Catcalling: creepy vs compliment?

Image: Sigfrid Lundberg, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

[Bryony Wharfe | Contributing Writer]

A Twitter poll on catcalling has gone viral recently after Alexis Isabel (@lexi4prez), creator of Twitter account @feministculture, posted it to see what results she would get from her followers, hoping to prove that catcalling is a problem.

The definition of “catcalling” is unwelcome comments or sounds that are sexual in nature made by strangers e.g. whistling at a person or shouting “hey sexy”. Catcalling is therefore a form of sexual harassment and can result in criminal arrest.

The seven questions asked by Isabel were answered by around 19,000 people. Questions such as: “How old were you when you were first catcalled?” and “Do you wish catcalling would stop?” issued a wave of disgust and shock when the answers were revealed, for example out of the 19,000 respondents, 48 per cent were first catcalled under the age of 12.

I decided to see if I’d get the same results as Isabel with university students and my Facebook friends by posting a similar poll on my personal Facebook page.

(Note: poll percentages were automatically rounded up to the closest number which is why some results add up to 101%)

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University of Hertfordshire students provided some shocking stories when asked about their experiences of catcalling. Third year student, Chloe Burrowes revealed:

“Me and my best friend used to walk down the road from her house and it was a shock for us not to be shouted or wolf whistled at, this happened from when we were about 13 and lasted until we left and went to university. Although we got used to it, for a 13 year old it was incredibly intimidating from a grown man.”

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Shockingly, like Burrowes, 73 per cent of respondents had experienced catcalling under the age of 16, meaning they were under the age of consent, showing that catcalling can happen to anyone at any age. This means that someone has walked past a minor and whistled at them or made a sexual remark. Alice Connolly said: “Men sometimes beeped their horns at me as they drove past me whilst I was walking to school… in uniform.”

Out of the 108 people who answered the Facebook poll, only 10 were male. Although it is mostly women who are catcalled, males are too. A 21-year-old UH student recalled an incident where a much older woman kept making remarks out loud about his body in a smoking area at a bar, making the evening so uncomfortable that he went home early. Another 19-year-old UH student said that he was catcalled at school by a group of older girls who told him he had a “nice ass”. He added that it made him feel “weird”.

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All (ten out of ten) male respondents thought that catcalling was a compliment compared to only three out of 98 women. When asked what was said when they were catcalled, UH students responded with: “Oi Oi I’d let you suck me off,” “You’re beautiful give us a smile” and “Masha’Allah”.

Second year UH student, Aimone Sharif, shared her experiences:

“Someone asked if my down under was still working as he would totally bang me – seeing I was on crutches.

“I was walking in Hatfield and someone in a truck said he would lick me up and down.”

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Male respondents predominantly voted that they would not want the catcalling to stop, and said that it made them feel safe and/or happy. This suggests that men can appreciate catcalling because they don’t consider it frightening, creepy or aggressive towards them, unlike the respondents that were women.

A 21-year-old, postgraduate UH student said that when she did not say thank you or acknowledge a guy who whistled at her, he called her a “whore” and a “bitch”. Another woman revealed that when walking past builders on her way home, she was continually catcalled day after day, regardless of how big her jacket was or how loose her trousers were. Catcalling someone is considered a disregard of the possibility of their discomfort, irritation or even fear, and signals that they are nothing more than their bodies. The most commonly heard phrase: “give us a smile” is a form of exercising a sense of control and ownership

When asked about their thoughts on people who catcall, third year UH student, Laura Slingo, replied: “I pity men that catcall, I mean, how pathetic can you get.” Sharif added:

“Those guys have no respect for a woman at all. I am not your toy or here to amuse you, I am here to live my life. Don’t talk to me disrespectfully if I don’t know you, and especially not from a truck!”

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Results showed that 55 per cent of respondents had not experienced catcalling turning violent and aggressive. However, a statistic from stopstreetharassment.org’s report on catcalling showed that 57 per cent of women reported being touched or grabbed in a sexual way by a stranger in public (out of 811 women). This shows that catcalling can quickly turn into sexual assault. I experienced catcalling turn into assault myself in 2014, when I was catcalled by two men walking past me. After ignoring them, they walked past me and one of them proceeded to put his hand under my dress and grab my bum. I felt that the situation could have turned out a lot worse if no-one else had been around at the time.

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UH graduate, Joely Hannah Moore, recounted an incident at a concert where a 30-year-old man catcalled her. Upon rejecting his advances, Moore said: “He tried to grab me to dance and I pulled away so he punched me in the stomach.” Another UH graduate, Joanna Acierno, said that another bus passenger said “Hey baby,” to her and proceeded to ask for her number:

“When I said no I don’t want to give you my number he put his legs up to stop me getting off the bus, but a nice guy behind saved me.”

A third year UH student said that she had been stalked by someone who had catcalled her on two occasions and had been groped on campus. Groping was admitted to be a problem by Acierno who added that it was especially an issue in clubs, Moore said: “It’s surprising when you don’t get groped in clubs.” A third year, male UH student also admitted experiencing groping and said that it made him feel violated and dirty.

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The statistics and stories make it clear that catcalling has the potential to become something a lot worse, thus explaining why such a high percentage of people feel unsafe and/or scared when they are catcalled. While it may seem like a harmless act to a small percentage of voters, the majority disagree as they find it creepy and frightening. A huge 98 per cent of respondents said that they wished catcalling would stop leading to the conclusion that catcalling is not considered a compliment by a majority.

Images: Bryony Wharfe

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Catcalling: creepy vs compliment?