Holleran: Catcalling – A student’s guide

Bad luck doling out compliments on the street? You clearly aren’t doing it right.

Grace Holleran

GraceHolleran When you’re wandering down the street on a weekend night, bored, tired and probably intoxicated, you may begin to stumble in the figurative sense when an attractive woman crosses your path. So many things must be running through your mind. As she approaches, you realize you have mere seconds to get your point across. Quickly, you weigh your options.

“Hey, sexy!” is always a good bet, isn’t it? It is exactly what you’re thinking, and what woman doesn’t appreciate honesty?

But that isn’t you. You’re not an animal, and you want to make sure your comment is well received. You’re running out of time, so you blurt, “Your legs look good in that skirt and you’re really beautiful.” You’re sure you made her night.

Unfortunately, not nearly enough students understand that “catcalling”—read: street harassment — is one of the most widespread and pervasive forms of sexism that women face every day. So pervasive, in fact, that in a study conducted by Holly Kearl for the American Association of University Women in 2009, 95 percent of the 811 college-aged women surveyed reported that they’d been verbally harassed in public at one point in their lives.

But what constitutes street harassment? Obviously, it’s wrong to shout vulgarities at women and follow up with threats when they don’t respond…but that doesn’t really happen, right?

I regret to inform you that it does. And it does right here on Main Campus. When junior biology major Ashley Anderson was solicited by a man in his car with a typical, “Hey sexy, how you doing?” she responded by flipping him off. “He proceeded to pull over and drive slowly next to me, and curse me out for not reciprocating his shallow idea of romance,” Anderson said.

When catcalling takes a less direct form, many people confuse it for harmless flirting.

“A lot of men think that catcalling a woman is a compliment, and that she should be flattered,” Sarah Giskin, junior linguistics major, said.

But it’s never that simple.

“Even though the man’s intentions may be completely innocent, from his point of view, he can never truly know what he may be triggering for the woman,” Giskin added.


What you’re saying could sound harmless to you, but that doesn’t matter. Calling out to a woman can make her feel her safety is in jeopardy, and that certainly isn’t going to make her night.

And what are your good intentions, really? There seems to be a false pretense that women constantly need affirmation, apparently in the form of compliments from strangers on the street. To clarify things, I can almost guarantee that shouting something vaguely complimentary at a woman won’t do anything but make her walk a little faster. With that in mind, the myth of the Good Samaritan Catcaller can peacefully be put to rest.

There is a reason why women carry pepper spray and why I walk down my own block holding my house key between my knuckles “just in case.” We live in a culture where crimes are committed against women simply because of their gender, and street harassment does a great job of making women feel a little more afraid.

Thankfully, Philadelphia is noticing. In April, Hollaback! Philly launched an ad campaign that got people talking. Subways began to carry messages like, “Nice a– is not a compliment,” and, “In a perfect world, what would your sister/daughter/girlfriend hear as she walks to the subway?” Around the city, stencils of the crossed-out words “Hey Sexy” can be found on sidewalks, expressing solidarity with the anti-harassment movement.

If you want to really make a woman’s night, you can also shout something different: “Hey, leave her alone.” Just don’t worry about scoring any numbers.

Students, we are not exactly known for the safety of our campus, but helping each other feel safe is more in our control than we think. And if you’re actually reading this article for some tips on how to harass women, my advice is simple: don’t.

Grace Holleran can be reached at grace.elizabeth.holleran@temple.edu or on Twitter @coupsdegrace.

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