Yesterday, I experienced an incident which forced me to make my first ever official complaint. I was ‘catcalled’, outside my very own front door. Here’s why it was extra disturbing; it was a typical British cold, rainy day, I mean really pouring! It was the first day since summer that I wore a scarf so you can imagine I was pretty wrapped up. My umbrella was out and held slightly behind me as I stood at my door, rummaging around my bag for my keys. At this point, three men walked past, who I knew of from past experiences and started to ‘catcall’ me. At my own front door. With an umbrella behind my back so they couldn’t possibly see my face. I know they remember me, they know where I live.
The men in question were working across the street on construction related to a huge event in England. The nature of the event meant that residents were provided with the number of our local community liaison officer in case of any problems. So, as soon as I quickly slammed my door behind me, I called him.
As much as my boyfriend wanted me to scream down the phone about how I had ‘essentially been harassed a number of times at my own front door’ to the point which one morning he felt the need to escort me past the site, I decided to be as polite as possible and calmly tell my liaison officer the truth. As a rule, I hate confrontation and don’t like complaining. My approach was reasonable; this issue wasn’t the fault of my community liaison officer, he wasn’t personally catcalling me on my way in or out of my home. As it happens, he was mortified to receive my complaint. He, very genuinely, profusely apologised and assured me that the contractors would be notified without mentioning my address and that he was appalled their workers were compromising the reputation of the event at hand. Secretly, I hoped they were compromising their jobs. I think the event or site is irrelevant; wherever they are, they are at work and are representing their employers.
This incident got me really stirred up. I feel I have a right to enter and leave my own home and walk down the street without being beeped at, wolf whistled and catcalled. Since moving to London I have experienced street harassment more than ever, possibly because I walk everywhere rather than being in the safety of a car. But why is it still happening? When I speak to my female friends about it I realise that they’re just as angry as I am. I walk with my headphones in and music turned right up; a habit which comes from feeling uneasy about unwanted comments, I know I’m not alone in this.
Looking back, I was really young when I started experiencing street harassment, around 14 or 15. I looked SO young for my age at that point, which is worse. An article in the Independent recently outlined that 90% of British women report experiencing street harassment before the age of 17, that’s ridiculous!
So, I ask this to the men who still think this practice is ‘boys being boys’. Where has it ever got you? Are you so cowardly to approach women in an appropriate way that you need to resort to shouting at them from a distance? (If heterosexual) would you feel comfortable if a group of homosexual men shouted/whistled at you in public? Do you have women in your life e.g. mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, girlfriends, wives; how do you feel if/when strangers do this to them? Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of unwanted catcalling?
I realise to some I might sound like a ranting feminist but this all comes from a pretty vulnerable place. I admit it, it’s intimidating. I don’t like the thought that a group of strange men who have clearly taken a liking to me know where I live. It makes me nervous. I never know how to react to it- do I shout back? Swear? Ignore them? I don’t understand how they’re expecting me to react or what they’re hoping to achieve.
I’m speaking up to raise awareness about this issue because I don’t like the thought of young girls feeling anxious or less independent whilst in public. I know that not all men do this, and I love that! With so many different methods of communicating with each other, shouting at women on the street is just a bit dated. As far as I’m aware women don’t feel scared or intimidated when men approach them/go out of their way to pay them a compliment, in fact they would likely say thank you.
Men, it’s time to try talking to us, not whistling at us.
If you’re interested in this issue take a look at the below video. In July, New York Cosmopolitan created a video about it.