What Happened When I Called Out My Catcallers

Isn’t it time we addressed catcalling? With the recent videos documenting the absolute torture women have to endure just by stepping outside their homes, the problems with catcalling are just eating me away.

After living in New York City for two years, I’ve developed quite an attitude towards this unnecessary part of existing. As a very fresh Freshman, I would duck my head or pick up my pace when guys would hoot and holler at me. Why was I not allowed to walk from my dorm to class without this shame?

That’s right – shame. I was so embarrassed that I was being called out. I was mortified that other people could hear what these guys were saying to me. Most of all, I was sick of feeling unsafe all of the time.

Didn’t these people know I was old enough to be their daughter, sister, cousin? Did they not have a woman in their life that they would want to protect from random strangers objectifying them?

The first time I felt empowered to stand up for myself, which is a right no one – man or woman – should second guess, was after I read an article on Cosmopolitan.com where the writer would tell her, assailants, “I’m your peer!”

I’m using such strong words like ‘assailant’ because that is what catcalling is. It’s an assault – not a compliment like some defend it as.

Let me illustrate what a compliment is:

“Excuse me, but you look very pretty today – just wanted to let you know.”


“Damn girl, you are fine!”

In fact, swearing doesn’t even have to be involved. It’s the fact that these comments are thrown at us in a disrespectful tone. When I feel like a rack of meat on display, it indicates these ‘compliments’ have turned into unwelcomed, invasive comments.

I was walking down Park Avenue at 10 a.m. to meet a friend for coffee, and as I crossed the street, a group of construction workers stopped what they were doing to catcall me.

“Hey pretty girl, why don’t you come over here?” “Look at those legs!” “Oh yeah.”

I lost it.

“You’re acting disgusting! Would you want someone to say this to your sister? You’re being disrespectful – your mother would be disappointed.” Words just spilled out of my mouth.

I was furious. I swear my vision was turning red like those cartoons I watched on Boomerang as a kid. People stopped on their daily commute in shock at what I said.

The problem is, no one should be in shock. People who hear these catcalls think to themselves, “That sucks,” but no one ever says anything. The fact is, our society is too content in tolerating catcalling for any progress to be made.

I will remember November 27, 2014, Thanksgiving Day, as the day when catcalling truly became violent for me. As my friend Audrey and I walked down the street in London, a group of guys standing outside a bar starting leering at us. Part of me wanted to cross the street to false safety.

But, I should not have to cross the street and go out of my way to avoid being catcalled. I have a right to walk where I want, and frankly, it would not have stopped their vulgar words.

So as Audrey passed through, their stares turned into words turned into movement. They closed the walking gap to try to stand in our way. Audrey was able to get through – I was not. As I was blocked and the “Hey Baby”s started, I felt my heart beating faster. I felt cornered and threatened.

“Shut up and get out of my way.”

The reactions were not good.

“Bitch, what did you say?” “Whoaaaaa!” “Get out of the way?”

By that point, I was pacing towards Audrey, her eyes wide and shocked. She grabbed my arm, but as we started turning away, one of the guys threw a glass at me.

Thankfully, it only hit my ankle, but even as I type this, my eyes prickle with frustrated tears.

To say this was unexpected is the understatement of the year. I hate living in a world where I don’t feel comfortable walking down the street. Furthermore, I refuse to stop defending myself against these people. I shouldn’t have to put up with it.

I’m constantly encouraging girls to stick up for themselves, but I cannot stress enough that it should be done under certain circumstances – SAFE circumstances.

Use your judgement. As general rules, do not confront anyone if you are alone and/or it is night time.

Even if you have your girlfriends with you, it’s better to just leave it. Your safety is the number one priority.

What if you have a guy with you? Sadly, you probably won’t even be catcalled because they ‘respect’ you as your male companion’s territory. That’s the harsh truth.

If it’s night time, there will most likely be fewer people around, and there’s more of a chance people have had a few drinks and are stupidly emboldened to turn violent.

Upon reflection, I’m sorry I put myself and Audrey in potential danger. We had other people on the street with us but not many. Maybe I let my anger get to me, but I will not regret defending myself.

Hopefully, as more and more women are empowered to challenge catcalls, society will truly and openly denounce catcalling.

A hundred thousand articles like mine can be written, but we can not demand change via text. Words must be spoken, and people must be held accountable for their actions.

Imagine if other bystanders didn’t hesitate to say, “Leave her alone?”

Don’t follow my brash, “Shut up!” (I promise I’m usually more articulate than that). I recommend something more along the lines of, “Please, stop that. It’s rude and unnecessary,” or, “You’re making me feel unsafe, please stop.”

If we can challenge ourselves to, in safe situations, call out our catcallers, maybe we can make the streets a bit more bearable for each other.

And be that supportive bystander and stand up for your sisters. If you see another woman being catcalled who doesn’t stand up for herself, stand up for her.

We owe ourselves that much. If we stay silent, we are validating inappropriate catcalls and allowing the perpetrators to develop the unhealthy habit of thinking catcalling is accepted, normal and – God forbid – appreciated by women.

Image via Anna Schultz

Shannon Zhu

Contributor, New York University Major: Art History Her heart belongs to: skincare products, desserts (cupcakes not welcome), big dogs and small kitties Take her away to: anywhere except camping... unless it's in a warm cabin with lots of wine and cozy blankets

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