I'm not usually one to publicly call out street harassment, but I just found a Reddit thread on how to respond to catcallers that offers some pretty sound advice: Just say "No." Literally. I'm not sure if I'll use this tip myself — I'd rather steer clear of any engagement with potentially dangerous people — but the original poster in the r/feminism sub says the method has worked for her twice:
Yesterday I went downtown and immediately got the pleasure of having an older man blow me a kiss and give me an eyebrow waggle from a park bench. I don't know why, but I just shouted "no!" at him, and kept walking. The look on his face was priceless, and I felt pretty great about the interaction.
Fast forward an hour, another guy walks passed [sic] me and says "hey gorgeous, have a beautiful day" (in a tone... you know the one) and I shouted "no!" and he said "I said have a great day" and I just shouted no again and kept walking.
I think the combination of the one word being very clear in its meaning and also slightly nonsensical is just the right amount of confusing and assertive.
While you don't owe street harassers any response at all (it's not our responsibility to not get catcalled — it's the aggressor's responsibility not to catcall in the first place), here are eight other ideas besides saying "No" circulating around the Internet for responding to catcallers if you feel like it.
1. Ignore Them
Someone else's decision to harass you is not your problem, and therefore, you are not responsible for finding a solution. Many people are justifiably afraid that if they engage catcallers, they will retaliate. And others, also justifiably, just need to get on with their days. There may be some wisdom to the advice we all got on dealing with annoying siblings and middle school bullies: If you ignore someone, they'll be more likely to ignore you back.
2. Share What Happened
The new Hollaback! app lets you share your experiences with street harassment with a supportive online community, and if you're in New York City, you can also use it to report incidents to the NYC Council. Sharing can help victims know they're not alone and understand that the shame is on the harasser, not them. You can also share your experiences on social media with the app or on your own to spread awareness of the issue.
3. Ask Them To Repeat What They Said
Sexual harassment expert Holly Kearl told a group at New York University earlier this year that asking a harasser to repeat themselves can force them to expose what they've been doing, especially if other people are around, and make them accountable for their harassment. It also gives the victim more power by turning a one-sided conversation in which they played no role into a two-way interaction.
4. Throw Them "The Face"
Jenna Marbles swears by this: If you want someone to stop talking to you, turn to them with a ridiculous, unreadable expression on your face and stay there, frozen, until they leave. First they might get angry, she says, "Then they're gonna say something like, 'Whatever, you're f*cking weird,' and walk away!" And if, for some inexplicable reason, "the face" doesn't work, Marbles recommends spontaneously planking or pretending to be a velociraptor.
5. Make A Joke About It
This will force people to stop and listen — to you, not the harasser. The joke above was one of my favorites, but The Huffington Post rounded up a few more humorous responses to street harassment that women have used, including responding to the question "How do you like your eggs in the morning?" with "Unfertilized."
6. Point Out Their Sexism
Some street harassers are stuck in their ways and won't change no matter what, but some may not realize what they're doing and why it's harmful. Even if they don't learn from your reaction, witnesses might. To point out that catcalling is not a compliment and is in fact a form of sexism, you can say something like, "My body isn't yours to comment on" or, if they're telling you to smile, "I'll do what I want with my face."
7. Call 911
According to Stop Street Harassment, "indecent exposure, following, or groping" are criminal offenses that can be reported to the police. The organization recommends reporting the incident as soon after it happens as possible and has a more detailed description of what you can report on its website.
8. Tell Them You're Not OK With This
Simply saying, "You're making me uncomfortable" or "Leave me alone" reminds catcallers that you are a person, not an object, and that their actions are having an effect on you. They may not care, but catcallers often keep on catcalling because nobody acknowledges that what they're doing is hurtful.
You can also help others who have experienced harassment by standing up to catcallers targeting others or even just giving an understanding glance to the victim. It's our choice whether we want to stand up to harassers or not, but whatever choice we make, it helps to have others' sympathy.