Catcalling is usually defined as a rude, derogatory or unwelcome comment, whistle, kissing sound– or maybe even a literal meow. But it’s more than these passing jeers. Catcalling, also know as street harassment, limits folks’ access to public space and often has a serious impact. My project, Catcalls of NYC, documents catcalls on the sidewalks where they originally happened word-for-word with chalk to raise public awareness about the intense harms of the behavior. My team gathers submissions via Instagram DM of what was said and where it happened. Then, we go to those spots with chalk and write out what was said alongside the #stopstreetharassment. The patterns of street harassment are disturbing. Young girls are being sexualized before they even hit puberty. Women of color are being fetishized because of their race or ethnicity. Folks in the LGBTQ+ community are subjected to hateful homophobic and transphobic sentiments. The hardest part yet: figuring out the best way to respond. On the one hand, it’s frustrating to not respond to objectifying, belittling, hateful, harassing comments. On the other hand, simply saying no to unwanted advances can provoke further harassment. Here are some ways to deal with this catch-22.
If you’re around other people and you feel safe and inspired, you can use a simple comeback. Sometimes people describe feeling frozen or unable to think in the moment they get harassed. If you anticipate wanting to respond, it’s good to have a go-to comeback. Something simple and firm like “that’s harassment” or “don’t do that” have been known to work. I always admire the bravery of those who clap back in this way. But responding verbally is not for everyone– if I’m being honest it’s not for me either– and it’s not the only way to respond to catcalls.
Subtly Vent Your Anger
One of my favorite suggested responses: “Stop and stare them down with the fury of hell in my eyes.” This response shows the catcaller you’re angry without having to directly confront them verbally.
Write it down. Take a picture if you feel comfortable. Harassment can evoke a sense of powerlessness. Documenting the instance is a way to take some of the power back that was taken away from you when you were catcalled. Better yet, you can use the documentation to fuel the fight against harassment.
Share Your Story
99% of people who DM us their stories thank us. Why? Because the act of sharing your story can provide relief and lift some of the weight of the original experience off your shoulders. Whether it’s talking to a close friend or DMing us at @catcallsofnyc, a good way of responding to a catcall after the fact can be to tell someone what happened.
Never feel bad ignoring street harassment. The bottom line is that you don’t owe a stranger on the street anything, including a response. Always prioritize your well-being, comfort and safety above responding.
When in doubt, just ignore it. This is often the best response, especially if you’re concerned about escalating the situation. Harassers enjoy the attention, so ignoring them takes their power away.
The number one worst effect of street harassment– in my opinion– is when folks somehow feel like the harassment was their fault. Younger folks especially may blame themselves for wearing certain clothes, walking by themselves late at night, etc. This should go without saying but, however you decide to respond, know that catcalling is NEVER YOUR FAULT. Keep being your bad self.