The Infamous and Unsolicited Catcall
Bursting the Bubble, Segment 3.
With the recent Hollaback! viral video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” creating a buzz on Facebook and other social media sites, catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment have been on the minds of many.
For those unaware of this social experiment that prompted over 87 million think pieces, tweets and blog posts, the 2 minute video was edited from 10 hours of woman, Shoshana Roberts, walking around New York City. In the 10 hours of hidden recording, Roberts was victim to over 100 instances of harassment.
The reason I feel the need to address sexual harassment in one of my five segments is that Milwaukee is not immune to this problem. This issue could be a barrier for young women (like myself) in choosing to connect with non-Marquette affiliated people.
The most recent incident I encountered was the most troublesome to me. In the midst of my research for these articles, I found myself standing on the corner of 16th and Wisconsin waiting to cross the street. Seeing as the objective of my articles has revolved around the need to connect MU and MKE, I figured I would take my own advice and start up a conversation with a man next to me, also waiting to cross.
Deciding that commenting on the weather was the easiest way to begin a conversation, I said, “Wow it sure is beautiful today. We better appreciate it before it starts snowing in October.”
He responded that the weather was nice and it wasn't until a few seconds later that the next words out of his mouth struck me as offensive.
He turned to me and asked,
“Why are you girls always wearing those tight yoga pants?” “You know I can’t help but stare at your sexy butt”
…but he didn't say butt. I was initially, and understandably, taken aback by his comment. But my reaction that followed was one of embarrassment when I said, “ oh…” and laughed nervously.
When I thought about it later I asked myself , “Why did I have to be the one that was embarrassed, when he was the one that acted inappropriately?”
And more importantly, how could I advocate for female students to engage with the Milwaukee community if I knew that sexual harassment was a possibility?
It wasn't until I consulted with a professor that has been a mentor for me through this article series that I realized that this issue didn't need to be swept under the rug, or even worse- given up on all together.
When talking with my mentor, Dr. Jenn Fishman, she encouraged me to think about what I would say to the man that made the comment to me, if given a second chance.
I responded heatedly: “Well, I would tell him that that was offensive! And rude! And that I was just trying to have a conversation, and he reduced me to a single body part!”
Dr. Fishman then asked, what if I could share my story and advice on how to respond, with Marquette’s female student body? That way we would know what to say, if forced into an uncomfortable situation in the future.
I realized that if supplied with the right tools, I could still advocate for female students to connect with members of the Milwaukee community.
If I would have given up after that conversation with a man on 16th and Wisconsin, I would have again un-selectively put my guard up against a whole group of people. But now, I see a benefit in talking to someone, even if they say something offensive.
If nothing offensive is said- I've had a nice conversation with someone that has brightened my mood and hopefully theirs.
If something offensive is said- I am equipped on how to respond and my response will hopefully get offender to think twice, and maybe even to not degrade women in the future.
Returning back to the “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” video, while the video did raise awareness of sexual harassment women face, there was negative backlash on who was portrayed as the harasser. In the 10 hours of footage gathered and edited down to 2 minutes, white men make no appearance.
Why is this a problem?
In a response video to Hollaback!, one participant states,“When I watched the [original catcalling] video I felt so uncomfortable, because it was such a specific dynamic. It reinforces so many specific stereotypes about men — and black men in particular.”
This then got me wondering if there was anyone myself and other female Marquette students “edited out” to keep up an image of our stereotypical harassers. What I mean by this is I hear girls often say they will cross the street if a non-Marquette male is going to pass by them on the sidewalk when walking at night; they are labeled as potential harassers. But what about guys at a party that “accidentally” grope you when trying to get through the crowd? Or when us women become the butt of an inappropriate sexual joke exchanged in class or while hanging out? Or even the fact that in my last segment I discussed how 6 out of 8 reported sexual offenses last year came from the residence halls.
The man that was a little too willing to tell me how nice I looked in my yoga pants was black, a man, and not-affiliated with Marquette.
But that does not mean I should avoid talking to black people, or men, or people not-affiliated with Marquette because I could just as easily be offended by a fellow student. The only generalization that can be made about sexual harassers is that they are rude and ignorant.
Now, before I break off into some ways to respond to a harasser, I think it is very important to note that in my experience that I drew on, while uncomfortable and offended, I did not feel that I was in danger. In any form of harassment there are different threat levels. On the low end you have sexist comments or assumptions about gender roles and on the high end, assault.
In my experience, while on a 1–5 scale I was at a solid 4 or 5 for feeling offended, I was only at a 1 for threat level. I was talking to someone who probably thought that he was “complimenting me.” However, if someone invades your personal space, grabs you, touches you, or anything that makes you feel a high level of threat- your safety is more important than your opportunity to take a feminist action. Your only action should be running away and finding help.
With that being said, if the situation is offensive but not overly threatening, here is some advice from Business Insider that I found to be helpful, for ways to respond to a harasser– regardless of race or their university affiliation.
1. Make eye contact. This will surprise your harasser and force them to think about what they've said or done.
2. Use a firm voice. In an audible, unwavering tone, tell your harasser that his or her behavior is not okay. Try statements like…
· “I don’t appreciate being treated like an object.”
· “What you’re saying is very disrespectful.”
· “Wow, do you know what you’re saying really offends me?”
3. Walk away. Keep it short so the harasser doesn't think it’s an opening to a conversation.
Harassers are still human begins, and you have the opportunity to remind them that you are too.
If you were interested in this segment or the topic of street harassment in general, I highly suggest checking out Rachel Renock’s article “The 7 Stages of Street Harassment:This is what goes through a woman’s head when she’s catcalled by a stranger.”