When you are born female and decide to live that way, you are going to experience a lot of different things.
Some of those things will be awesome. Having clitoral orgasms, for one, those are pretty great. They are so great, in fact, that they kind of make up for the whole vagina-bleeding-once-a-month thing that we all experience.
Unfortunately, being a woman isn't all orgasms and Sephora visits.
It's enduring sexism. It's being made to feel afraid just walking down the street. It's being told to smile by strangers. It's making less money than your male peers. It's having a government insist that it has the right to police your body.
Every woman I know has been catcalled. If you haven't yet, just wait.
The first time I was catcalled by a group of men, I was 12.
"I'd fuck that raw!" One man yelled, and the others joined in, their words a muddled mess.
I was 12.
That first catcalling has stayed with me, but I have been through enough other experiences with catcalling that the rest seem to blend into one screaming blur that almost always left me feeling small and unsafe.
What's even weirder are those rare times when catcalling makes you feel, well, good for a second. You're feeling sexy, you're feeling confident and a guy might say. "Hey beautiful," or simply, "nice." It boosts your ego, even as you know that kind of behavior isn't appropriate.
Since my own experiences with catcalling have been so varied (along with my reactions to it), I decided to anonymously ask women what their relationship with catcalling was like.
Here's what happened.
How does it make you feel when you are catcalled on the street? How do you handle it?
- "Indifferent, because they know nothing about me...and I keep walking."
- "Scared, annoyed, tired. I usually ignore it. The other day I had my car windows down, enjoying the nice weather. I stopped at a traffic light and got hollered at by some guy in a truck stopped next to me. It made me so mad that I couldn't even go about my day enjoying the spring weather without having some guy hollering at me."
- "Now, it makes me feel in danger. When I was a dumb teenager and knew I had the goods and the "right" amount of jiggle in my wiggle it was almost an affirmation. Like, you're damn right you want to fuck me. You can't. But I too am feeling me."
- "Cheap. Sometimes I'll say something, depending on if I feel my safety is not a risk."
- "Usually just smile and walk past. Having little self-esteem growing up to know someone thought I was pretty always made me smile a bit."
- "It makes me feel like my body should be something to hide because I don't want to be talked to that way I usually ignore it."
- "It makes me sick to my stomach and somewhat fearful of my life. It happened before when I was followed for a full block before I managed to get away from him. I usually blast my music when I'm walking so I don't hear it. It doesn't always work though when there's a pause in between tracks and I end up hearing some comment so I avoid looking into eyes or keep my gaze straight ahead."
- "Well, it depends. When I'm catcalled in a 'nice' way (like when guys tell me I look nice today, or smile at me as I walk by) I just take it as a compliment and move on. I start to feel uncomfortable when people are loud (like "DAMN, you look fine. Why don't you give me your number?!") or worse, when they start walking next to or behind you, harassing you. That's when I get mad and either tell them to fuck off or go someplace crowded where either someone else will tell them off or I can find safety in numbers."
- "Panicky and vulnerable. You never know if the guy is just going to be rude or if he'll try to be rude AND physical. These men think they're 'complimenting' you, but they're really just making you afraid that you're going to be attacked. No one ever gets dates from catcalling guys, so make like Elsa and Let it Go!"
- "Being catcalled makes me feel sick to my stomach and afraid. I try to ignore it as much as possible. I look at the ground and walk faster to my destination."
- "It shocks me, but then I want to keep walking so nothing happens from it."
- "Completely exposed and violated. I usually just ignore it as best I can — no eye contact, no response."
- "Terrified. I have yelled back before, but then you don't know if they are going to murder you. I know two women personally who were threatened, chased, or physically attacked by catcallers after yelling back."
- "There are a lot of variables that influence my emotional reaction and response to being catcalled, including the time of day, if I'm alone, if the catcaller is alone, and what else is going on in my life on that given day. "
- "Most of the time, it makes me feel uncomfortable, but not unsafe. I usually say/do nothing, except maybe walk a little faster. That said, if the conditions are right (haha)- like, I'm in a busy area, it's midday, and I'm in a good mood, I will respond. I've flipped people off, just maintained prolonged/uncomfortable eye contact, and occasionally said "No, thanks!" or something like that when I've been asked to smile, give my number, etc."
- "Objectified, scared, annoyed. Sometimes, if I'm feeling sassy, I'll flip off the perpetrator or make a snide remark, but mostly I'll just keep my head down and walk that bit faster toward my destination."
- "I used to be super fat and found that on the streets I would be mocked and yelled at instead of catcalled. It was awful. Now I am small fat and I get cat called 2-3 times a week."
- "So even though it's totally not PC, I actually enjoy being catcalled. Being told 'damn that sexy ass' or 'girl I'd eat off that' makes me feel powerful and super desirable."
- "Depends. If it's a passing compliment I don't mind, but if it's more of a sexual, objectifying, entitled remark, I feel insulted and uncomfortable. In the first example, I'll smile and say thanks. In the second, I ignore it and walk faster."
- "Worse than catcalls is when they compliment you and then feel entitled to walk with you and demand your phone number. I've been harassed this way, given them my number to make them leave me alone, and then received abusive voicemails because they're furious that I'm not responding. It then worries me that I might bump into them again and get more verbal abuse or worse. If they are catcalling from a distance it's less threatening."
- "There have been two occasions where I was complimented and/or chatted up in public where despite me making it abundantly clear I wasn't remotely interested, I still ended up getting raped on both occasions. This makes me extremely wary of catcalls because you never know how far their sense of entitlement will go."
- "Catcalls generally make me feel some combination of angry, disrespected, unsafe, tired... How I handle it depends on the source, the context (where I am, if anyone else is with me, how safe I feel). I have brushed off catcalls and carried on with my day, I have explained to little boys why it's not OK for them to say these things, and I have also screamed "FUUUCKKK YOUUUUU" at the top of my lungs."
- "It makes me feel on display, self-conscious, embarrassed. I feel like I'm reduced to body parts. It triggers fear in me. I tend to shrink, put my head down, try and make myself small and unremarkable."