15 Women Share Their Worst Experiences Of Catcalling And Harassment

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Ask any woman if she’s ever been catcalled, and you will hear a resounding YES. Ask any woman when the last time she was catcalled, and her answer will probably be, “this week.” It will likely be yesterday. It could very well be today.

Catcalling, street harassment, unwanted male attention – call it what you will – these are everyday occurrences for so many women. For nearly all women. So much so that when we set out to interview females about their individual experiences, one woman replied, “It happens so often to me that there isn’t any one time that stands out as worse than all the rest.”

Catcalling is a prime example of what constitutes rape culture – perhaps even the perfect example, which is why so many women keep talking about it. Catcalling, and the clichés that surround it, plays a huge role in normalizing sexual violence. The mere fact that it’s something that happens to so many women on a daily basis is evidence enough that something is wrong. And yet, nothing changes.

Here are some fast – and scary – statistics.

According to a study conducted by a nonprofit organization called Stop Street Harassment, over 99% of women polled said that they have experienced catcalling and harassment. Cornell University’s research found that  the majority of women first experienced catcalling during puberty. And it’s not just the USA – the same study found that over 81.5% of European women have been harassed before the age of 17.

Remember that viral video that showed 10 hours of walking around NYC as a woman? It does not exaggerate. This is exactly what it’s like to be a woman, moving through a public space.

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While “catcalling” by its definition is  verbal assault, you will learn from these women’s stories that many men who catcall also feel completely at peace with touching, grabbing, and attempting to physically intimidate women. Catcalling is often a gateway to physical assault, because both stem from the same entitlement that some men carry – the entitlement that allows them to say, do, and act the way they want towards women simply because they are there.

And even when catcalling is only reduced to words, it still makes women feel like our bodies do not belong to us – like we’re on display, just because we’re walking from Point A to Point B. Like we deserve to be looked at, solely because we exist.

We spoke to 15 women of all ages about their experiences. What started out as a conversation simply about catcalling quickly segued into stories of harassment, and assault.

Here’s what they had to say.

Please note: The following contains strong language and potentially triggering content.

“When I was 17, I was returning a cable box to the local cable company in the summer, wearing a sundress. It’s funny how you remember what you were wearing, as if that was the cause. When I was walking back to my car, a group of guys sitting on the hood of their car in the parking lot started whistling at me and demanding I stop and talk to them. When they started to get really raunchy and aggressive, I yelled at them to go to hell, and they said I couldn’t talk to them that way, and then they all collectively started chasing me. I made it back to my car (running in platform shoes I might add, making my escape doubly awesome) and drove away. Those fuckers actually followed me in their car and tailgated me to the point where I actually ran a red light to get away because I thought they we’re going to ram my car. So yeah, not cute, never cute because now when someone starts to bother me on the street, I am always sure it is going to escalate like that did.”  –Katie

“I don’t know why, but I’m exclusively catcalled while grocery shopping. Mind you, I’m wearing sweats, messy hair, no makeup. I’ve been followed down aisles by whistles and statements like ‘How are you honey?’ I don’t understand it. Like, even if I was single and the guy was attractive what would they think would come of that? Would I put down my groceries and be like, ‘Heyyyy what’s up?’ No! It just weirds me out.” –Candi

“When my friends and I get catcalled, the guys that do it seem to be in a moving car, or on a porch, where they cannot be reached. This doesn’t make their actions any less creepy; we are still disgusted that grown men, or college boys, think it is okay to talk that way. What has been interesting is when we meet up with our male friends and tell them was said or done, we get a variety of reactions from them. Responses can range from anger and defense, to cracking jokes at our expense. When they become as upset as we are, it confirms that there are people that stand with us. On the other hand, when others make jokes and try to make light of the situation, it almost feels as if they don’t think it could ever escalate further. Just because we made it home or to the bar without being physically touched doesn’t make it any less valid to be freaked out about. No matter how big or small the city or town, you have the right to feel safe.” –Casey

“I was leaving work one day and as I was holding the door open for some dude – because I’m a polite human – he stopped me in my tracks and said, ‘Whoa whoa whoa. First things first. Smile.’ He drew a smile in front of my face with his index finger and thumb as he said that. I didn’t say anything because A) I was at work, and B) I was so shocked and furious that I couldn’t actually speak. Then his friend leaned back and stared at my chest, pretending to read my company’s logo. It doesn’t take seven seconds to read the logo from two feet away. Another time I was walking down the street trying to get some food before an audition, and some dude said ‘What’s happening, beautiful?’ I looked at him and kept walking because I was in a hurry. I’m not really one to just smile politely because – just no – and he screamed after me, ‘I guess you’re not really beautiful! You got a ugly spirit!’ Then he stayed outside the pizza place I went inside for about twenty minutes. Not sure if he was waiting for me to come out, but I was almost late for my dance call because of that prick.” –Tristyn

“I’ve been catcalled in my 20s, now in my 30s. I’ve been catcalled when I was thin, and now that I’m chunky. It’s happened when I’ve been in dresses, in sweats, upstate, in the city, and internationally. I’ve found that catcalling has nothing to do with what I look like, but solely because I’m a woman. I hate catcalling and mostly just ignore it, but I’ve had several instances where they’ve escalated to grabbing my arm, trying to hold my hand, touching my hair, and pinching my butt. That guy made the mistake of doing it next to my father and earned himself a punch in the back as he tried to run away.” –Pilar

“This happened to me ALL the time when I was young. It is an assault. I am large busted and that seemed to be some kind of trigger – like I was a walking sex kitten asking for it, instead of just a girl with a DD cup. It was very frightening and made me feel very threatened. Often it was older men, which made it scarier. I had to go to a neutral space in my head, inside a wall of pretending I didn’t hear or see them. Outside my NYC family apartment one summer, the very SAME workmen who catcalled to me every day were quiet when I walked by with my Dad. The question I have is why do they do it?  Is it for their fellow catcallers? Do they think we might respond? Put our groceries down and offer to blow them? Do they have any idea how disgusting they are to us? Do they enjoy our fear? Do they know it happens to their daughters and wives?” –Heather

“I was on a train in Switzerland, dozing in and out, when a man woke me up and asked if the seat across from me was open. It was, so I said yes, after a few minutes he started making kissing faces at me and asking me questions. Clearly not interested, I told him no, put my head phones on and moved my body to face the window more. The train was getting less and less full at each stop, so I was waiting for a time to get up and move. I doze off again and woke up to the man running his hands up my leg. I hit his hands away and told him, ‘No!’ but his response was, ‘It’s ok you’re American.’ I got up and switched seats (at that time a woman was sitting across from me.) I tried to keep my eyes open, but hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and feel asleep…I woke up to this man making kissing noises and groping my chest (the woman must have gotten off at the previous stop). He told me it was fine, and that I could touch him if I wanted to. I talked to the train worker, and got moved to a private section, but no one – man or woman – should have to worry about being harassed while riding the train – or ever!” –Kelly

“One thing that always gets me is this: Because I am a woman and I have tattoos, men seem to always think it’s okay to touch my arm and look at them. I don’t see them running up to any man with a sleeve tattoo and violating their personal space, but it happens to me all the time.” –Katie

“I have been to many countries; many of which are considered third world countries. I have been to many states, and have walked alone and in groups in all of these locations. The truth is that I have never been more skeeved out than on one particular occasion in good ole’ Virginia, USA. I was visiting for a few months, and I decided to go for a run. It was dusk; not particularly late, around 8pm. As I was running, I heard a whistle. There was some guy sitting on a bench, leering. I wrinkled my nose in annoyance and kept going. As I went a bit further, I ran by a man walking on the sidewalk. I skirted to the side to give him space. I was thinking about nothing when BAM! He turned and smacked me in the butt. To be honest, I kept running. It was one of those, what just happened?! moments. After a couple of minutes, I was fantasizing about turning around and beating him with anything I could find. How dare anyone take a liberty that I was not willing to give. It still makes me irate, even though it was years ago now.” –Vanessa

“Acceptable: Jamba Juice employee told me my dress was a good color. Uncomfortable: Strange man leaned in my car window and said, about my canoe, “I love a woman with a boat.” Disgusting: Random dude on the street says “I’ll suck your pussy for free” as I’m walking home at night.” –Jessica

“Years ago, a coworker put his arm around me and kissed the back of my neck. Totally inappropriate and unsolicited. I told him what he did was uncalled for, and then I reported it to my superior. She asked, ‘Are you still going to be able to do your job?'” –Lisa

“The worst harassment seems to be at concerts. In my teens and throughout my twenties, I frequented festivals and concerts. I wouldn’t dare wear anything too revealing because that not only seemed to be an open invitation for whistling and heckles, but it also caused unwanted sexual offers and advances. In standing room concerts, men would think it’s just common practice to rub on me and my friends and sometimes have grabby hands. Just because I like music, concerts, or dancing does not mean I am inviting sexual harassment and advances.” –Amy

“Visiting the town of Chiang Mai, Thailand, I didn’t feel very out of place at all. I was surrounded by my compatriots – fellow travelers. One day, walking along the sidewalk, I was waved at by two gentlemen and I waved back. We stopped and talked for a bit – travelers talk to each other all the time to trade stories, advice, and tips about the area. They were very friendly and we laughed quite a bit. At the end of the conversation, they asked for a hug and I hugged them back. Mid group hug, I felt a hand squeeze my butt. I shoved both of the guys off me and glared at them. One of them asked, ‘Can I touch your boobs?’ I said no and started to walk away. He followed me and said, ‘Oh please, just once.’ I stopped and looked him in the eye and said, ‘If you ask me again, I’m going to shove you into traffic and spit on you.’ Understanding I was serious, he and his friend walked away. It could have been a beautiful interaction if they hadn’t smutted it all up. They ruined my trust for any genuine gentlemen I might encounter moving forward. This is why we can’t have nice things.” –Zoom

“I live in San Diego, CA. Often the weather is warm and encouraging when it comes to walking to places – to the gym, the grocery store, downtown restaurants, you name it. One day, I was walking back from the grocery store. I was dressed simply in jeans, sandals, and a tank top. I passed by a group of men and they started whistling. One shouted, ‘Show more skin, baby!’ as if my choice of dress was his to decide for his own pleasure. Despite feeling a rush of anger and embarrassment, I ignored them and continued on my way, not wishing to engage a pack of frenzied and horny men. I walked for another block until I realized one of the men was following me. He was about mid to late 40s, just over 6 ft, and dressed in white linen pants and an open buttoned white shirt. He asked me if I needed an escort home. I pretended not to hear him even though he was feet behind me. Another block went by and still he kept to his pursuit. I was beginning to feel very unsafe and annoyed. (Half the time you hear people tell women they should just ignore and not engage, while the other half says you should confront harassment head on.) His group of friends were still within sight, so I did not feel comfortable stopping to challenge this man. By the end of the third block, I turned around and asked him what he wanted. He told me I was pretty and shouldn’t be walking alone. He asked if I was married. ‘No,’ I responded. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ he continued. ‘No,’ I responded again. I turned and started walking away, now a mere two blocks from my apartment. He started following me again, this time shouting at me to take his number so we could become ‘friendly.’ I didn’t want him to know where I lived so I turned around a second time. ‘Sure,’ I said. He perked up and started pulling out his phone. ‘I’ll take your number and then give it to that policeman over there and report you for harassment,’ I continued. ‘How does that sound?’ His look of shock made me feel slightly better. He muttered bitch and slut under his breath, before turning around and leaving. I waited until he disappeared from my sight before I continued home.” –Kristina

“I could talk for hours about this, it’s so upsetting! I live in Orlando, so not a lot of walking on the street, but when I do, there’s always honking and yelling. I was at the mall about a month ago and a random guy kept saying, ‘Wanna fuck?’ to me, and wouldn’t leave me alone. For me, I feel totally stuck, because if I am uncomfortable and laugh out of discomfort, they think it’s okay,. But I’m too afraid to talk back because of the possibility of violence. Lastly, I often get told from total strangers – always men – to ‘smile.’ Usually they tell me I’d be prettier if I smiled. Once, I was super at peace walking on the beach, and this guy came up to me and said, ‘It’s a beautiful day, smile! You look prettier that way!’ It totally messed with my zen. Like… when I’m feeling one with the ocean, I don’t care if I am aesthetically pleasing to strangers.” –Melissa

StopTellingWomenToSmileTakePart

If you need confidential help or support surrounding sexual assault, there are people who can help. Please call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN’s site here. ❤

{featured image via we*heart*it}

{bottom image via ‘Stop Telling Women To Smile’}

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