One of the issues and daily harassments that women have to deal with is cat-calling. This is when men yell what are usually superficial, sexist and derogatory remarks at random women passing by. Some of the worst ones involve blatant and disgusting sexual acts or innuendos, while others objectify women and focus on one specific aspect of their body. You would think it would be common knowledge not to harass someone, especially a random stranger. Yet, it happens far too often.
The thought process behind cat-calling is the cat-caller tends to have a skewed perspective on what a compliment is. Telling a woman that you’d like to have intercourse with her (usually said in more crude terms) is not a compliment. It’s objectifying her and reducing her from a real person to a thing for sex. Yelling at a woman to tell her she has a nice backside is, again, objectifying her and making her an object for your pleasure. Contrary to popular belief (or so it would seem), women are real people, actual human beings, and they are not there for the purpose of pleasing men. Hearing that they would be a good sexual partner does not make them feel good. It makes them feel uncomfortable and possibly worry they may be sexually assaulted.
Women like to be complimented; in fact, everyone does – it’s a normal part of being human. We like to hear nice things about ourselves. But being reduced to a single, sexualized body part or sexual act is not a compliment. It’s demeaning and dehumanizing. Women are more than just their bodies and they are not there to make men want them. A good general rule of thumb is that if you would say it to your mother, then it’s probably okay to say to another woman. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother then you probably shouldn’t say it to a random woman walking down the street.
If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last week, you’ve probably seen thevideo by Hollaback!– an organization that works toward stopping street harassment– wherein a girl walks the streets of New York City for 10 hours with a hidden camera in order to show the street harassment that women endure. The woman gets many comments such as “smile, beautiful,” “what’s up beautiful,” and “someone’s acknowledging you for being beautiful! You should say thank you more!” One man even walked closely behind her and whispered, “God bless you, Mami.”
The video shows footage of the girl walking silently, with a resting face. Some greetings seem innocent such as, “how are you,” or even just “have a good day!” When you look past the subtitles that show what the strangers are saying to the girl, there is a common theme: all of the comments come from men and most of them look her up and down as she walks away. Two men even walk along side the girl, harassing her even though she is completely silent.
I’ve discussed this topic with a few people, several of which said a lot of the people were just being polite. One Facebook friend of mine claimed that when he visited the city, it was commonplace that people would greet you with “God bless you,” much like the men did to this woman in the video.
Street harassment may seem innocent because the women aren’t being touched or harmed, but as a woman, I can attest that cat-calling is almost as harmful as groping. I’ve written about this a few times, but I can never seem to find the words to express how scary it can be to walk the streets sometimes. There have been times where I have been just walking across campus and have had intrusive comments thrown at me. I’ve heard the typical, “hey girl,” and I’ve had guys openly say, “damn, nice ass.”
The worst harassment I’ve gotten was when I was leaving a Hawaii-themed party. It was the night before seasons switched from winter to spring, so it was very cold. I was still dressed appropriately for the party, wearing a skirt and a Hawaiian shirt. I was also wearing sandals. This drunk guy walked past me and I heard him murmur, “why the fuck are you wearing sandals, it’s winter.” It was a stupid, unnecessary comment. In the video of the girl walking the streets of NYC, one man makes a comment about the brand of jeans the girl was wearing. Even dumb comments like this are just plain rude. If you don’t have anything pleasant to say, don’t say anything.
Many people have accused the girl of being rude, seeing as she was walking in silence, not responding to the men with a emotionless face. Just because a man pays you a random compliment doesn’t mean you owe him any ounce of attention, ladies. Especially if the comment was inappropriate. A compliment isn’t always a compliment if it makes you uncomfortable. Some people legitimately can’t take even a nice compliment, but when a stranger makes a sexual comment, it’s never appropriate.
There are quite a few people that have rolled their eyes at this video and dismissed it as women just “being dramatic.” However, I’ve experienced this kind of harassment myself over and over again and after a while it’s exhausting and even scary. At the end of the video, you see the girl close her eyes and take a deep breath. Many times, this is what I do when I finally make it home safe, especially at night.
Guys in Radford tend to yell from their balconies or porches at girls who obviously can’t defend themselves from a distance. It may seem innocent, but it’s incredibly immature. It’s time that we all respect each others space. There’s no reason anyone should feel terrified to walk down the street.