Why Some Women Feel Conflicted About Saying Catcalling Is Sexual Harassment

It's OK to be confused.

Why Some Women Feel Conflicted About Catcalling As Sexual Harassment weheartit

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any woman that you speak with will have had some experience of being catcalled.”  

The above is in quotes because it's an edited version of the first sentence of Jane Austen’s iconic novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Here's the original:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”


Though mine is not as eloquently stated as Ms. Austen’s, I have never spoken with a woman who's said she’s never been catcalled.

Over the last few years, more women have been coming forward to share their experiences with catcalling. In one prominent example, a woman named Shoshana Roberts was filmed walking through the streets of New York City over the course of 10 hours, all the while recorded on a hidden camera.

As you watch the video above, notice how things like “Damn!” and “God bless you, Mami” are in fact, NOT compliments.


Jessica Williams came out with Daily Show segment on avoiding catcalling, which made a powerful comedic statement about something that women experience daily.

Finally, there was Kimberly Guilfoyle, co-host of "Outnumbered" on Fox News, who said catcalling wasn’t that big a deal and used go-to the excuse we've all come to hate.

“Let men be men,” she said. “Men are going to be that way. What can you do? They mean it in a nice way, I think.”


And just this week the story of Italian teenager Anita Fallani, 18, made news after she took to Facebook, detailing her terrifying experience being followed and harassed while walking home at night.

According to an article published in Teen Vogue:

"She said she was on her way home from a night out with friends when a man on the train started trying to talk to her. She ignored him, but he persisted, allegedly following her off the train and trying to walk towards her home. 'Where are you going? Are you going out with me?' he asked her. Fallani said she tried to pretend to talk to someone on her phone, but it didn't make things better...


'Mine is a story like so many. There is nothing extraordinary, it is not an exception, but one of the many things that make up our lives, completely normal,' she said. 'I wonder how many times we should still feel 'lucky' for not being raped.'" 

So, let’s just say that catcalling is having a moment right now.

And it should be.


In 2014, an organization called Stop Street Harassment conducted a survey of 2000 women and discovered that 65 percent reported having personally experienced street harassment. The term is, unfortunately, a difficult one to define because there are so many different types, ranging from wolf whistles to being followed to being physically assaulted.

My first vivid memory of being catcalled happened during my freshman year of college.

Always the cute, sweet girl growing up, I remember a lot of curfews and a lot of comments about what I should and shouldn’t wear from my parents, who thought that looking out for my well-being meant I should be home at a certain time and not be caught in an outfit that might give boys “the wrong idea.” While I did date, the guys I went out with in middle and high school were nice, sweet, safe boyfriends who asked permission to hold my hand, kiss me or have sex with me for the first time. (I mean this all as a good thing. Consent is sexy, after all).

For a girl like me who'd never felt like many guys were into her, being catcalled the first time brought a mixed bag of emotions.


RELATED: A Man Reveals The Harsh Truth: What Catcalling Really Means

It was the first time I felt like I held sexual appeal, and that felt good.

But what I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time was a sinking, kind of disgusted feeling that came along with that recognition of being viewed with such a highly sexualized lens. Looking back on it now, I realize I felt disgusted, but when you grow up in a culture that seems to say women are made to be looked at, it doesn’t dawn on you that it’s okay to feel disgusted by that type of attention until you hear other women voicing their feelings about the same kind of experience.

Some women I’ve spoken with do believe the same narrative I believed when I was younger — that when men catcall women, we should take it as a compliment.


This argument would have us believe that when a man drives or walks by you, whistles, and suggests that you should meet up later to "get it on," you've succeeded as a woman.

Never mind that you may not be attracted to the total stranger addressing you.

Never mind that women do exist for reasons other than serving as eye candy for men.

If you get catcalled or followed or anything of the sort, it’s not sexual harassment, Beautiful, it’s a compliment.

For the record, getting catcalled every day while walking to work doesn't exactly make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


I particularly like this one of the many definitions of catcalling available on Urban Dictionary:

“An insulting and usually sexist remark made in public towards a woman by a man. Not to be confused with compliments.”

The second sentence is especially important because here’s the Oxford Dictionary definition of a compliment: “A polite expression of praise or admiration.”

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t consider those wolf whistles and hollers to be polite.

So, what’s the difference between getting catcalled and getting complimented?

I’d say the primary difference is how it makes you feel. If, in an exchange, you feel good, you don’t feel uncomfortable and you feel complimented, then it probably was a compliment. If anything that is said makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, then it probably was NOT a compliment.


RELATED: Women Share How Catcalling REALLY Makes Them Feel

As far as what you can do when faced with catcalling or street harassment, It’s tough to give one definitive answer because men catcall for a variety of reasons, and a woman is unlikely to know the reason behind it unless she speaks to him further. Often, women who are harassed on the street feel unsafe and vulnerable when men make rude and suggestive comments, and judging your actual level of danger in any given moment can be tricky at best.

Above all, you’ve got to do what feels right to you.

That being said, here are a few different types of responses you can give:

1. Ignore them.


Seriously. Just walk right past them with your head held high like the queen you are. The majority of these guys are just hoping to get some attention, so when you deny them that, a negative impact loop is created, which will hopefully make them think twice before doing the same thing in the future.

Try silently repeating a mantra that makes you feel better and don’t bother giving those peasants the time of day. And if you need help with this, feel free to pull out your phone and jump on a fake convo (i.e. Jessica Williams’ conversation with Beyonce) or pretend you’re texting someone.

2. Call them out on it.

Like Cosmopolitan’s Molly Oswaks, tell them straight up that no one likes what they're doing.


3. Respond obnoxiously.

Say something like “Thanks!” in a really obnoxious, sarcastic tone so they know you heard them but that you don’t appreciate it.

4. Own your confidence.

You do look good, but you don’t look good for them, you look good for YOU. If you’re really feeling confident, then yell back at them and say “Yeah, I do!” in a way that tells them you have no time for them.


Whatever your response, it’s got to work for you.

While it sucks that we still live in a day and age when catcalling and street harassment still exist, remember that you’re not alone and that there are people who are actively working to end it.

It should feel safe to be a woman out in the world, but since it’s not always, tools for handling the roadblocks of womanhood always come in handy.

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