Summertime means a lot of things to a lot of people — warm weather, vacations, elaborate justifications of ice cream as a breakfast food —but for most women who spend any amount of time in public, summertime is the season of catcalling and street harassment. Getting hollered at by a strangers is, of course, not a season-specific phenomenon — I've encountered plenty of committed catcallers who know how to make women feel objectified when they're wearing a down jacket in February. But during the summer months, as people spend more time outdoors, catcalling seems to turn into a competitive sport, with dedicated practitioners working overtime to make sure that women feel like they're not entitled to walk around city streets (or anywhere else) without hearing unsolicited comments about their appearance, sexual desirability, or whether they'd look prettier if they smiled.
I now have two solid decades of dealing with catcalls under my belt, and I'm disappointed to admit that I still haven't come up with a way to deal with them that makes me feel good. Keeping my headphones glued to my ears in public has helped me block out most of it, but when the stray comment slips by, I still feel as uncomfortable and weirded-out as I did in eighth grade
Ignoring the catcall while wishing I could beat the guy's ass is my usual tactic, but I began to wonder about how other women coped with catcalls. What do we usually say to our street harassers? What do we wish we could say or do to them? And what does the distance between those two things tell us about life as a woman in public? Below, 23 women weighed in on the question. Maybe their answers will inspire you — or at least make oyu feel less alone out there.
1. E., 27
How Do You Respond?: "It really depends on the nature of the catcall. Whistles, hooting, any non-word-noises don't get a response at all. A suggestively inflected 'Hey baby, how you doing?' earns a 'I'm doing very well young man, and how are you?' in my best Catholic school teacher voice. Too many men are socialized to believe that acting like wildebeests is the only way to get the attention they want; if you want to have an interaction with me, I'll speak to you, but we're absolutely going to elevate the exchange to my comfort level."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I wish I could get all ninja, female-empowerment, speak for my sisters everywhere, but my natural vibe is more to just take what starts as a very inappropriate and uncomfortable interaction and dial it down to vanilla."
2. Britni, 30
How Do You Respond?: "I try to say something direct and assertive like, 'Don't talk to me that way. It's not respectful.'"
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I wish I could respond more often, but most of the time I end up being too scared, so I don't say anything and then I beat myself up for the rest of the day for not saying anything."
3. Amanda, 35
How Do You Respond?: "Because I'm mouthy, I usually tell them to f*ck off. If I'm in a less than vocal mood, I just ignore it."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I don't believe in violence, but honestly, I'd like to smack them upside the head and ask them how they'd feel if someone talked to their mom like that."
4. Annie, 31
How Do You Respond?: "Ignore them, awkwardly avert my eyes."How Would You Like To Respond?: "By confidently walking past."
5. Mary, 31
How Do You Respond?: "Sometimes I'm silent, sometimes I say, 'No, you're sexy, wow, look at you!' Sometimes I make a gross face, sometimes I flip them off."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I think how I do it can be disarming, but it always depends on the situation and person."
6. Danielle, 26How Do You Respond?: "It depends on how physically close they are to me. If close enough to touch me, I will avoid eye contact and walk away, sometimes even saying 'thank you.' :( Farther away and I flip them off."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Flip them off, confront them, explain why that was inappropriate. I don't feel safe doing those things, though."
7. Risa, 37How Do You Respond?: "By pretending they don't exist. I don't get catcallers as much as I get guys trying to come up with stupid reasons to talk to me. Favorite response: turn away and continue with my life."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I really like ignoring them. But sometimes, the idea of throwing a beverage in their face is appealing, depending on my mood. This reminds me of a friend who recently passed, who once threw a full grande-sized iced coffee into the car window of a catcalling person [who was] sitting in a car. Bitches gotta learn."
8. Miriam, 41How Do You Respond?: "Politely."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Politely. Because it either shames or irritates them."
9. Anne, 32How Do You Respond?: "Ignore."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I'd like to be able to say something that would make them realize what they are doing is dumb, and I have tried responding, but it never works. Right now I think my best option is ignoring, because it doesn't give them what they are seeking: attention. It's like training a toddler not to throw tantrums."
10. Q, 24How Do You Respond?: "I don't."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Kick them in the balls."
11. Katie, 27How Do You Respond?: "SHUT THE F*CK UP I AM A STRANGER WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME LIKE THAT?"
How Would You Like To Respond?: "More loudly than I already do, so that all within earshot can hear me."
12. Ange, 32How Do You Respond?: "Ignore."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "F*ck off, asshole."
13. Mona, 30How Do You Respond?: "Be very polite."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Curse them out!"
14. Simone, 31How Do You Respond?: "It depends on the context: in broad daylight, I'll yell 'Fuck you,' flip the bird, or, my personal favorite — yelling 'Don't fucking tell me what to do' when a man tells me to smile or whatever. Bonus points because it's a Robyn song! If I'm in a place/neighborhood I don't know, and it's nighttime, or for whatever reason I feel threatened for real, I will ignore and keep walking. Ditto for if it's a bunch of, like, drunken white men. They are seriously terrifying and not worth my response."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Basically I wish I was Xena/Buffy/Zoe Bell and could physically harm these men. Ball-kickings all around!"
15. Nicole, 25How Do You Respond?: "I say 'This is not for you' in a loud, gruff voice."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I'd like to not be catcalled at all, but I feel pretty good about my current response, I guess."
16. Amy, 27How Do You Respond?: "I ignore them, but sometimes I say, 'Alright, relax." I feel like this diffuses the situation/ makes them feel like idiots (their faces kind of fall as if to say, 'Oh, I'm being so weird right now')."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "By punching them in the f*cking face. Alternatively, I would like for their daughters or sisters get catcalled in front of them."
17. Anonymous, 36
How Do You Respond?: "I usually at least stare them down. I occasionally respond back verbally."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "I would like to stop and confront them and make them see I am another human, not just a piece of ass."
18. Juliet, 33How Do You Respond?: "Depends on the intent. If it's friendly or casually flattering ('Nice legs' or 'Your boyfriend's lucky'), I'll laugh and say 'Thanks' or give a humorous deflection. If it's rude, I'll just ignore it and walk on by. If it's predatory ('Hey, are you wearing a bra? I bet you aren't') and persistent (so I can't avoid them), I'll get aggressively insulting and stare them down until they skulk off."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Exactly the way I do. It's fun!"
19. Nicole, 32How Do You Respond?: "I will always respond in the way I believe will be most likely to prevent me from encountering violence or rape. So it depends on my assessment of the level of threat. Most of the time, I ignore them. If I feel like ignoring them will provoke a worse response and potentially put me in danger, I will respond with one-word, monotone answers. Either way, I keep walking."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Mostly, I want punch them in the face. I often want to ask what their mothers would say if they heard them. I also want to ask why they don't say 'Good morning beautiful, you should smile!' to the men walking down the street."
20. Beth, 28How Do You Respond?: "Usually ignore them. As Billy Joel sang, my silence is my self-defense."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Impart to them the sadness of what they do by relaying centuries of sexism, misogyny, and oppression, so that they realize I am a person, not a sexual object."
21. Emma, 28
How Do You Respond?: "Usually I just ignore them but sometimes all of the bullsh*t just builds
up and I yell. One time, I went face to face with two huge dudes on
Avenue A in NYC, because they were following me and saying really
disgusting things. They called me rude for yelling at them and giving
them the finger, and I pointed out that they were being rude for talking
about taking off my clothing in the street. (I realized later that maybe
it wasn't the safest move ever and made sure to stay on well-lit avenues
the rest of the way home).
Also, sometimes, if I think a guy is going to say something to me, I look him in the eye and say 'Good morning' or 'Good afternoon' first. Doesn't work everywhere or every time, but I've found that a lot of the time that wards off the worst of it."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Some days I want to kick them in the nuts, some days I want to sit down and talk with them, some days I want to vaporize them before they have a chance to say anything."
22. Vane, 23How Do You Respond?: "Ignore them. I don't even acknowledge they are there. If they get excessive, I flip them off and get away quickly."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "Not sure I would change the way I respond. However, I wish I didn't feel the need to get away if they are aggressive."
23. Nancy, 28How Do You Respond?: "Depends on what they say. I might completely ignore them, or laugh or smile and keep walking if it was a tasteful and well-deserved compliment."
How Would You Like To Respond?: "For the lame-os, I wish I could holler back, maybe say something back insulting their pickup skills, manners, intelligence, maturity, or fashion sense. Maybe I should start doing that."