It’s time to put an end to street harassment

For almost all of women across the world, each day spent simply walking around can be a battle. Being constantly stared at, hollered to or even followed by men on the street is a real and frightening form of harassment, known today as “catcalling.”

Such a harmless-sounding name may not be an appropriate way of describing how many people feel about this type of objectification and pestering. But in many cases it is not harmless—catcalling means anything from leering and hollering to the physical pursuit of reciprocated attention from people on the street.

“I feel like it’s just this creepy animalistic mode men get in and it’s gross,” said Emma, a first year at the University. “People can be disgusting.”

This issue seems to be more severe in bigger cities versus small towns and suburbs, most likely due to the crowded nature of metropolises and the need to walk and use public transportation rather than the ability to be in the safety and isolation of a car. Recently, a video titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” published on Oct. 28, garnered over 36 million views in just three weeks, sparking additional dialogue about this issue.

The compilation was created as an eye-opening demonstration by the organization Hollaback!.  According to their website, the movement’s mission is to “end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world.”

The video depicts a woman silently walking around N.Y. for 10 hours wearing a solid black crewneck and jeans receiving over 100 comments and pursuits from men, not including “countless winks, whistles, etc.” The harassments ranged from simply wishing her a nice day to following the woman for more than five minutes to telling her she is sexy and needs to smile more.

Women are not the only ones affected by unwanted attention on the street. In fact, a study conducted in June by the organization Stop Street Harassment (SSH) revealed that 70 percent of LGBTQ people have experienced street harassment by the age of 17.

One argument that has been at the forefront of the opposition of ending street harassment is that those shouting the more mild comments such as a “hello, gorgeous” or “damn!” are simply trying to compliment the woman or just be a polite member of society and greet her. However, although these may seem more harmless than other extreme examples of harassment, their statements are still objectifying and an assertion of dominance.

In response to catcalls and specifically the recent viral video, a CNN segment was held on Nov. 2 between author Steve Sangati and comedian Amanda Seales. Santagi claimed that “There is nothing more that a woman loves to hear than how pretty she is,” and he could not have been more wrong.

“I think it is extremely offensive,” said Nadine, a first year at the University. “It feels like we’re sexual prey and they [the harassers] expect all women to fulfill what they want.”

There is a huge difference between a genuine compliment from someone who is trusted and known and an anonymous shout on the street intended to make someone feel vulnerable and objectified. It is not the same and it is not intended by the harassers to be as such.

Plain and simple: heteronormative males do not do this to each other; it is directed at women and other vulnerable groups to intimidate them and make them feel uncomfortable. Therefore, it is a form of public sexual harassment and is inappropriate and cannot be tolerated in our so-called progressive era.

The problem of street harassment can even be seen in our own community. It is not prevalent in Tacoma but at the same time is not completely lacking.

“When I go for a jog around the neighborhoods, I will get honks from carks or remarks from groups walking, almost without fail,” said a sophomore at Puget Sound.

Continuing our society’s trend of just brushing off catcalls, whistles and hollers only diminishes the issue. In America street harassment is almost seen as a joke; many see it as a nuisance of city life, a repercussion of wearing a certain outfit or a part of being seen as attractive. Yet, this is not the case in all societies.

A model in New Zealand repeated Hollaback!’s experiment and received a totally different response: politeness. Out of the two people who approached her, one European tourist did compliment her, asking if she was Italian, stating she looked nice and apologized for stopping her on the street. The other asked for directions.

It is our society’s shortcoming that we allow women and the LGBTQ community to be made uncomfortable and singled out with virtually no repercussions for their harassers. Clearly, other cultures are far more advanced in progress to an inclusive and safe environment and America should follow suit.

But this second experiment should give us hope; street harassment can be stopped. By documenting the instances of harassment and making it known that it is not okay, or supporting organizations such as Hollaback! and SSH, we can finally provide the obvious: equal access in public spaces for all.