The ultimate list of how to deal with day to day catcalling and street harassment.
When I look back on the trauma of secondary school, a few things come to mind… unrequited love, sweating consistently for five years, being vaguely disgruntled at all times…But more horrifying than all of that is the memory of my walks to school, in my uniform, armed with strawberry laces and my flip-up phone, being catcalled at least twice a day, for five years.
It’s hard to understand what makes a catcaller want to catcall, especially when the target of their abuse is a spotty fourteen year old girl with frizzy hair, wearing at least six items from Claire’s Accessories. I can only guess that their aim is to humiliate these girls in an attempt to flaunt their masculinity and look tough in front of their gross friends. It is so hard to feel empowered and to know how to appropriately handle catcallers when you do feel intimidated, and when ignorant people tell you it’s a compliment and it’s a part of life. Sadly it is a part of daily life for many women, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok, and that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back. It is not a compliment if you feel threatened, intimidated, or objectified – It is harassment.
Throughout secondary school, I tried many ways of dealing with catcallers, from swearing back, to trying to ignore them, but everything I tried just left me feeling more enraged. Since then, I have realised that if it is a kind of game to the catcallers, why not play them at their own game… here is my list of tried and tested ways to deal with the day to day creepers who try and intimidate you:
- Fake vomiting – Wretch as repulsively and disgustedly as you possibly can. I really enjoy this tactic as it is simple but effective, and tends to leave your catcaller both stunned and in no doubt about how their actions make you feel.
- Contort your face into the most unattractive it can be. – This is a good one for when someone is telling how gorgeous and “fuckable”* you are. Show them just how heinously “ugly” you can be.
- Tell them “I don’t speak English” repeatedly, in English. I look vaguely foreign and men try and guess where I come from in an unwelcome and misguided attempt at flirting. Telling them you don’t speak English tends to baffle them into silence. Also loudly shouting “non!” at everything they say creates a nice and awkward situation where they generally have to skulk away as trying to convey “I like the ass on that thing”* loses some of its eloquence through hand gestures alone.
- Say loudly and clearly “That is not ok!” This is a good one because it draws public attention and is nice and simple in getting the point across. It is also how you would talk to a child or a bad dog. Which feels appropriate.
- Report them. This is something I have only recently started doing, but it is the most empowering of all. The people who catcall me most in my area are exclusively builders, bin men, and shitty little schoolboys. If they don’t respect you enough to take it seriously when you tell them off, they will when you tell their boss. If they are in a van take down the number plate and ring the company. If they are in school, note what they look like and ring up and tell a teacher. Street harassment is illegal in the UK, and you can ring the non-emergency number 101 if you are being harassed. Be a snitch! It’s empowering!
- Make it public. Some people have begun a movement of taking pictures of their catcallers but I have always felt this is a bit scary. If you feel bold enough to do that then do! If not there are other ways of telling people; the website EverydaySexism.com is a good place to share your experiences. Three amazing women in Lebanon have developed an app called HarassTracker in which you can pinpoint on a map where you were harassed, and say what exactly happened. While simply saying what happened may not feel like it has much impact, making people aware that this is a real problem, and having a wealth of evidence to prove it is what will actually make change. Even just telling friends. Most of my boy friends are shocked and horrified to hear about even one instance of this as they simply don’t see it, and don’t hear about it.
- Stand up for other people! A horrible woman-hating weasel made me cry on a packed train recently by publicly shouting at me, and no one, not one person said anything. If you see someone harass someone else, say something (but be careful not to put the catcalled person or yourself in danger). Even if the catcaller laughs it off, uniting against them makes you feel stronger.
That is my ultimate list of how to deal with day to day catcalling and street harassment. There is so much more to be done to eradicate this daily sexism, and to stop it being a part of life, but hopefully this list will provide you with some ways to feel less powerless in the meantime. And if you want to do more to help fight against catcalling, check out ihollaback.org, everydaysexism.com, or stopstreetharassment.org, all great platforms to make a difference!
Illustration by Toria Thomson.