Street Harassment Is Not a Compliment

Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment, where unwanted, sexualized comments, touching, provocative gestures are directed towards women in public spaces like streets, malls, markets, etc. 

It is not limited to only these acts, as it includes any type of slurs that are derogatory, directed at a person (in this case, women) in a public area. 

One of the most common types of street harassment is catcalling. Catcalling is a daily occurrence for many women. It’s so common that it’s almost normalized. But what does catcalling really do for the men who do it? Is it their way of showing they appreciate a woman, or is there something more sinister at play?

As a child, I learned to deal with street harassment and catcalling by never making eye contact (because I was too embarrassed) and walking as fast as my legs could carry me (because I was anxious about my safety). 

There’s an argument that men make, that catcalling is only intended to give compliments to women and nothing else, but I beg to differ. 

Street harassment is no more about compliments than rape is about sex. Both are about power, violence and control. That’s why, when women have the temerity to reject the advances of street harassers, they so often turn, in a moment, to angry outbursts of abuse. Because that rejection disrupts their entitlement to our bodies, which society has allowed them to believe is their inherent right.

Laura Bates, The Guardian 

Let’s define catcalling, to give us a bit of perspective. 

Catcalling is the act of shouting, yelling sexually suggestive comments at a woman, in public. Now, there’s absolutely no aspect or form of sexual harassment that is a compliment, and it’s an insult to the intelligence of women to try and rebrand it as one. 

When women are cat-called on the streets, the caller often makes statements about how she looks physically. For example, saying “Ohh nice ass” will never be a compliment from a total creepy stranger on a sidewalk. Rather, it’s a cue to run to the nearest form of safety from such a person. 

In this day where women are attacked by rejected suitors, strangers, and creepy neighbours, I think it’s important that we discuss how harmful street harassment is, and stop trying to erase the experiences of victims by trying to normalize it. 

Catcalling/street harassment is not cute. It’s not a compliment nor is it funny to the recipient. Rather, street harassment makes women feel unsafe, it degrades women, objectifies them. It’s disrespectful and insulting to them. 

Any “compliment” that makes the recipient feel unsafe, embarrassed, and anxious is no compliment at all, and that’s exactly what catcalling does. 

Women should be able to live and coexist safely amongst men, without fear of constant harassment and abuse. If men can take walks in parks, on the streets without fear of street harassment,  women should be able to afford this “luxury” too. 

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