Calling Out Catcalls: Why Women Should ‘Hollaback’

A couple weeks ago,
after a busy day full of last-minute homework assignments, classes and errands,
I was catcalled in the Claremont Village. 

I don’t need to go into the details about what
happened; it was pretty generic: I was approached by an adult male stranger and
received unsolicited comments about my appearance. The incident lasted only
a minute in total, but his comments continued to unsettle me for the rest of my
day. Was I wearing something provocative? Why did I engage in the conversation?
What could I have done differently?

Yet what frustrated me
most was not the catcalling itself but the fact that I couldn’t articulate my
discomfort. Though I was able to communicate the essentials—that I didn’t
appreciate his advances or his request for personal contact—I couldn’t
explain how his behavior was explicitly harming me and making me feel unsafe. Most
of all, I was unable to discourage him from doing it again. 

But this
failure doesn’t mean I’m ‘weak’ or ‘playing the victim.’ It just means that I
lacked the skills and confidence needed to productively challenge his behavior.

That’s why projects such
as the now-viral video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” are so important.

Created by the anti-street
harassment organization Hollaback, the two-minute-long video depicts a woman as
she is catcalled more than 100 times in 10 hours. While some of the comments seem
harmless (such as a man asking her to “smile”), others were far more violent,
with one perpetrator following the woman for more than five minutes after she
ignored his advances. Since it went viral Oct. 28, the video has been viewed
more than 33 million times on YouTube and has inspired approximately 87 million
articles, tweets and blog posts about the subject.

Yet street harassment can be far more deadly than mere catcalls. Just last month, a man in New York slashed a woman’s throat after she rejected his
sexual advances. A week later, a woman was gunned down in Detroit by a
man at a family funeral for refusing to give him her contact
information.

But street harassment is not
isolated to the concrete jungles of America. Just these past two months, there
have been four reported incidents of street harassment—one of which included
sexual battery—near the Claremont Colleges, according to Campus Safety alert bulletins. In separate incidents in
mid-September, two Scripps students reported that a middle-aged man, white or
light-skinned with brown short
curly hair, had approached them about a possible modeling job and asked
if he could “evaluate” them. Last week, two more incidents were reported, the suspect in each matching the description of the perpetrator of the
September incidents.  

Incidents like this
show that no woman is safe from street harassment, even on the tree-lined
streets of the Claremont bubble.

In fact, according to a
survey conducted by the research company Penn, Schoen and Berland in 2000, an
overwhelming majority—87 percent—of women ages 18 to 64 have experienced some
form of street harassment in their lives; over half of them have experienced extreme harassment (defined as being touched, grabbed or followed by a
stranger in public). The survey also found that 90 percent of women in rural
areas, 88 percent in suburban areas and 87 percent in urban areas have
experienced some form of street harassment. 

These findings explain what
happened most recently in Claremont. It proves that street harassment is not just an ‘urban problem’ perpetrated
by bad or uncouth men, but rather perpetrated in all areas by men from all
different backgrounds.

As upsetting as these
incidents are, I realize that, unlike the passive woman in the Hollaback video,
I don’t have to ‘just take it.’ While it is likely that I’ll continue to be
objectified by street harassers, I don’t have to remain complicit in my
objectification. 

I have the power and the right to confront my catcallers, calmly
explaining how I don’t appreciate their advances. I can pass out informational
cards about the harms of such behaviors to harassers, as provided by
organizations such as Don’t Tell Women to Smile and Cards Against Harassment.

I, as urged in the
mission statement of Hollaback, can create “a culture of badass” by challenging
these acts of intimidation and asserting my right to feel safe in public
spaces.

That being said, such confrontations should always be done in a safe environment. One should never feel like they are putting their life at risk for the greater cause of eliminating street harassment, for this behavior is only one point on an entire spectrum of gender-based violence.  For Mary Spears, her decision to fight back got her killed. Yet I can do my part to end this problem–provided I feel safe–each time I choose to “hollaback.”

If you
have experienced street harassment near the Claremont Colleges or have seen
anyone matching the description of the Scripps incidents, please contact
Campus Safety at 909-607-2000. For counseling or for more resources about
how to combat street harassment, please visit the Pomona Women’s Union (above
Walker Lounge).

Lauren Bollinger PO ’18
is from the Bay Area and is interested in majoring in either English or
sociology.

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