‘Hey, princess, smile for me!’
You stop walking, and turn around. Sitting on a bench just a few feet behind you is a man, about your age, with a wanting look on his face.
What do you do now?
Sound familiar? Whether it’s on the streets of New York or Newton, if you’re a young woman walking on your own, it’s likely that you’ll get catcalled. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘attractive,’ the time of day, and definitely not what you’re wearing — you could be wearing a snowsuit, underwear, or a regular pair of jeans and a t shirt and random men on the street will still feel the need to harass you. It’s gross and annoying and scary and all too common.
An especially tricky part of this situation is knowing how to respond. The most common response is for the target to continue walking as if nothing had happened. Girls are told to just ignore the attacker, as turning around, replying, or any other forms of acknowledgment can be seen as feeding into the catcaller’s needs. It validates their attack.
But, wait– think about the bullying rhetoric repeated here in Newton Public Schools:
We’re told that if we don’t stand up to bullies, we are letting them win. Bullies will continue to bully until they get bored or they get scared.
Look. I’m not a hostile person. I’m a proud Hufflepuff. I apologize to the kettle when I turn it off before it’s finished boiling. I am 105lb of free hugs, glitter, and fear. However, I’m frustrated by the cultural norm of disregarding street harassment. I’ve spent a lot of time– too much time — thinking of ways one might respond to catcallers without validating the attacker or endangering oneself (for the most part). This is a comprehensive list of every method I thought of.
Important disclaimer: know your limits.
Follow up to disclaimer: all of these are untested I’m not a scientist or anthropologist or like very good at math so like don’t sue me if these don’t work — I’m really sorry, it won’t happen again.
METHOD ONE: In Soviet Russia
…women catcall you!
Catcall that catcaller right back! But, like, not.
I don’t believe in fighting a wrong with another wrong because that’s just dumb and then everyone feels bad and nobody wins and it’s not good so just DON’T. Don’t do that.
However, one could theoretically catcall the catcaller in a clever, productive way. Like, the catcaller says ‘hey sexy!’ and you could reply with ‘hey sexist!’ and then they have to deal with the crushing reality that they are being sexist!
That’s good, right?
METHOD TWO: Death Stare
Fairly self explanatory. Give the attacker the nastiest, scariest, most offended look you can muster (it shouldn’t be hard in the moment), and keep glaring at them until they look like they get the message.
METHOD TWO AND A HALF: Ugly Stare
Make literally the ugliest, weirdest face you can make. All of the chins. Mouth gaping open. Like, I don’t care, as long as it looks REALLY WEIRD. This is not only hilarious but it makes people surprisingly uncomfortable.
METHOD THREE: Banshee Scream
Yes, that’s right. Scream your head off. This is my personal favourite because there are few things I love more than drawing attention to myself.
If people rush over, you can just point at the catcaller as you continue to scream, and people will kinda get the message.
METHOD FOUR: Cry
Women are weak. Women are over emotional. You know what women do when faced with a challenging situation?
They melt into a puddle of tears.
Cry. Ugly cry. Cry so hard snot drips onto your shirt. Cry so hard that people start approaching you and asking if you need help but you can’t reply because of how hard you’re crying.
*****recommended for those who are constantly repressing emotions
METHOD FIVE: School Them
Yell some fun catcalling statistics back! Here are some fun ones to try:
99% of women in a 2008 online survey reported experienced some form of street harassment during their lives. 95% were the target of leering or excessive staring, 95% were honked at one or more times, 94% had been the target of whistling more than once, 87% the target of a sexist comment, 82% the target of a vulgar gesture, 81% the target of sexually explicit comments from an unknown man, 75% have been followed by an unknown stranger in public, 62% of women say a man has purposely blocked their path, 57% reported being touched or grabbed in a sexual way by a stranger in public, more than 37% have had a stranger masturbate at or in front of them at least once in public, and about 27% of women report being assaulted at least once in public by a stranger.
That should make anyone uncomfortable. And not just because it’s a stressfully long, run-on sentence.
METHOD SIX: Singalong
So you know that video of Mary J Blige reeaaaallllly awkwardly singing into Hillary Clinton’s face? Yeah. Replicate that experience.
I don’t really know if there are any songs about catcalling. Meghan Trainor’s NO kinda works but I really don’t like her so let’s avoid that.
Honestly, I’d just go for whatever song first pops into your head. I recommend ABBA because ABBA is really fun to sing along to. I also think this could be a really fun place to sing the first part of that duet from Frozen and then you can see if they come in at the right time. If they take it as an invitation to sing with you then you just have to do the thing that Anna does at the end of the movie where she sees Hans and she’s like ‘the only frozen heart around here is YOURS’ and then she sucker punches him into the fjord. You really should have seen Frozen by now. You brought this spoiler upon yourself.
METHOD SEVEN (wow this is a long essay): Remove Your Human Skin To Reveal Your True Lizard Form Underneath
Or, like, whatever you want. This one is either very metaphorical or worryingly literal.
METHOD EIGHT: H a HA ha
Laugh at them.
Start out with a small laugh– a light chuckle, under your breath. Then, increase the volume, so you’re at more of a giggle. Continue to increase the intensity of the laugh until you feel your job is done.
I truly believe that if we incorporate these simple steps into our daily lives as women, we can help to actually discourage catcallers rather than to simply ignore them. We can act like we’re unfazed, but the truth is that harassment is difficult to ignore. In the moment, the words stick to your skin like shrapnel, and all you want to do is turn around and react. I think if we start to give into that instinct– in a productive way! –we can significantly change the culture surrounding street harassment, and help end catcalling forever.
I also recognize that this essay, unlike most things in the world, does not appeal to the male audience. For you, I supply this comprehensive guide of ways that you can help prevent catcalling:
METHOD ONE: Don’t.
Do not yell at women walking down the street. Do not make unwanted comments on a stranger’s physical appearance, body parts, or sex appeal.
…that’s it! Like, actually. You guys have the easy job.
So, the next time you’re told to smile, you know what to do.
Hopefully they know all the words to “Love Is An Open Door.”
Written by Juliet Cable