Street Harassment Is Not a Compliment

catcalling not a compliment

Since I’ve had the opportunity to live in more urban settings, I have become very aware of the discomfort involved in street harassment. I’m not sure if men think it’s a compliment or just a harmless interjection, but catcalling is far from either of those interpretations. It encourages an atmosphere of objectification, making many women feel unsafe while traveling alone.

In the following post published as a “Missed Connection” on Craigslist, one women combats street harassment in response to her own experience walking home from work.

The scene: 4:30 pm Friday, intersection at American Blvd and 34th Avenue.

You: Middle-aged, dark hair, tan skin, driving a green SUV and wearing the kind of red polo shirt you corporate douchebags love to wear on fridays so you can easily transition from day to night (assuming “day” is some generic but well paid desk job and “night” is maybe a brief happy hour at Applebees before heading back to the burbs and stopping to grab a red box dvd for the kids on your way home.)

Me: 20s, blonde hair, black fitted dress, gladiator sandals and waiting at the intersection to catch the lightrail.

I know how it is. That quittin’ time whistle blows, announcing the weekend, and you get that rush of adrenaline that only comes on Friday afternoons, when the whole world is your oyster and all you need is the freedom to shuck it and some beer to wash it down. You make the minimum requisite small talk with your colleagues as you bolt for your car in the corporate wasteland parking lot and get excited at the notion of beating the traffic home. Maybe your classic rock radio station starts to play your favorite Creed song right as your engine turns on and you’re feeling extra lucky. And that’s where you find your psyche as you approach the intersection to turn onto 34th – you’re a man with nothing to lose and an open road ahead of you.

That’s when you spot me, halfway into the street, waiting behind a construction sign for the light to change so I can cross to the light rail stop. If you’d looked closely, you might have noticed I looked tired, eager for peace and quiet after a draining day. You might also have noticed my arms were full of paperwork, confirming that I have a demanding profession and a hard weekend ahead of me. Unfortunately, though, based on what happened next I assume you didn’t notice these things, or if you did, you determined they were much less important than the fact that I have two legs that attach at an ass.

So, that’s where we were. Me, minding my own business. You, apparently observing my ass. At that point you had options. You could have driven past me and said nothing. You could have turned up your radio and waved, ensconcing us in some beats and camaraderie. You could have shouted out, “Happy Friday! Yeehaw!” Any of those options would have been great. I probably would have waved, smiled, and started my weekend on the same high note as you.

Instead, you chose the most pathetic option available to you: You leaned out of your window and made some ridiculous series of leering comments about whether I was wearing a thong, right as the light changed and you peeled off, pleased with yourself and saved from any consequences.

If you’d stuck around, I would have happily shouted a few things of my own at you: that it’s people like you that make women avoid walking alone or taking transit even in broad daylight in their own cities; that no matter what screwed up metric you use it’s not a “compliment” to have someone interrogate me about my underwear; that thanks to you I would spend the entire train ride home feeling scrutinized and gross because you didn’t have the willpower or maturity to keep your mouth shut; that your wife and daughters or at the very least your mother deserve better than a cowardly man who shouts at women from the safety of his car.

Let me make this abundantly clear, to you and to the other men reading this: when you comment on a woman’s appearance, you are not doing it for her. You are doing it for you. It’s not some great way to make a woman feel sexy and appreciated. It’s not flattery, even if you mean for it to be. The only thing it is is a great way for you to create a shitty power dynamic, by which you have announced yourself as the arbiter of her value, and you’ve deemed her fuckable, and she is supposed to be happy or impressed by that.

If you really find a woman beautiful, don’t choose the juvenile selfish route that makes her feel weird and you look like an asshole. Just take a deep breath, commit the image to memory, and get on with your life. Or, if it’s really that great of an ass that you can’t possibly survive without commenting on it, post about it on CL missed connections after the fact and let her decide what to do about it.

This message is so important, not just because of the truth it emits, but because it addresses the right audience. Instead of preaching to the choir, she addresses men directly and does it in a location where anyone might see it. This is crucial for establishing change. Many men really might not understand how catcalling could be anything but a compliment. For those men, responses like this are the only way they will ever learn.



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