How Can You Cope With Catcalling? 10 Women Explain How They Deal With It
I was 8 years old when I was catcalled for the first time. I was in the grocery store, attempting to sneak Little Debbie Honey Buns in the my mom’s cart, when an old man commented on my prepubescent body. “I could sure show you a thing or two,” he said as he shoved a piece a paper with his phone number into my hands. I ran away to find my mother. A grocery store clerk who had witnessed the incident found my mother and told her before I could. My mom found the man and told him exactly what she thought of him. My instinct an 8-year-old was to be silent and run away. As a 24-year-old, I realized my instincts haven’t changed all that much.
Recently, I was catcalled in the parking lot of my local grocery store. It was a weird “full circle” moment. “Smile, beautiful. Bring yo' sexy self over here. I’ll give you something to smile about!” The catcaller was yelling at me from across the parking lot.
This was my moment. This was my moment to vindicate my scared, 8-year-old self. I could hit the catcaller with a whip-smart soliloquy on the abusive nature of catcalling. I could spew statistics about harassment and educate him about the #YouOkSis Movement that was created by Feminista Jones to protect women like me from men like him. I could at least flip him the bird. But I did none of those things. I scurried into my car and locked the doors. Just like when I was 8, I remained silent and ran away. Was there anything I could have done that would've made a difference?
Earlier this year, gender-based violence expert, Holly Kearl, told Bustle that victims of street harassment can report it depending on where it occurs. "If it happens on public transit you could report it to the transit authority. If it happens in a place like a restaurant or bar or store, you could try to report it to a manager or bouncer and otherwise. If it's illegal, you can try to report it to the police," she explains. Kearl recommends reading Stop Street Harassment's guide to determine what's illegal and what's not.
I was interested to know if my reaction to catcalling was common, so I decided to ask other women how they handle catcalling and what they do afterwards for self-care. (I needed tips myself.) Ahead, you’ll find candid responses from women who have experienced catcalling. If you’ve been catcalled, know that you’re not in this alone.
Depending on how safe she feels in the environment, Shannon “almost always responds.” She used to ignore catcallers but she found that a simple “no, thank you” throws catcallers off and gives her time to briskly walk away. Shannon’s go-to form of self-care is talking to another woman (or someone who won’t invalidate her feelings) about what happened. She advises other women to find someone they feel comfortable confiding in.
Lara usually responds to catcalling with “something snarky or angry,” but if she feels unsafe, she’ll ignore it and walk away. Lara notes that “catcalling is so often rooted in this need for cishet men to remind us that they think we are there for their consumption.” To combat that, Lara will say, “I’m not here for you.” It’s simple, and catcallers don’t really know how to reply to that statement. After a catcalling incident, Lara uses a technique called creative visualization. “I picture myself as a highly skilled fighter who kills the men who catcall or molest me. It helps me feel more empowered…” Lara encourages women to not invalidate the seriousness of what happens to them. “Take time to heal and practice self-care,” she says.
“I am hot-tempered,” Clarkisha explains, “I have been in situations where I got pissed and flipped the perpetrator off.” To get to her happy places after catcalling ordeals, Clarkisha turns to Smirnoff and pizza rolls. Ideally, according to Clarkisha, we would all follow France's lead and criminalize catcalling (or at least put the topic up for debate).
Ludi’s response to catcallers depends heavily on the context. “I will respond very differently to harassment and catcalling in broad daylight and at night — if I am with friends, with my partner, or alone,” she explains. “Sometimes, I will stop and turn to the person and ask them to repeat themselves, other times I will keep walking, sometimes I will simply tell them to go f*ck themselves. It really all depends” Ludi breathes afterward to practice self-care. “For me, doing breathing exercises is the best way to get back into my body and, often, it's the only form of self care that's readily available to me as I move through my day.” Ludi wants to remind women that although the world can be ugly, we can find power and solace regardless.
“I initially feel awkward,” Serena tells Bustle. As a transgender woman, Serena has extra anxiety that catcallers will identify her as trans and harass her in some other way. Although this has never happened, Serena carries mace to ensure her safety. She encourages other women to carry some form of protection at all times. For self-care, Serena shares laughs with her cousin. She tries not to let catcallers get to her.
Niqua Jeanette, 27
“In college, I was afraid to speak up,” Niqua Jeannette recalls. But as she grew older and gained confidence she realized she didn’t have to stand by as she got treated like “a piece of meat.” She chooses to educate men about the effects of catcalling. As self-care, she reminds herself that she did nothing to deserve to be catcalled. Niqua Jeanette wants other women to speak out against catcalling too.
Simi usually ignores the abusers who catcall her or responds with a stern “No.” For self-care after the fact, Simi practices breathing exercises, prays, relaxes, and meditates. “Create a safe space away from the rest of the world” is Simi’s advice for other women. "Having your own safe space in a world that fails to provide you with one has been one of the few things that has saved me, time and time again."
Jaimee usually responds to catcalling with either “silence or a snide remark.” She tells Bustle she’s tired of people telling women to accept catcalling as a rite of passage. “I don’t have to accept sh*t,” Jaimee reiterates. Praying, listening to music, and focusing on positive imagery or thoughts are all in Jaimee’s self-care tool kit. Jaimee has a few words of advice for women who experience catcalling: “Do your best to try to find a safe space. Speak up when and where you can. Report and/or call the police. Your safety and agency are the most important. No one has the right to make you feel fearful or uncomfortable. Defend your space, agency, and spirit at all costs. Period.”
“I usually respond angrily, walk faster, or just ignore,” Rachael tells Bustle. She tweets or writes about being catcalled for self-care and in the hopes that her words will comfort other women/femmes who deal with catcalling daily. “Be cautious,” she warns, “Don’t be afraid to arm yourselves.”
Danielle has been getting catcalled since she was 11, so at this point she usually just ignores the “background noise.” If a catcaller gets too close or is obscene, she will be vocal about being disinterested, however. “I’ve lost my temper at times,” she recalls. Danielle doesn’t have much of a self-care routine when it comes to catcalling. After particularly harmful incidents, she became reclusive and sought out comfort in food. She tries to eliminate the amount of time she’s on the streets and avoids bars and clubs. Danielle says it’s important for women and femmes to “trust your gut and [...] establish boundaries.”
Unfortunately, most women — a whopping 65 percent, according to Stop Street Harassment — have experienced street harassment in their life. Don’t be afraid to ask family members and friends how they’ve dealt and are dealing with this form of sexual harassment. Sharing our experiences makes it easier to navigate this patriarchal world.