Out of the many different issues women face on a daily basis, catcalling and street harassment seem to be some of the most universal problems.
Seventy to 100% of women worldwide experience street harassment, according to a multitude of studies from Stop Street Harassment.
The organization’s 2014 report showed that people of color, LGBT individuals (particularly trans women) and lower-income people were “disproportionately affected by street harassment overall”. Because street harassment most commonly affects women, I decided to ask some of my female friends and followers on social media whether any of their male friends had ever shielded them from catcallers, and how they felt about their guy friends doing so. I also asked how male harassers reacted to being talked down to by another man, versus how they reacted when my female friends stood up for themselves alone. Below are some of the questions I asked, and the stories of women I know.
Most of my friends and I agreed that when we’re with another guy, men are less likely to harass us. “I think guys have this unspoken code to not hit on another guy’s ‘interest’, whether it be sexual or romantic, and they just assume any girl with a guy is ‘his territory’,” my friend B pointed out. My friend H agreed; she told me her boyfriend used to have to walk her through certain areas because the catcalling she experienced there alone was so bad. Personally, I’ve never had a man verbally or physically harass me when I’m with another guy; the worst harassment I’ve gotten while walking with a male friend is some gross leering from a car window or street corner.
When male friends have shielded us from catcallers, they’re met with mixed reactions from both the catcallers themselves, and the women they’re standing up for. My friends L and H both agreed they’d rather handle their harasser themselves. L feels her harassers “brush it off” when another man defends her in front of them, but are shocked into silence when she says something herself. It’s “embarrassing” for a man to catcall a woman in front of his friends, only to be shot down by his target, said L.
H feels that the men around her should trust that if another man bothers her, she will stand up for herself, “because everyone is conditioned to think it’s easier to f*ck with a girl than a guy…people feel like they can catcall a girl all day” without any consequences.
Other women I talked to would appreciate if the men they were with stood up for them, as long as it was coming from a place of compassion rather than ownership. Most of the women I talked to agreed that when men catcall them, it’s because they want to assert their power over their female victims. O and B want the men with them to respond to catcallers, but not if it’s only because they feel the same ownership over female bodies that the harassers themselves feel. When being harassed on the street, “it’s hard to stand up for yourself for fear of your own safety, but if another person validates that it’s harassment, it helps a lot,” said O. B agreed. “As much as I’m a strong, independent woman, it’s nice to have someone else stand up [for me] too,” she said.
More than anything, the main takeaway I heard from the women I spoke to was their complete and utter disdain for being catcalled. Whether we have someone there to defend us, or we stand up for ourselves, the bottom line is that we want the harassment to stop. We don’t want to have to feel so unsafe walking through certain areas that we ask our brothers, boyfriends, or other male friends to escort us. We don’t want to be scared of the men shouting obscenities at us from car windows, and we don’t want to feel the need to cross the street because there’s a man leering at us on our usual route home. Ultimately, we don’t want to have to defend ourselves against men that don’t respect us, and we don’t want our male friends to have to do so either.
How do you deal with being harassed or catcalled on the street? Would you want a male friend to stand up for you if he was there? Let me know in the comments below.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK.