The dangers of street harassment
Catcalling is something that most women have dealt with at some point in her life. Studies show 70 to 99 percent of women have experienced street harassment, according to anti-street harassment organization Hollaback! The whistles and hollering, and the occasional “hey baby” often occur when women are just walking down the street. Though some men consider catcalling complimenting, this a form of street harassment has been the target of some recent social experiments that aim to expose the practice.
A more recent social experiment is one conducted by the organization Everlast that took place in Peru back in January, where some men’s mothers dressed in attractive clothing to catch their sons in the act of catcalling. The sons fell for it and received lectures from their mothers about the importance of respecting women. The video’s objective was to show how often women and young girls in Peru are catcalled and harassed. According to the video, seven out of 10 women in Lima, Peru, between the ages of 18 and 29 have faced some kind of street harassment.
Back in 2014, another video went viral—this one based in the U.S. This video featured a woman walking the streets of New York City while men catcalled her. She did not respond and kept walking, but there were more than 100 instances of verbal street harassment in a span of 10 hours. The video has over 39 million views on YouTube.
“I was scared shitless, first of all,” Shoshana Roberts, the star of the viral YouTube video, said. “It’s hard to fully understand how apathetic one could be, and I just felt like a deer in headlights.”
Street harassment is most common in urban areas, according to an article in The Economist addressing the YouTube video, “10 Hours Walking in NYC as a Woman.” According to Stop Street Harassment, a 2,000-person national survey in 2014 revealed 65 percent of all women have experienced street harassment at least once. According to the survey, “Among all women, 23 percent had been sexually touched, 20 percent had been followed, and 9 percent had been forced to do something sexual.”
Ilana Diamant, a freshman at Ithaca College, said she has experienced catcalling in Ithaca.
“It’s always been from either old men or drunk college guys,” Diamant said. “I was walking in downtown Ithaca once and a man about 50 years old told me to ‘Put on a smile to match them legs.’ Well one, that doesn’t make much sense and two, I will never smile on command.”
Hollaback! is an organization that works to end street harassment. Their mission is to make people more aware of the issue and promote some kind of regulation of it. The website includes excerpts of women’s past experiences with catcalling, as well as statistics. According to the Hollaback! site, street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against, and incidents of it are rarely reported. In an effort to increase reports of it, people can visit www.ihollaback.org and share videos of their catcalling experiences.
“Research shows that people who have experienced street harassment often change their lives, in big and small ways, to avoid street harassment,” Ami Wazlawik, Hollaback! Twin Cities site director, said. “In the past year we’ve also seen multiple instances in which a victim and/or bystander was injured or killed by a harasser(s)”.
Although groups like Hollaback! claim catcalling is a negative form of gender-based harassment, some people believe that catcalling is actually flattering. In January, Nikki Gloudeman wrote an article for Huffington Post titled “Confession: I’m A Feminist Who’s Flattered By Catcalling.”
“When I watched that viral smash video of a woman being catcalled 108 times in a day, my first thought wasn’t, ‘How terrible and sexist!’ but ‘Wow, she must be really pretty; there’s no way I’d get catcalled that often in a day,’” Gloudeman wrote in the Huffington Post article. “I felt an acute desire to measure my own value as an object of sexual desire against hers.”
However, catcalling is street harassment. Members of Hollaback!, Wazlawik said, believe it is important to bring awareness to the issue, because young girls shouldn’t feel unsafe walking down the street or insecure about themselves in public.
“Street harassment is not about giving someone a compliment. It’s about exercising power over them by making them feel a certain way, usually uncomfortable or scared,” Wazlawik said. “I think it’s also related to the objectification of women (they’re body parts to ogle and grab rather than human beings) and a sense of entitlement that some men feel about women’s bodies, like they’re out in public so they have a right to say something to them. It’s important that people understand how pervasive and harmful street harassment is, and how it impacts people’s lives.”
Ana Borruto is a freshman journalism major who doesn’t take catcalling as a compliment. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.