How I Took A Stand Against Catcalling
He whistles. "Hey beautiful, look at that ass. Damn, can't you at least smile?"I have faced plenty of unfair, gender-based double standards in my life. I've been told from a young age to never be alone in public. I've been forced to wear skirts down to my knees and shirts that cover my shoulders in school so as to not distract others. I've seen too many examples of the sexual objectification of women in the media and, of course, real life.
The double standard I've been dealing with most recently, though, is the way I feel I have put effort into dressing a certain way in order to avoid street harassment. Every morning as I'm getting ready to attend my summer classes in NYC, I have to take into consideration the men who might stare at me on the train or holler at me as I walk to my class.
Catcalling disgusts me. What goes through a man’s head when he catcalls a woman? I find it hard to believe that men actually think women will be attracted by sexual harassment. It seems to me that catcalling is just men's attempt to fight for dominance — either by directly intimidating women or through playing a (pretty nasty) game with their friends.
In this game, the perpetrator must first find a woman (or should I say an object) on whom they can focus their attention. They start with a basic whistle or shout. If she doesn't react or is only slightly offended, the catcaller may feel they can escalate things and get more aggressive. They might grade her, tell her she is an 8 out of 10. Maybe they truly believe that sexual objectification equates to a compliment and tell her she’s sexy. If she chooses to walk away, she's called a bitch. Game over.
It was this degrading game — this understanding that I have to tailor the way I dress and the makeup I wear to avoid attracting the wrong attention; that I must give groups of men I sense are ogling me the same, disgusting look back, so they will feel uninterested in looking at me — that inspired me to start a project. I began taking portraits of myself dressed up as the most common cat calls. Being catcalled makes me want to go home and take a shower and I know other women have felt the same way, but don’t know where to go or what to do. I wanted an artistic outlet to shout at the men who catcall. I wanted to tell them, "I am not your child, so don't call me your baby!" I also wanted an artistic outlet to give to women to show them that they are not alone in the fight against the degradation of women.
I dressed up and took all of my portraits at school. After my photos were done, I left my makeup on and walked the halls between classes, to see what kind of attention I would draw. I received very positive feedback from both students and faculty alike and they wanted to know more about my project. Teachers even asked me if they could get a print of my poster to hang in their classroom.
That is, except for one encounter, when an older boy asked, "When are we going to role play in bed?" in front of all of his friends. His response didn’t discourage me, but rather made me feel sorry for him. This boy was never taught that making racy comments doesn't impress women or that cracking sexual jokes for egoistic purposes can offend others. This boy was definitely not taught how to respect the opposite sex.
Ultimately, however, I focused on the positive feedback I received and my discovery that I am hardly alone in the fight to end gender inequality. Women (and people all genders and identities who are exploited) should be able to wear what they want and do what they want, without the fear that they will get catcalled, harassed, or assaulted.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexual harassment, High school