It’s hard to come up with solutions when people refuse to see the issue.
By Zoe Perls and Draco Rose
Disclaimer: All first names used by MUD were used with the party’s written consent. No quote or story used in this article has been made up, exaggerated, or embellished by Zoe Perls or Draco Rose.
From men yelling crass comments out of their car, to guys remaining silent when their boys whistle at girls, catcalling is a problem that’s been around for decades.
Despite the social progress we’ve made, this gateway to misogyny is still thriving. It doesn’t matter how many people scream at guys and tell them to knock it off, many of them dismiss it and don’t see it as their problem, especially since men—and a lot of older women—have created a culture that normalizes it.
But women and female presenting people aren’t dogs that live for the attention of men, they’re multidimensional human fucking beings and deserve to be treated as such.
The only way people are going to understand how serious this is, is by breaking down these normalizations and bringing these stories to light, and that’s exactly what we did.
Over the course of one day, we each asked our instagram followers to tell us about an experience with catcalling or harassment that impacted them—whether it was their first time or a time that stayed with them—and sorted every story we received under a theme.
Here’s what Zoe and I learned.
Their first experience happened younger than you’d think.
If you’re as shocked as we are with how young these women and female presenting people were the first time they were catcalled, you’re not alone. It’s uncomfortable to think of how many men—even now—still find it okay to sexualize the bodies of children and young teenagers.
Take Victoria’s story for example:
“One morning at the start of middle school (6th grade, age 11-12), I was waiting at the bus stop. I was listening to music and had my headphones in with my head down, on my phone literally just standing and waiting when a truck drove by me with a few men in it. They stopped right in front of me and were whistling, honking, and catcalling me until I looked up and acknowledged that they were there. I’ve had several experiences, similar to this, all from when I was a child, and it hasn’t stopped since then.”—Victoria
Or even Bethany’s:
“I don’t know if this counts but I remember me and my friend going to the city when we were 11 and we were getting ice cream at like 8pm or something with my mum. She was inside and this group of men came past whistling and asking if we wanna “lick” their “ice creams.” That was the first time I was catcalled and we were wearing normal dresses...We looked like children.”—Bethany
They say “girls mature faster than boys,” but maybe that’s because girls and female presenting kids are forced to deal with the pedophilic comments of men on their own. In a system that convinces people that catcalling is a compliment, these young kids are made to take their feelings of violation and bury it in a box we call “normal”.
Which takes us to our next theme.
Normalized experiences are just as bad. So why do we ignore them?
Because being catcalled happens at such a young age and with such frequency, catcalling becomes routine, both for the person dealing with it and those who continue to do it. It’s another expected nuisance of day to day life. Just as you expect traffic at 5:30 pm everyday, so many of us expect to be catcalled walking down a street.
We’ve become a culture where the only way to deal with our fear is by getting used to it and becoming numb. We’re not changing anything, we’re just allowing the cycle to repeat.
“Having some guys call after me yelling, ‘SKIRT!’ Trying to get me to talk to them, some older guys grabbing my arm to call me pretty, car honks, guys yelling at me from their car, and I get told what to wear all the time. My response is almost always, ‘Let’s pretend that didn’t happen.’”—Anonymous
“Let’s pretend that didn’t happen,” a phrase used time and time again, because dealing with the incident won’t prevent it from happening again. And everyone normalizes it. Ourselves, our friends, our boyfriends, our teachers, they all turn the other cheek and pretend it didn’t happen.
“One time in high school I was walking down a hallway and a guy catcalled me from inside a classroom and his teacher just ignored it.”—Anonymous A
The Boyfriend Excuse
“I was going for a walk and there were some construction workers near my house. I had my headphones in and I waved hello as I passed a guy holding a stop/slow sign. He said, “Have a good day, beautiful,” which I thought was weird but I replied, “Thank you. You too.” I put in my headphones and kept walking. I get to the other side and another construction worker stops me and says, “My friend thinks you’re cute and [wants to know if] he can have your number?” I say no and he says, “Oh, do you have a boyfriend?” I said yes because I do. He then radios the first guy on a walkie talkie and says, “It ain’t happened dude, she got a man.” I quickly put on my headphones and walk away. I was creeped out, I was disgusted, and I was also scared. Scared because what if I didn’t have a man?”—Teresa
Women and other female presenting individuals are also extremely limited in what they can say to get a guy to leave them alone. Half the time their “No” is faced with more harassment and are called sexist slurs like bitch, or slut. Whether they want to or not, many of them find that their safest escape is by using the Boyfriend excuse, a.k.a the excuse they give because men won’t take no for a damn answer. It doesn’t matter if women and other female presenting folk are actually in a relationship or not, people will claim they have boyfriends because they know other men are more likely to respect the “claim of another man” than they are to respect the word “NO”.
A group of guys never fails to set people on edge.
It’s as if men feel like because there’s more of them they can say whatever the hell they want. It’s worse when more than one person in the group feels this way, or knows they’re boys won’t call them out. From things turning into a group catcall to making standing up for yourself a safety hazard, it’s enough to make anyone feel dehumanized and objectified. Even if it’s not everyone saying it, the silent ones are JUST as bad, if not worse.
“Was giving my wife dinner at work and got whistled at and called beautiful etc. by a group of men. Didn’t make eye contact and stuck the finger up and they acted all offended. They came back the same way and just muttered and scoffed at me the second time around. I hated that it was a whole group, I was 20ish and looked VERY GAY AT THE TIME.”—Pippa
It’s easier to brush off catcalling because beginning to think critically about this opens up a whole can of worms about gender, safety, who owns our bodies—and it’s fucking exhausting.
As far as traumatic experiences go, a guy catcalling you is probably not as bad as it gets.
Right now, catcalling is just part of existing as a woman or female presenting person in the world.
And here’s a secret. When I—Zoe—was little, maybe 13, and my friends recounted their tales of being catcalled, I was jealous. I wanted to be catcalled. I knew it would be scary but I wanted to be affirmed like that. In my young head, being catcalled was a price you had to pay to be a beautiful woman and when I was 13 and insecure, being a beautiful woman was all I wanted to be.
But the thing is. Your existence does not and should not be defined by the trauma you endure.
I also know that when you are being catcalled, it is not your beauty, or even your body, being affirmed. It is your vulnerability that is being called out and seen. When I was catcalled for the first time, it was not when I looked hot in a mini dress, but when I was sick, exhausted, and running late wearing sweatpants.
The only thing I was wearing at the time was the look of fear and panic across my face as I jaywalked across the street. That fear is what drew them in, not my body.
Extreme experiences are the gateways to assault.
Although every experience with catcalling is awful, regardless of how often women and female presenting people dismiss or belittle it, there’s one fact that this experiment has made increasingly clear.
Catcalling is the proverbial gateway to misogyny, physical and sexual assault.
Don't believe us? Take this final story from one of our followers:
“When I was in York, England, a bunch of friends (guys and girls) were out partying and decided to walk about 20 mins to get McDonalds as a 2 am snack. I sobered up there but one of the girls was extremely drunk and begging to go back. I was trying to tell people we needed to leave but everyone was still either ordering food or really drunk. I went outside to find one of my friends who was waiting there but in front of the door was this group of maybe like 5 or 6 guys. They immediately started catcalling me, saying all of this crude stuff. I tried to walk past them and one of them reached out and grabbed my breast, so I booked it back inside. Thankfully one of my guy friends saw I was close to tears and I admitted to him what happened. He put his jacket around me, grabbed the other girl, walked us past the guys who were still catcalling us, told them off and proceeded to walk us back to the hostel.”—Anonymous
The violating feeling of having a man verbally dehumanize you is not something people ever want to put up with. And yet it’s something women and female presenting people are forced to do time and time again. Unless they can fight like Black Widow, or are surrounded by other people who’ve got their back, speaking up can be extremely terrifying and incredibly unsafe.
Cis men who catcall take advantage of the boundaries we don't feel safe defending.
Women have been stalked, beaten, raped, and harassed for much less than saying no, hence the fear of saying it in the first place. Add a furious man who feels humiliated when people tell them to simply fuck off, and the situation turns from bad to worse.
Men don’t see women or female presenting people as a threat, if they did, the power of our no’s would be respected. In order for things to change more men need to start speaking up.
Start calling out your boys.
Start initiating the conversation.
And above all start fucking listening to the things we’re going through.
In fact, we challenge all men reading this to do this experiment for themselves. Post something to your social media accounts, or talk to the women and female presenting people in your life, and ask them about their catcalling experience (or ask them about what you’ve read here). Find a way to get responses anonymously and we guarantee you’ll have even more results.
Accountability can only be the solution when everyone can see the problem.
Fighting for change,
Draco & Zoe