When I posted my first ever Luna Luna article, “Stop Saying ‘I Have a Boyfriend,’” it got a huge response—bigger than I ever would have expected. I got comments both positive and negative, but after it was reposted to xoJane, I got a ton of comments regarding street harassment, and how my method was completely wrong in a catcalling situation. I agree—I never intended to comment on street harassment in that article, because it’s a completely different phenomenon with a separate set of mechanisms. However, the response did make me curious—how do women, of different ethnicities, ages, locations, and backgrounds, typically respond to street harassment and catcalling? And how do the harassers take their response, whatever it is?
On a recent (excellent!) article by fellow Luna Luna staffer Eva, I left a long comment about one of my experiences with street harassment, and a method employed by one of my close friends to “reverse the gaze.” I’m reposting here because it speaks to my typical catcalling responses (edited for more formal, less comment-y syntax).
This is such an interesting topic. As you said, it’s ultimately about power and dominance, NOT about making the woman “feel good about herself.” I’ve gotten catcalls and lewd comments when I’m in sweats, no makeup, with my hood up and sunglasses on—I could have looked like an ogre for all they knew. It’s not about compliments, it’s about subtly confirming that men have more power than women. Even if women don’t respond, the effect is the same. Of course, it’s not always safe to respond, but when you can, it often erupts in frustration, as you said—cursing, yelling, etc. I recall a group of guys in a car passing a friend and I as we walked home (in Boston!), driving slowly next to us, catcalling us out the window and trying to get us to get in with them. It was 2am (when the bars close in Boston) and the street was packed, so I was feeling pretty secure, and I turned around and said “YOU THINK IF YOU HANG OUT YOUR CAR AND WHISTLE AT ME THAT I’M GOING TO FUCK YOU NOW?!” Granted, it wasn’t my finest moment, but the guys drove away red-faced, and a group of people passing us who overheard said “now that was impressive.”
I have a friend who (in safe company) will turn to the man who’s catcalling her, point at him and shout loudly so everyone around can hear: “THAT IS NOT OKAY!” It reverses the gaze, so that everyone on the street is looking at him now. I always really liked that method.
I realize that my experience as a cissexual white girl in Brooklyn and Boston may not translate to the experience of all of our Luna Luna readers—or women in general. W. Kamau Bell interviews a diverse group of women about their catcalling responses in the clip I discuss here. So I’m taking a cue from him and taking my own advice—checking my privilege. I want to know—how do you respond?
Fill out the survey below. Feel free to remain anonymous, but if you want to be named/linked in the final article that comes from these results, let me know in the “additional comments” section.
Many thanks! I’m excited to deliver the final responses.
Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiancé, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.