Why Cat-Calling Is Everybody’s Problem

Above: The viral video that shows a woman harassed 100 times in 10 hours walking in NYC
Above: The viral video that shows a woman harassed 100 times in 10 hours walking in NYC

There aren’t many women out there who haven’t been heckled on the street by a guy (or guys) at some point. It happens to every girl, no matter her age, what she looks like, and despite popular opinion, what she is wearing. It seems like simply being seen in public is an invitation to get hit on, but why? Do the guys doing the cat-calling really think they are going to get a positive response in return? And if not, what is the point of saying anything at all?

The cat-callers themselves probably don’t think too much about how what they are doing is affecting women. They might even think they are paying the ladies a compliment by hitting on them. But in reality, it can make women feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and even afraid in certain situations.

The recent viral video “10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman” shows exactly how entitled, persistent, and aggressive some men can be when a woman doesn’t respond to their advances. Simply telling a woman to “smile” as she walks by is considered unwanted attention as well, and no woman is under contract to smile because some random dude on the street requests it. Since the video went viral, the subject has received rape threats on social media, making it clear that there are still a lot of people that don’t take the problem of street harassment as seriously as they should.

One thing that comes up a lot when talking about cat-calling is the question, “well, what were you wearing?” The woman in the video was wearing a casual T-shirt and jeans, but it shouldn’t matter. Clothing is not an invitation for harassment. But What Was She Wearing? is a Tumblr blog where women can submit selfies of what they were wearing when they were cat called. The creator, Kati Heng describes it as,“a project documenting what real girls were really wearing when they were the objects of street harassment, asking you to get over the question ‘what were you wearing?’ and just listen to our stories”.

Reading through some of the stories onBut What Was She Wearing really drives home how common it is for women to be forced to ignore unwanted attention from men on a daily basis. The fact that women are expected to take the harassment as a compliment reveals how some men believe women exist specifically for their viewing pleasure. Our choices boil down to ignoring the comments, or talking back and risking the wrath of some guy who thinks he’s entitled to our gratitude for his attention.

Ignoring the harassment is usually the safest option, but not always satisfying. One San Francisco man was stabbed nine times for defending his girlfriend from a cat caller. Another 23-year-old woman in Germany was killed after she stood up for a group of teenage girls who were being harassed.

Clearly, standing up against the harassment is a risk, but standing by while it continues to happen will only guarantee it never stops. Organizations likeHollaback! and Stop Street Harassment are working to raise awareness, and spread the word that street harassment of anyone, male or female, is unacceptable.

Think about the women in your life, and if you want them to feel safe and comfortable walking down the street. That will never happen unless we all take a stand against street harassment. Start shaming your friends for doing it, start defending the women you love against it, and never assume a girl is asking for it. Because if you do, you are part of the problem.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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