Earlier this week, a group called iHollaback took the initiative to conduct a social experiment on the streets of NYC to show just how much unwanted attention a woman can get by simply stetting foot out the door. Since 2011, they’ve been giving people a social soap box to engage their communities and share stories – stories of when they’ve felt verbally and physically intimidated, harassed, threatened and assaulted. This video encapsulates what each and every woman has gone through – multiple times in her life, and sometimes – multiple times in her day. Haven’t seen it yet? Before we get into it further –
First, we need to define cat calling – and I want to make it very clear, there’s a difference between acknowledging the presence of another human being – and making a woman crawl in her skin.
Cat calling is street harassment – it’s unnecessary verbal contact that typically comes from a distance – much further than casual conversation would happen in your personal space; it has an intention – and it’s usually physical. Because let’s face it, you didn’t have a sudden affliction for my personality, my intelligence, my wit or incredibly awkward sense of humor; you’re commenting on how I carry myself. Because words tend to mirror desired action, women have learned to read through the lines – if you’re talking about my body, it’s because it’s desired, even if that desire is momentary and fleeting. Most Men won’t understand what it feels to feel physically intimidated on a daily basis, but for women – that’s everyday life. Being 6′ tall, I can safely say that I don’t feel that way the majority of the time, but it happens – it happens much more often than it should. Though the video shows a predominantly vocal minority audience, don’t believe for a second that a wink, nod or lurking look can dissuade women the same way that verbal assault does.
If there’s one town in the US that’s synonymous with Halloween – it’s Santa Barbara. Gaining notoriety for their annual week long rager, I didn’t attend UCSB until 2003 – a tad after it was “good”, according to every other class before us. But what I noticed, and was part of, were a generation of young women taking hold of their sexuality and their bodies. Unfortunately, that comes at a price. We live in an age where the greater community is more likely to tell me to put some clothing on than they are to tell a man how to treat a woman correctly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling sexy, and it’s a shame that men have created an atmosphere where your physical safety feels threatened if you show some skin. Our twenties are supposed to be when we’re at our physical peak, so why not; but we’re more than our legs, eyes and lips – we enjoy thick books and nice scotches, a hearty burrito and video games, and are the perfect storm of beauty and intelligence.
My worst fear is that somewhere in some strange town, there’s some woman that’s responding, appreciating and loving the attention and reinforcing bad behavior. Somewhere, along the line – these things have become learned and deeply ingrained in modern, male society. Walk down Hollywood Blvd, Venice Beach or through Downtown LA and watch as the women with headphones on expertly weave through the crowd, avoiding interaction at all costs.
I view strangers as friends I haven’t met yet, and chances are you’ll catch me waving, nodding and saying hello to dog walkers of any ilk, adorable old couples and young professionals doing their thing. I say ‘Hello’ as a form of acknowledgement. That’s my intention, to acknowledge. Whenever I’ve interacted with a man on the street, there’s three ways it happens: frequently, there’s eye contact and a head-nod; cool. Sometimes, there’s a head nod and then they try to stop me to talk to me. I’ve been followed home more times than I can count on one hand. And then I’ll walk around the block so they don’t actually know where I live, because that’s scary. Or there was the time I was followed into my parking garage. But sometimes, if they’re looking at me like they see through me, my clothes – I feel threatened, I don’t want to acknowledge them. And in those situations, I’ve been verbally harassed, berated, followed – and at times, even been called racist. Im not saying don’t say hello, I’m not saying don’t acknowledge people – but your comments compound upon countless others so think of your intention before you speak. If, after all this conversation, you’re still unsure whether you should ever catcall, just follow this simple flowchart: