge her “suitor” in the hopes he’ll leave her alone once he gets the attention he craves. However, there are times when it’s not that simple. If she acknowledges and rejects him, he may follow her or curse at and insult her. Some men will follow or curse at the woman if she ignores his advances altogether.
A lot of men don’t understand why they get a negative reaction. After all, he’s just paying a lady a compliment. He’s trying to make her feel good. However, street harassment is about more than just paying someone a “compliment”. It’s about making someone feel uncomfortable and dehumanized.
In order to help men and women get a better understanding of when and how “compliments” turn into street harassment, here are a few things you should know about the phenomenon.
What exactly is street harassment?
Street harassment is defined as any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation. Types of street harassment can range from staring, kissing noises, whistles, barking, honks, vulgar gestures, or threats of sexual violence.
What’s the big deal? It’s just a compliment!
A compliment is defined as a polite expression of praise or admiration. If you aren’t polite (even if you do have the best of intentions) then it isn’t a compliment. It’s one thing to say “I love your dress.” It’s another thing to say “I love your dress. It would look even better on my bedroom floor.” It’s one thing to say “nice jeans.”. It’s another to say “Dat ass though.”
People who engage in street harassment are also assuming that women should be flattered and grateful that someone is paying attention to them which is pretty screwed up in itself. It’s assuming that women dress or act a certain way just to get attention from others. For some women that’s true, but for others it’s not. Sometimes we just want to do things to please ourselves.
And let’s be honest. Most people can tell when someone is giving them a genuine compliment and when someone is being an aggressive asshole.
What CAN I say to show someone I’m interested?
The key is to be polite, genuine and courteous! Show that you’re not just some animal on the prowl for a piece of meat. Gender neutral greetings like “hi”, compliments, a smile or polite conversation can do it. Instead of saying “You look so sexy in that outfit but you’d look better wearing me.” try saying “hey I like your outfit. Where’d you get it?” It’s all about delivery and meaning it.
What’s crossing the line?
Don’t assume a woman is playing hard to get. If a woman rejects you or doesn’t seem interested, let it go. Don’t follow her, don’t call her names, don’t flash her, flip her off, or hump the air. If the attention you are giving her is unwanted and non consensual then it’s harassment.
Things to keep in mind
For some women street harassment doesn’t end when they walk away or reject the aggressor. Most women who are harassed on the street have experienced at least one person who is so persistent he’ll follow, insult, threaten or become physically aggressive with her.
Before you speak to someone ask yourself this question: Would I be okay if someone said this to my mother/ daughter/sister/girlfriend/cousin? If the answer is no, then you don’t need to say it. Keep in mind that the woman you are speaking to is someone’s mother or sister or daughter. Women are people not sex objects.
What are your thoughts on street harassment? Have you ever cat called someone or have been cat called? How did it make you feel? Let’s talk about it in the comments!