"Hey girl, why are you walking away? You're beautiful, come say hello."
"Wow, my day just got better after seeing you."
"Dang. Marry me."
These are some less severe examples of what is known as "catcalling," or remarking on an individual's appearance as they walk by, usually in a sexual or approving manner. While it may seem harmless, it can be disturbing, in addition to being obnoxious for the person on the receiving end. These comments can make an otherwise safe space seem increasingly threatening.
The prevalence of the issue may be surprising to many. In a survey conducted by the online organization "Stop Street Harassment," over 99 percent of the female respondents said they had experienced some sort of street harassment. Of these respondents, 95 percent were the target of leering or excessive staring at least once, and more than 68 percent reported being a target 26 times or more in their life. Also, nearly 82 percent of female respondents were the target of a vulgar gesture at least once, and about twenty percent said they had been a target at least 51 times.
I've heard some wonder about the relative danger of sidewalk commentary. What's so bad about saying nice things to someone? In a way, isn't it a compliment?
I suppose it could be perceived as flattering, but more than anything, it's belittling. The main targets of catcalling, women, immediately become objects. Though a woman walking to work may not want any attention, someone can make that decision for her. A "Hey, do you have a boyfriend?" may seem all right by the complimenter, but it can make the recipient feel very uncomfortable. Merely for having the body they have, females can be ostracized. The "kind" words can leave a mark and create fear that is so undeserved.
Below are some perspectives on the topic:
Practically, speaking up against street harassment is not about being a hero, getting credit points to be in the good books of a girl or a chance to impress anyone. It is about making sure that everyone has the right to enjoy that spring breeze, golden clouds and chirping without feeling uncomfortable.—Shahla Khan, "Friends with Benefits: Rethinking Friendship, Dating and Violence"
I'm tired of my friends feeling scared, tired of girls feeling ashamed for what they were wearing when it's not their fault someone chose to shame them. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I want to live in a society built on respect. A society where she can wear a flattering dress without your loud approval.
Think before you catcall. It can be more harmful and scarring than you think. If you feel you must say something, don't hide behind a whistle or kissing noise. Say "hello" and introduce yourself politely. If she reciprocates the conversation, continue. If she doesn't, have the decency to walk away.