Girl TalkNo, Catcalling is NOT A Compliment, and Here's WhyJulia Gazdag

Disclaimer: This article discusses a mature topic. Our 13-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

Halfway through high school, I transferred to an all-girl school and for the first six months, I refused to wear the cliché girls’ school uniform skirt and sweater. I figured that, for once, I wouldn’t get catcalled from every car that drove by on my walk home, because awkwardly fitting khaki pants and oversize grey sweaters were sure to render me invisible. Turns out, you can pretty much walk around in a giant potato sack; as long as you’re a girl, creepsters will still do their thing. Whoop-de-doo.

“But it’s just harmless flattery, why do you have to be such a Feminazi about a guy trying to pay you a compliment, Julia?” Well, me, I’m glad we asked us that. It’s not flattery, actually – it’s harassment. Street harassment, to use the official term. And the thing about street harassment is that it is not meant to be a compliment, but, in fact, an aggressive assertion of male dominance by dehumanizing and hypersexualizing someone. Fun fact: street harassment is not reserved just for women! It’s now available to all members of the LGBTQ community, too! Oh, yeah, about the Feminazi thing? Me standing up for my rights and personal safety don’t warrant a label trying to arbitrarily draw a comparison between my empowerment in the face of social inequality and the German National Socialist Workers Party  responsible for the largest genocide Europe has seen since the Crusades. You do sound like an idiot when you use the term, though, so thank you for identifying yourself! I can now avoid future interaction with you.

Here’s what’s up: aside from it being obnoxious and demeaning, a holler – heck, so much as a whistle – leads me to think that the person emitting these brilliant National Geographic re-enactments sees me as little more than a walking blow-up doll. Verbal assault is assault nonetheless, and in a country with a one in four rape rate among women, when someone hollers “Bring them ____ over here, girl!”, all I hear is, “My face likes mace!” Staying defensive rather than offensive is the golden ticket of avoiding a confrontation, but the second a stranger addresses me aggressively and sexually, he is a threat and I have no qualms acting accordingly.

And why should I? Everywhere I go, I am constantly being told that I have less of a choice in my sex life than a man does. I’m not talking about dating or romantic things (though those are all lovely). Let’s take that can of face mace for example: where can I get one to defend myself in case I need to? Where can I buy a taser? Or so much as a rape whistle? It’s certainly not in the local drugstore, where I have to buy a diaphragm at the pharmacy, which I can only get to by walking past the colorful condom display spanning three shelves. So what I’m being told is basically that for me to protect myself from sexual predators I have to go to a specialty store (did you know you can get pepper spray at the shooting range?), and to practice safe sex, I have to go through a pharmacist. While a man almost never has to worry about being violated simply because he’s walking home alone (almost all women have a defensive strategy for walking alone; almost no men do), he can lift one of dozens of varieties of condoms off the shelf and saunter on up to the self-checkout if he wants to, because he’s a man! He can do what he wants!

And so, with his sense of sexual entitlement and my good reason to think he views my sole purpose as being dominated, a “compliment” hollered down the block about any part of my anatomy is a clear and intentional threat indeed. Most of us have lost track of the etymology of the word “vagina”, but its original meaning is a sheath for a sword. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but my lady-part has many uses and neither it, nor any other part of me serves to function as a place for anyone to keep anything. Visitors are allowed, but only with a valid permit. And while culturally, the original meaning of the clinical term for the most female of anatomies is not well known these days, the sentiment behind it lingers in the whistles and calls of the adult male a**hole.  The idea that a simple holler can potentially turn more serious and dangerous is pretty logical. It also has precedent in an alarming number of cases of violent assault against women. In fact, enjoy this info-graphic that I got from not-me.org – it makes this theory easy to understand and has stick figures!:

While that chart does not include the not-as-rare-as-you’d-like-to-think occasional post-rape murder, it’s also important to note that according to an FBI estimate only one in four rapes is reported, and of those, only 0.35% are incarcerated. That’s less than half a person. A woman’s risk of assault is increased the further down the economic ladder she is.

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  • Apocalypstick

    Having gone to this same girls school, I understand and I completely agree with this article. It needed to be said and I’m glad you said it! And I’m thrilled that you said this:

    “Oh, yeah, about the Feminazi thing? Me standing up for my rights and personal safety don’t warrant a label trying to arbitrarily draw a comparison between my empowerment in the face of social inequality and the German socialist party responsible for the largest genocide Europe has seen since the Crusades. You do sound like an idiot when you use the term..”

    Thank you. I also flinch whenever someone uses the term “grammar nazi.” There is power behind that word that people perhaps don’t realize.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      You quoted me! You quoted me! I agree – the term nazi is overused. As someone who’s family experience has way too much to do with damages the Nazis inflicted, I flinch each time I hear it used so casually and out of context.

  • http://www.facebook.com/moniwise Monica Wisehart

    I hated walking home from school in high school because of the catcalling. I was always afraid I’d en up in some guy’s car never to be seen again. When I got my driver’s license and my old bet up truck I was sure I’d be safe. Nope. I never rolled up my windows because without A/C my truck became an oven. Men took my window being down as an invitation to cat call at me in my own vehicle at stop lights. It never seems to end :/ maybe when I’m finally old it will stop.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      I would look over and just be like “would you say that to your sister?” but it also depends on the situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=573516286 Jyoti Mistry

    Aw, these look cool! There’s a cool tutorial on youtube if anyone is wondering how you could get a similar effect. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4FaidUlSbA

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=573516286 Jyoti Mistry

      Eeek, wrong thread, sorry!

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      HAHA I don’t know why but that totally made my day

  • http://www.facebook.com/HayleyDinnison Hayley Dinnison

    I know this is a little off topic, but I felt the sentiment was similar. When Australia introduced the Good and Services tax there was much debate over what was a luxury item (would be taxed) and what was a necessity (would not be taxed). It was deemed that condoms were a necessity and should not be taxed. Good move. Tampons however, were decided to be a luxury item, they now carry the GST tax. WTF!? Luxury?? LUXURY!!

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      WHAT? THAT’S INSANE. A woman can’t help bleeding, but a man choose how to engage in sex. ANGRY FACE

    • http://www.facebook.com/cjeffery7 Caroline Jeffery

      YES! let’s go back to wearing, essentially, cloth diapers!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002033986768 Kelsey Brianne Johnson

      I think the bigger issue is “safe sex,” not “monthly female convenience.” It’s not about men having all the choices, as feminists would like to distort the picture, it’s about encouraging safe sex. You know what? Soap is taxed too. I’m sorry that you guys all hate men so much.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      Kelsey, this isn’t at all about hating men. I feel passionately about the last paragraph and that video, because I don’t feel it’s right to judge all men on the acts of a few. I also think that safe sex is indeed an important issue and condoms are an important resource. But declaring feminine items a luxury and male condoms a necessity sends quite a gender-biased message.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gea.marin Geanna Marín

      That same thing happens in Spain. Pads and tampons are in the “luxury item list”. That’s crazy, it’s not as if we choose to have our time of the month!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002033986768 Kelsey Brianne Johnson

      Julia, I was not disagreeing with your article; in fact, though I do find it a bit aggressive, it resonates with me very much. I have had my share of uncomfortable walks home like any other woman, and yes, it should stop! That being said, I think it’s quite a bit of a distortion to take TWO taxed or untaxed items, out of the many, and make a judgment on what message is being sent by that. I bet I could find plenty of other offensive messages by taking just two items of my own biased choice. And like I said, soap is taxed too, as is toilet paper. Are those both not more of a necessity than tampons or pads? It’s a flawed system, but I don’t think that it is attacking women. Yes though, it was a bit much to say that the commenters hate men, but playing the victim when not being victimized is really not respectable. I guess I’m just not too fond of the result of feminism on society. As a housewife that did not go to college, women condescend to me regularly, and they are far more demeaning than any man has ever been toward me. I was just trying to add a little perspective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000542550963 Robert Remillard

    Many men are classless pigs with no pride or reason to have any. I almost want to apologize for being the same gender. TLC said it real well with this.

    A scrub is a guy that think he’s fine
    And is also known as a buster
    Always talkin’ about what he wants
    And just sits on his broke ass
    So (no)

    I don’t want your number (no)
    I don’t want to give you mine and (no)
    I don’t want to meet you nowhere (no)
    I don’t want none of your time and (no)

    I don’t want no scrub
    A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me
    Hanging out the passenger side
    Of his best friend’s ride
    Trying to holler at me
    I don’t want no scrub
    A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me
    Hanging out the passenger side
    Of his best friend’s ride
    Trying to holler at me

    But a scrub is checkin’ me
    But his game is kinda weak
    And I know that he cannot approach me
    cause I’m lookin’ like class and he’s lookin’ like trash
    Can’t get wit’ no deadbeat ass
    So (no)

    I don’t want your number (no)
    I don’t want to give you mine and (no)
    I don’t want to meet you nowhere (no)
    I don’t want none of your time (no)

    If you don’t have a car and you’re walking
    Oh yea son I’m talking to you
    If you live at home wit’ your momma
    Oh yes son I’m talking to you (baby)
    If you have a shorty but you don’t show love
    Oh yes son I’m talking to you
    Wanna get with me with no money
    Oh no I don’t want no (oh)
    Scrubs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PrincessFF Jackie Portillo

    I used to live in Austin and I used to love going for a jog around Town Lake which is a popular hot spot for all joggers. I was crossing over a bridge to get back over to the other side and this unfortunately meant running along a very busy street. I hated this part of my run. One day, a car full of 3 guys slowed down so the guy in the front passenger seat could hang out the window and whistle at me. I had ear buds in and still hear it. I shook my head in disapproval and that resulted in him flipping me off. It was the middle of summer and I ran in a tank top and shorts. Nothing was hanging out and I wasn’t putting on a show for anyone. I’m sorry that I was less than pleased with your attempts to get my attention but how dare you flip me off.

    Women shouldn’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable when they’re walking, running or just driving along. I loved this piece because I’ve ALWAYS felt this way and I’ve also wondered if there is a sinlge woman that enjoys being cat-called because I for one DO NOT.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      That’s the worst part of it! It’s infuriating! If you don’t object, there’s a fear that they will take it as weakness and become more aggressive. If you DO object, there’s a fear that they will get defensive and become more aggressive. I guess I expect nothing but rudeness from someone who was rude to begin with.

    • http://www.facebook.com/staziaface Anastazia Burnett

      I am always afraid to say/do something in defense. If they are being that aggressive in the first place I dont want to aggravate the situation. But I always feel like I should do SOMETHING

  • http://www.facebook.com/staziaface Anastazia Burnett

    SO TRUE!!! I have been street harassed SO many times…who hasn’t?? And I’m glad to know that you pointed out that you could be wearing a potato sack and still be leered/hollered/whistled at. Just the other day I was walking home in dress slacks, tennis shoes, a baggy zip up, a backpack that obscured any curves…no make up…and nothing done to my short hair..I could have EASILY been mistaken for a boy! but no…walked past a group of guys talking over their car and they all STOPPED talking and stared at me and made comments to eachother…its awful. I personally carry pepper spray on me most of the time

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=792122222 Caitlin Gaffney

    My new favorite columnist for HG. :D

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      nuh uh! awwwwwwww :D

    • http://www.facebook.com/koriann.holub Kori-Ann Holub

      mine too! i’ve followed HG for a while and have never felt the urge to comment on ANY posts until this one.
      incredible powerful article. needs publishing in more outlets that this one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=859475373 Becky Lippert

    I get stares, creepy hellos, comments, hollers, etc almost every day walking to and from work. I try to complain to my boyfriend how uncomfortable and unacceptable I find this behavior from men, but he just doesn’t understand. I feel a lot better knowing other people experience this and that there is a movement to stop it. Growing up in a gun loving family, I’ve learned to use a variety of guns and am encouraged by my dad and brother to get my concealed carry permit. I hate the idea that I should have to walk around with a gun, and I’d rather not, I wish all violence could be avoided, but it sure would make me feel a lot safer sometimes.
    Men, please, please stop calling to women on the street. It’s demeaning and threatening.
    Thank you for writing this article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002919066815 Les Lippert

      All men should realize they have an obligation to protect anyone from physical and emotional harm. A real gentleman knows this is especially applicable to girls, women, and ladies. This duty becomes crystal clear when a man has a daughter, for whom he would gladly cancel the existance of anyone presenting any level of threat to his little girl. Every man has a mother, many have sisters, many have wives, and the luckiest have daughters. We all have someone to protect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melissa.weckhorst Melissa Weckhorst

    Thank you, Julia! It’s easy to fear when your short walk to work everyday consists of constant jeers and catcalls. And, no, you shouldn’t have to dress like a nun if you don’t want to be harassed. Your article reminds me I don’t have to give up my power. Why should we have to remind people that women are humans too? Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/franco451 Frank Fraone

    Catcalls are not cool.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sheba468 Brandi Dunn

    I am a 30-something, thin, but average-looking woman in DC. I get honked at while walking my dog – less frequently in the winter, but generally year-round. I do not take it as a compliment. It is jarring and unwelcome and sleazy. I _do_ appreciate the sentiment when the male neighbors I know stop and compliment me when I’m dressed nicely – face to face, respectful, and unassuming. However, the people who honk as they drive past – or even worse, when they slow down to a crawl beside me and ask if I have a boyfriend or if they can walk my dog with me – are creepy. A male co-worker once said, “But, it’s a compliment. Makes you feel good, right?” No. No, it doesn’t.

    Also, not only is mace difficult to find, but often illegal to carry in the places one would most need it … like DC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cjeffery7 Caroline Jeffery

    at my college there’s a footbridge over the main road to get to the athletic center. honks EVERY TIME. sometimes twice if its rush hour.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1529072325 Luciana Ortega

    Wonderful article! Thank you Julia for writing what I’ve been trying to say to people for so many years! Love it!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/bobbieahendron Bobbie Aleen Hendron

    When I lived on my college campus a few years ago, we had some issues with harassment. I knew walking at night where all the dark areas were, and I would haul it to where I had to go. I’m not saying I was a candidate for assault, just that I was so freaked out that it was a possibility. It first matter what you look like, d-bags just do it. I personally feel so disgusting when I get whistled at. Some stupid ex friends of mine said when we were whistled at that it was just a compliment and that it should make me happy.
    I always yell horrible things back when guys do though- and then I suddenly get called worse names. Oh well- I’d rather be known as the psycho with Tourette’s than the (insert horrible profanity here) who humiliated, terrifies, insults, degrades etc etc woman just for talking a walk.

    Anywhos!

    Great post. Loved it!! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/koriann.holub Kori-Ann Holub

    I loved this article. Sharing.
    When I was in high school and my friend and I would go on walks in the summer, it happened all the time. She never understood why it upset me so much, and I didn’t either. I’ve never heard the term street harassment, but it’s true.
    Catcalls and nasty stares sicken me. There are some women that do believe that it is a compliment though. My good friend, whom I mentioned earlier, is one of them. She thrives on the male attention she receives in public because she has a poor self image and requires positive reinforcement.
    Spreading the word about this issue is very important. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/hschnackenberg Holly Schnackenberg

    So so so so true. I’ve had a lot of issues like this. Most recently, a guy came up and started walking to me on a residential street (in the middle of the afternoon). I tried to be really polite and tell him that I wasn’t interested, so he asked me for money for the bus, then showed me his penis. WHAT ABOUT THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF?! I had pepper spray with me, but I was worried that if I used it, he might attack me. Guys need to know that this is not okay.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      I think exposing oneself is no longer just harassment, but a deeper psychological issue. Not that it’s acceptable in any way, mind you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.smallman Patrick Lee Smallman

    If they reminisce enough I think every female probably has a story they could drudge up where they were “hyper-sexualized” (not really a word but you get my drift.) by someone at some point. As a male this isn’t something that I’ve dealt with a whole helluva lot, however when I go to “festive” bars with my friends, some of those guys can get pretty aggressive. It doesn’t bother me, I take it as a compliment, but then again, I don’t let it bother me. I don’t understand why something like this is a big deal. Ignore them or take a different route, if you don’t like a particular situation, don’t put yourself in that situation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501745081 Adriene Bartley

      dude.
      check your privilege.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      Depending on the neighborhood, it’s not always possible to take a different route. It’s also a problem that a woman should have to go out of her way to avoid being threatened. And as it says in the article, the issue goes beyond just verbal aggression — it is often unclear whether or not the verbal aggression is a lead-in to physical aggression. For you, as a man, to tell a woman to “ignore them” leads me to think that you don’t understand the experience of having your body threatened or violated. I encourage you to read up more through the resources in the article and elsewhere.

    • http://www.facebook.com/NatashaTSimms Natasha Toni Simms

      f they reminisce enough I think every female probably has a story they could drudge up where they were “hyper-sexualized” (not really a word but you get my drift.) by someone at some point. As a male this isn’t something that I’ve dealt with a whole helluva lot, however when I go to “festive” bars with my friends, some of those guys can get pretty aggressive. It doesn’t bother me, I take it as a compliment, but then again, I don’t let it bother me. I don’t understand why something like this is a big deal. Ignore them or take a different route, if you don’t like a particular situation, don’t put yourself in that situation.

      You should have stopped at ‘as a male this isn’t something that I’ve dealt with a whole helluva lot’ becuase this whole comment reeks of male privilege and victim blaming. You obviously don’t realise that women get this everywhere, in the streets, on the bus, in bars I could go on. And your solution is not to put yourself in these situations, so you mean not leave the house right? Because I’ve been assualted literally around the corner from my house and bar not leaving the house there’s no way for me to not to take that route.

      Women shouldn’t avoid places/wearing certain items of clothing to avoid being attacked, heckled, raped. Men should control themselves for a nanosecond and people like you should stop blaming the victim.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1454922751 Bre Short

      If “putting myself in a situation” means driving on the turnpike in traffic and having to “simply ignore” the car full of men making lewd comments out their window and passing other cars to drive next to mine, then that deprives me of a simple human activity that I, as a woman, would not longer be able to do. It’s not a matter of ignoring when it’s threatening.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Matchu1 Matt Meelaphsom

    I must say, I AM FORTUNATE TO HAVE SISTER, and several good friends that are girls, that are like sisters to me, in this game of life, but must admit my faults.
    AFTER READING THIS…I am reminded about a time in high school, when hanging out with some friends included riding around aimlessly from place to place…just to see friends…one day as we came to an intersection in my neighborhood with 3 girls walking home from school and one of the two guys in my car leaned out the window to yell, “Hey sexy whassup?” as the girls were in their school uniforms actually about to walk home to go change, before hanging out themselves for the day…imagine that. ANYWAY…
    Which this was a completely inappropriate thing for my friend to say to them, as the girls hated those skirts and sweaters they were forced to wear…that properly finishing attire of a quality educational institution. But back to my point…
    FUNNY THING, is that it so happened one of the girls happened to be a close friend of mine…and said, “What the hell, is Matt in there?” so I pulled over and stopped and we talked briefly…THEN…WE TOLD THE HECKLER, to be nice and give up his seat and wait for us or walk about a mile to the park, where we would meet later…while my more civilized friend and I gave three beautiful girls a ride to their respective homes and gave them ample time to change clothes…oh wait back to the FUNNY THING…we forgot about the HECKLER and ended up all going to get ice cream, see a movie, and party-hop for the rest of the night…
    That good girly friend of mine…she gave me the best advice that day…you shouldn’t hang out with people like that…she said, “I wanted to throw something at him, but then I realized it was your car…and it made me think I should start wearing my Doc Martens home from school, because I really just wanna kick people like that.”
    It was that heartfelt advice, and sharing from a dear friend, that helped me become a better friend and gentleman…and the first person she would call whenever she needed a ride just about anywhere.
    Growing up is hard to do…BUT…guys should know not to encourage that kind of behavior or to even tolerate it being around in your circle of friends. Its really easy to kick people like that out of your car…out of your life…and to just delete them from your contact lists. You learn to respect women and to respect yourself by not having people like that in your life. AWESOME ARTICLE BY THE WAY!!!

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      I LOVE THIS STORY!!! Matt, you are awesome. I think it’s just as difficult for men to feel pressure to fit in socially as it is for women. It doesn’t have to be a social norm to be rude like that – usually it’s just that when one person in a group does something bold, it’s a leadership move, and others are often hesitant to question it. But it still doesn’t make it OK, and I’m so glad you shared your story!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1222350486 Lauren Bartlett

    I walk to work every day, maybe a fifteen minute walk if that..AND every single time (it never fails) some middle aged man starts screaming at me or whistling. I’m just wondering who they are trying to impress or what they’re trying to accomplish by doing this because I always shake my head, laugh and keep walking. It’s so obnoxious.

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