“Yuuurrrp.” “Yo.” “Yo shawty, sexy, yo bitch” … “Yeah you, I’m talking to you… I bet I got your attention now…”
Sound familiar? It probably does if you’re a woman. It’s the common sound of a man coming onto you; trying to “holla” at you, and he probably sounds more like a drunken Eagles fan than a potential mate. Whether walking down the street, waiting for the bus or hanging with friends, many of us experience this unruly behavior.
According to a Cornell University study with anti-street harassment group HollaBack!, about 80-90 percent of women have experienced street harassment or as some may call it, “cat calling.”
No matter what we call it, women are being called out regularly and this is causing larger issues such as miscommunication, mistrust, and division amongst sexes.
It is natural for women and men to be attracted to one another and to have the desire to want to get to know one another. There is some sort of adventure and mystery behind it. We communicate this desire through our words and our actions. But for some, loose lips sink their ships sometimes even before they take sail.
Many women claim they feel powerless when the harassment is actually taking place. When they do respond to the behavior, they are sometimes hit with more aggressive, disruptive catcalls. Many women know about that experience.
Laciana, 39, says she is no stranger to this behavior. Laciana says she receives remarks from all angles, and all ages, every day.
“The older men are just as bad, and they should know better,” she says. “Most of the time I have to put my headphones in so I don’t have to hear any of it.”
Even when women do try and take a more avoidable approach, that sometimes leads to riskier behavior. Sometimes with her headphones in, she isn’t aware of all that is happening around her and she may not hear what’s coming. Like the incident within the past month where a female jogger was attacked and robbed. Or the recent incident where a woman was pistol-whipped in front of a school in Frankford by a young man.
Laciana believes some men categorize all women into the same group instead of seeing each and every one of them as individuals. One of the most upsetting truths for Laciana is that it makes her feel self-conscious. When being catcalled, she says she often thinks what she’s wearing may be too revealing.
And she’s not alone. About 66 percent of women have admitted to changing the way they dress due to street harassment, according to the study performed by Cornell University and anti-street harassment group Holla Back!
For Alisha, a current CCP student and mother, it does. “Women need to start dressing more conservatively today. That is why they attract that kind of attention,” she says.
Zaire James, a CCP freshman, thinks dress doesn’t matter. “A woman can be covered and a man will still catcall her,” she says. In her experience with it, she says catcalling makes her feel degraded. “I am not a pet, so they don’t have to yell at me like I am some kind of animal. It makes me feel like I am not worthy of a simple conversation.”
For Philadelphia Resident, Lex, and CCP student Lauren, things are…a bit brighter. “There’s nothing wrong with meeting new guys,” says Lex. “The problem arises when they’re disrespectful within their approach.”
Lauren, who describes herself as very social, doesn’t mind bonding with a man. But when the attempt to bond turns into bashing, that’s when she is bothered by it. She thinks when other men are around this behavior, they should discourage it.
And what do men think about catcalling?
When I contacted some guys for this article, to my surprise, some were unaware of what it even meant. Take CCP students and friends Rowan and Buba. These two young men know what it is, but claim that they do not cat call. They say they are interested in getting to know women— but not rudely. “I usually try to go for a smile, in hopes of making her feel comfortable [so she understands] that my intentions are good,” Buba says.
For Rowan, a simple “Hi, how are you” works for him, he says. They each believe catcalling makes the female target uncomfortable by bringing her unwanted attention.
“We witness it all the time, especially here on campus. They either are trying to impress their friends or just have no clue on how to talk to a woman. They make it hard for men such as ourselves, who value and respect women.”
Khaleel Stewart, a young man I spoke to for this article, admits to cat calling. He says he has only done it once before, and thought it was in a joking manner—not with the intention to hurt.
Others might say that as well but that usually isn’t the case; someone gets hurt, either mentally, emotionally or physically. The intention doesn’t matter.
Some of my interviewees say we should walk away. Others are more vocal and say take a stand. Show him why he will never get your number and make him feel embarrassed for ever talking to a real woman like that! But there are people out there who take an even more serious approach to this; in case you didn’t think it could get more serious.
Hollaback! the non-profit organization designated to end street harassment, is powered by local activists in 84 cities and 31 countries. They are determined to help end this on-going harassment. They recently have been researching harassment that takes place on college campuses. After collecting data from over 282 students and 44 administrators from various schools, they have concluded that about 67 percent of students experience harassment in campus. Sixty-one percent say they have witnessed it and a small 18 percent said they haven’t experienced or witnessed it.
Maya Jackson, a junior at Temple University, says there isn’t a day that goes by when she isn’t walking to class and someone is staring her down in her personal space, or a man isn’t yelling at her like a damn pet or a man old enough to be her father honks his horn at her. Maya said this issue is very prevalent in Philly.
Hollaback! reports that 46 percent of students say it causes disappointment with the college experience. Twenty percent said it causes inability to concentrate and 23 percent say it has affected participation in class and social activities. So what are schools doing about this? Sadly, 55 percent of college administrators say they don’t have sufficient systems to report these incidents and only 17 percent say they have received reports.
CCP does have a policy against harassment, the Anti-Discrimination and harassment policy. Hopefully, that will be encouraging to anyone who may be experiencing or witnessing harassment here at the school. But what can we do, not only in our classrooms, but as well as our communities too?
First and foremost, share your story. You don’t know how many other people may be experiencing the same thing. You are not alone. Join movements like Hollaback! and volunteer and donate if you can. Speak up. Start your own movement. Support and educate one another on this issue. This way of interacting is drawing a wedge between our people. There already is a wedge between us but this just makes us move further and further away from unity. We are creating generations of disconnected, divided, misunderstood, incommunicative and hurt people. The greatest misfortune here is that this behavior doesn’t represent the powerful people we are.
So what’s the word? Let’s start being mindful of the words we use with one another. That’s the word.