It’s a beautiful afternoon, I’m enjoying a nice ride along the paved bike paths when I decide to make a pit-stop at a park near the trail. “Hey, nice ass!” I hear being yelled, completely interrupting the zen moment I was enjoying. I look across my shoulder and see a small group of what must be pre-teenage boys. I was shocked at how young these kids looked, and wondered where they learned that this type of behavior is appropriate.
I am old enough to be their mother, so being accosted by children was a new thing for me. The level of disrespect that I felt was almost enough to make me turn around and ask them where they learned to speak to women that way, but I held my tongue and rode on. Being addressed by strangers in this manner is nothing new, this type of harassment has been around for a long time, but it’s only somewhat recently that women are speaking up about the damaging effects of this.
This behavior is known as catcalling and comes in the form of a shout, whistle or comment of sexual nature, usually to a female passerby. It seems women cannot go outside to enjoy any outdoor recreation without some form of this harassment; according to stopstreetharassment.org, a survey of 911 female respondents revealed 99 percent had experienced street harassment at least once in their lives, with 38 percent reporting this happening at least on a monthly basis.
So why is this so common? I was somewhat perplexed by the comment of those boys, and it got me wondering why men (or boys) act this way- so I started to ask. I found most men believe they are being complimentary and flattering the woman.
Other men told me that sometimes this hollering works, they will shout to an attractive woman from afar and she will smile and saunter over. I found the latter not quite believable. However, in this society where objectifying women is commonplace, I am not surprised that some women might actually feel flattered by these sort of comments.
Men may think, “okay, so what’s the problem then?” The problem is that with many types of abuse, verbal, physical, psychological, etc., the behavior escalates when the perpetrator sees he can get away with it. Verbal harassment can turn into men approaching the woman, or even following or stalking her. When a man makes an inappropriate comment to me and I have to walk by them, it makes me feel very unsafe and uncomfortable. I wonder if they are going to follow me or approach me. I am not alone: stopstreetharassment.org reports further that 75 percent of women reported being followed at least once by an unknown stranger in public and 62 percent reported a stranger purposely blocking their path at least once. It gets worse: 57 percent have reported being touched or grabbed by a stranger in public, and 18 percent say they have been touched or grabbed sexually six or more times in their lives by strangers in public.
Thinking back to these pre-pubescent boys that felt it appropriate to comment on my backside as I rode by on my bike, I know that more needs to be done to raise awareness about what sexual harassment is and isn’t.
I am unsure of what was going through that kid’s head, but the issue is understanding the difference between a compliment and a cat call. It is absolutely possible to compliment a woman in a non-threatening way by telling her “you have a beautiful smile,” without making her feel harassed or uncomfortable. It’s all about your demeanor and the intent of the comment.