Almost every woman I've ever met has been catcalled. When I was a teenager, I couldn't walk the length of a shopping mall without a stranger making a crude comment about my body. I'll still occasionally get a honk or shout from a car window if I'm out for a walk. Women and girls have regularly dealt with catcalling on school campuses, parking lots, and even playing with their toddlers at the park. I often wonder how things would change for our children if everyone knew how to explain catcalling to their kids and teach them that it is wrong.
Unlike Doree Lewak's infamous 2014 New York Post article that argued catcalls are flattering, I find the opposite to be true. For the majority of women, catcalling is intrusive, invasive, and can be down-right scary. In that same year, Natalie DiBlasio, a breaking news reporter at USA TODAY wrote:
"Catcalling is horrifying, dangerous and demeaning. Catcalling does not mean you are beautiful, smart, strong or interesting. Catcalling means a stranger values you so little he doesn't care if he makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened."
Last year, my then 13-year-old daughter confided in me that a boy had called out to her in the cafeteria. "Hey!" he yelled as she walked toward her table. "My boy wants you." She wasn't quite sure she'd heard him correctly and asked, "Excuse me?" The boy, who was a year older, pointed to his friend and elaborated. "He saw your butt and now he wants you," he said. In shock, my daughter continued walking to her table while the boys fell into a fit of laughter.
My daughter is strong, brave, and knows how to stand up for herself, but the experience caught her so off-guard that she didn't know how to respond. Young women and girls have been conditioned for so long to seek approval for their looks, that this kind of harassment gives them conflicting feelings. On one hand, she was embarrassed and angry, but on the other hand, someone was saying that they found her attractive. How does a 'tween or teen with no romantic experience know what is appropriate attention and what isn't? This is where parents come in.
Teach your children that catcalling is never OK. It's not a compliment. There are many polite and respectful ways for an adolescent to approach someone they are interested in, and countless ways to give a compliment without being rude or crass. Explain that catcalling is synonymous with street harassment. In fact, Consent Ed, a website geared toward ending sexual violence,argued that catcalling is a form of gender bullying.
Talk to your kids about what they should do and who they should turn to for help if someone is harassing them. Unrequited catcalls can quickly turn into unkind and degrading remarks, and even physical violence. Work together to form a safety plan.
Business Insider recommended some steps to handle street harassment:
- Assess your safety and your location. Keep your phone in hand.
- Make eye contact, but keep moving so it doesn't seem like you want to engage in conversation.
- If you respond, use a firm voice. Say something like "Leave me alone." or "Go away."
- Avoid swearing, as this is the quickest way to anger a harasser, and can lead to violence.
- Walk away.
- Fake (or make) a phone call, or call 9-1-1 if you feel threatened.
- Talk to a person in charge: If you are at school, talk to the administration, a teacher, or school resource officer. If you are in a parking lot, go back inside (or call the location when you are safe) and talk to the security officer or someone in management.
Keep in mind that because kids are inexperienced, they may not know that a certain behavior is wrong if they haven't been specifically told that it is wrong. They look to their parents for guidance and example.
If you want your children to grow up in a world that is kind and respectful, you should be committed to teaching them how to be kind and respectful. It is never to early to start.