Hollaback had recently had this young woman walk around New York City for ten hours, wearing a black tee and black jeans. In ten hours she received more than 100 catcalls.
A lot of people don’t see what is wrong with cat calling, nor do they see the point in which it crosses the line into sexual harassment. Men and women should check out their more in-depth coverage of what inspired the project, what sexual harassment is, the fact that it crosses lines of gender and sexuality, and much more.
Since moving to New York City in 2009, I’ve experienced this in varying degrees, in different neighborhoods, from men of various races and socioeconomic divisions. These experiences have ranged from the typical “Smile, baby,” to being told that I’m a bitch or a whore for not giving my number to a complete stranger.
One time, walking through East Harlem, I was surrounded by about five guys, one of whom wanted to chat me up. It was about 10am on a Saturday and it was terrifying. Oh, and might I add that I’m about five-feet tall, and about 105 pounds? Not one of guys was shorter than, I’d say 5’10.” Luckily, they were fine with me making limited small talk, and after about a block of being followed, I walked away without incident.
I do not think there is anything wrong with saying good morning, or good evening to someone, as long as there is no invasion of space. When you tell a woman to smile, when you get uncomfortably close, when you say things like “Damn!” or “Nice,” that is when it changes the nature of the interaction.
Key words of advice for women is trying to remain polite, assertive, and aware. It’s terrible to have to warn women instead of men simply learning that this sort of behavior is not acceptable, but this is the reality. When guys say good morning to me, I will give a nod and keep going. Being polite is one of the first lines of defense in a way, because it’s not impossible that men react with aggression and sometimes violence if turned down or ignored by a woman.
Especially keep this in mind with regards to where you are. I always try to be a little friendlier in my own neighborhood because there’s the possibility of someone getting angry, and finding out exactly where you live.
And this whole thing becomes such a slippery slope because not all men are the same, not all intentions are the same, and not every “good morning” is the same. For example, I changed the way I interacted with men in public when I got together with The Man. Granted it wasn’t a cat call on the street, but there have been many times at bars, where a guy tries to get me away from my group to buy me a drink. Time after time, I have turned that guy down. For years, when a guy asked for my number, I would politely ask for his instead.
The moment I sat on that jacket, in a booth, in a bar, on the Upper East Side, I chose to change my behavior. I went to the bar with The Man away from my friends, and he had my number by the end of the night. I chose to treat him differently than all of the other guys over the years. It worked out. Why? Because he is different.
Again, just as in the case with sexual assault, society is talking about how women should deal with catcalls, instead of telling men to stop. So, just the same, we just warn each other of the dangers, and talk about close calls. It’s terrifying, but I hope every woman stays safe, and feels safe, especially in her own neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and shops.