Street harassment: it is a big deal.

Imagine you are walking around, when suddenly some stranger yells at you something like “hey beautiful! Why are you sad? Why don’t you smile at me? You’re too sweet to be sad!”.
That is an example of what is known as “catcall”. Have you ever been catcalled?
If you’re a woman, you most likely have. If you’re a man, you most likely haven’t.
The word itself, “catcall”, where the callers are men and the called are women, implies that there is something wrong, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, though, there are so many people not realizing the importance of the issue. Being a man, specifically, makes it much harder to get why being catcalled is so frustrating and why the phenomenon itself is so serious. And it is, really, even when the catcall is something like “hey beautiful!”. In this case, particularly, the catcaller justifies himself saying he just complimented the woman.
But did he? No. No, he didn’t.
That is not a compliment. In fact, it is an insult. Catcalling is bullying. It encourages the idea that women can be treated like they’re some nice product in a shop window.
If a random guy whistles while I’m walking, I don’t feel amused. I feel angry. Some women feel intimidated. Some feel humiliated. Some feel ashamed. Some feel guilty, maybe because that day they’ve put some lipstick on, or they’re wearing a skirt.
Shouldn’t women feel free to wear a skirt?

If you want to get an idea of what is like to be catcalled, watch the video “10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman”. Link here:

­Street harassment limits women’s access to public spaces. It shapes their life choices, every single day.
Paying the gym membership instead of exercising in a public park. Not taking night classes. Not going to evening events alone, nor to the restaurant, nor to the theater. Not being able to walk back home or to take the public transportation, and “choosing” to pay for a taxi. Not being able to take the shortest route because “it is not safe”. Paying a more expensive hotel when travelling, because it is in the city center, and “that is safer”. Not being able to be nice to strangers, because they might misinterpret. Not being able to wear whatever, because they might misinterpret. Pretending to be on the phone to feel safe. Crossing the street because there’s a group of men. Being afraid of walking the dog after the sun sets. Being unable to go places without the need of some sort of bodyguard (that would be a man, of course) who publicly states that the woman is “owned” and “protected”.

Women are so used to live these kinds of things that they don’t even realize why they live them anymore. It’s automatic. It’s normal.

I recently started chatting with a girl from the Netherlands. She’s planning of doing the Erasmus in Rome, and she asked me for some advice; one day she asked me whether a house she found was in a neighborhood where she could walk alone, safely, at night. When I read the text, I almost laughed. Walking safely at night? Alone? Being a girl? No way.

So, let me get this straight: a girl is moving abroad to study, to have the best time of her life, to learn, to know new people and cultures, and her decision of where to live and how to live depends on the danger that some random guy might feel like bothering her, or worse.

Doesn’t it sound crazy?

No country will ever be free and equal if it admits gender-based street harassment.
Isn’t this a sufficient reason to make it stop?

We need to stop looking the other way. “They’re just boys.” What does this even mean? Is this some sort of justification? Like being a boy means being disrespectful and ignorant, so that’s okay?

We need to talk about it. We need to address the issue, because it is only when people start considering an issue as an issue, that the issue actually starts being an issue.

We need to spread and teach a definition of masculinity that doesn’t rely on the idea that to be virile you need to be (or feel) more powerful, more controlling, more-something than the women you anyhow meet along the way.

We need to empower women. This also means stop giving or listening to well-meant advices (don’t walk alone at night, don’t wear heels, do not make eye contact with men when walking…) that, eventually, not only make women feel insecure and unsafe, but somehow allow men to act that way because “everybody knows it works that way”.

Noa Jansma, a 20 year-old girl from Amsterdam, found her own way of addressing the issue and spreading awareness, using the social media for her purpose. She decided to take a selfie with every man who would catcall her, and then posted the pictures on an Instagram account she created, @dearcatcalling, reporting the exact thing he told her.
In the pictures she’s visibly annoyed, while the men always look some kind of pleased and amused. They obviously don’t get her point.

Noa undertook the project for only a month, a month during which she posted each catcall she received, for a total of 30 posts, and reached 30.000 followers. Then, she decided to give the account to other girls all around the world, allowing them to post about their own experiences with catcallers.

This is not the only case of a woman thinking of creative ways of denouncing street harassment: in 2012, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an American woman living in New York, started the “Stop Telling Women To Smile” street art project, that consists of a series of portraits of women hung on streets’ walls, with captions that talk directly to their harassers.
Tatyana brought Stop Telling Women To Smile to many different places worldwide, including Paris, Mexico City, and of course several US cities. She constantly meets women from all social classes and ethnicities, and tells the world about their experiences.

No matter how we address the issue of gender-based street harassment, we need to do it. It is important. It is a big deal.


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