So, some of you will already have seen the above video, in which a woman was filmed walking around the city of New York in the company of a secret camera for ten hours, a period during which she was prepositioned more than one hundred times, and the highlights of which have been committed to YouTube for our viewing displeasure. As a member of the male half of our species this sort of thing seldom happens to me, but that in itself means nothing whatsoever so, in view of this, I took the liberty of asking Twitter and Facebook the following question: Females: how often do you get cat-called, get unsolicited invites, asked to swap numbers etc, when just out & about?” These are the answers that I received. They make for similarly dispiriting reading:
- “All day, literally every day. It virtually never happens within obvious earshot of another male person. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been catcalled while actually with or around any men.”
- “Maybe once a month? Especially when jogging. That’s me averaging it out – sometimes it can be more, sometimes it can be less – depends where I am.”
- “Today. Usually about once a week. Has got less as I’ve got older. This evening was particularly horrible, two guys in van slowed down on a dark road to yell at me out of their window. Never happens when I’m with my husband! I go for the ignoring approach but it stays with me & I think of all the things I should have said. When I went to America it was much more common and persistent. In this country it tends to be shout and drive off (mostly). Apart from in pubs where it’s just as bad here (in my experience). Have had to resort to getting male friends go to the bar to avoid leering comments and gross propositions.”
- “Not often at all. Maybe more when I was younger but hardly ever now. I get more on here DMing me.”
- “Sometimes my boyfriend catches men staring at my boobs and the first I know of it is he starts laughing. In Spain it was awful. I had to walk past a building site once in Spain. I took detours after that. I walk on the far side of the road from the hostel between my bus stop and home because men congregate there and they leer en masse.”
- “Nope. Last time I remember it in any significant amount was when I was 14 in Spain. Theories: I 1) wear glasses 2) am an uggo 3) am deaf and can’t hear it 4) wear girly clothes about 1% of the time 5) all of the above. Or maybe they somehow know I would tear them another arsehole. I’m not complaining, but I genuinely don’t notice any unpleasant attention, which is weird, given that most women seem to get it all the time. My friend here has moved to a more hispanic area, she gets cat-called by old Mexican blokes.”
- “Cat-called.. a lot of comments shouted, numbers never.”
- “I can’t even describe how bad it gets. In regular life I think a lot of ‘regular’ type guys just throw it out there like they think its a compliment, and are offended if you don’t even crack a smile at them, not aware that hey, you’ve been constantly harassed all day by guys saying the same things and worse and you feel like some sort of bag of meat.“
- “My answer is absolutely never. I honestly believe it only happens to conventionally attractive people, but I realise that answer will annoy some and enrage others. Anecdotal only, but I genuinely believe it’s true.”
- “Most days. That is just an ordinary day. It gets worse. On one occasion in a bar two years ago I caught a guy filming me applying my make up (he saw an opportunity when my boyfriend went off to the loo). When I was heading to college a guy took photos of me on the train. When I reported it to a man working for Southern Rail, he then made a pass at me. When I worked behind a bar about ten years ago, I caught a guy taking photos of me bending over and loading glasses into a dishwasher. And apparently I was the dick for being annoyed about it.”
- “Hi. American here. More catcalls in US, more GROPINGS BY STRANGERS since I moved to UK. I miss the catcalls, TBH. (Not that I like the catcalls. But they’re preferable to some man’s hand appearing on my body.)”
- “It doesn’t happen to me!“
- It happens to me fairly often, since I walk a lot. It’s usually nothing too explicit — mostly “hey girl, where your husband at?” — but a few weeks ago some drunk guy loitering outside a gas station followed me for two blocks because I didn’t respond when he and his buddy were shouting at me to come talk to them. He kept saying his friend thought I was racist and stuck up for not stopping, but he was “defending” me. I said, “Okay well, thanks, but my beer is getting warm and i have people waiting for me at home…” He just kept following me and talking at me until i said, “look, I’m not interested, I have a boyfriend.” That doesn’t always stop them, though. I’ve had guys respond to that with “he’ll never know” or some variation of that, as if any woman would jeopardize her relationship to sleep with some creepy guy who yelled at her on the street. It’s especially bad when you try to smile or be polite to a stranger and they take things in a creepy direction.”
- “Couple times a year. But I’m also usually out with male friends. Only ever get comments when I’m by myself, which also explains why a lot of men don’t think it happens at all. If you are with a lady, you are preventing this from happening. I always ignore them, which has gotten me more than one “what’s your problem, bitch?”
- “Almost never, which is both good and b(s)ad. I think I may have got a *look* from builders I walked past yesterday morning.”
- “Depends where I am but if I’m out at night at least ten times. Not so much in Tesco during the day. Worst one was renewing my passport in 2003. Walking along road in jeans jumper and jacket past two builders. One said to the other as I walked past: if she lost some weight I’d let her suck my cock. The other laughed and said, “I would now, what do you reckon love?” Got to the passport office and straight to the toilet for a cry. It’s worse in America. My friend and I got the same as the lady in the video in New York. I also used to get shouted at from cars/vans much much more than any other time when walking to and from school in my uniform. Bit gross.”
- “I had a part time job in a ‘working man’s’ club aged 15-18 and this behaviour was pretty standard. I guess it’s more common in big cities; it doesn’t seem to happen where I live now!”
I wouldn’t argue that this sampling was particularly scientific, but these eighteen responses came from a variety of women aged from their early twenties up to their early fifties, of different nationalities and different races. Of the eighteen responses, eight said very irregularly, not any more or never, and ten said regularly or constantly. We all know that this behaviour on the part of men is wrong at a fundamental level. We all understand that the number of those eighteen women who offered varying experiences of this nature should be lower than it is. This much seems obvious.
This, however, is not a numbers game. The purpose of detailing the responses that I received was not to try and “prove” something using lies, damned lies and statistics. The purpose of listing these experiences was to give an idea of the sort of bullshit that women have to put up with whilst going about their normal daily lives, just in order to walk from a to b, to have a job, or to go for a drink of an evening. And it shouldn’t be the responsibility of women to do anything in order to mitigate the excesses of men who lack anything like a reasonable amount of social skills. It should be the responsibility of men to either not behave like that and/or not tolerate an environment in which this can happen. In other words, in several very important respects, it’s very much not “their problem” – it’s very much “ours.”
Such responsibility might not necessarily be a responsibility that men *want* to take on, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. This article in the Guardian last week implored men not to invade women’s personal space in an intrusive manner, a point which seems so staggeringly obvious that it shouldn’t need to be repeated, but does nevertheless. It’s a viewpoint that isn’t particularly new of course. This blog post identified the concept of “Schroedinger’s rapist” five years ago, which is to say that, because of the sheer volume of sexual assault that does take place, many women in the company of men that they don’t know have a little option but to believe that any man simultaneously might or might not be a potential offender in this way at the same time. Again, this responsibility rests with men respect boundaries and to foster a culture in which women shouldn’t have to think this way in the first place.
There will, of course, probably be some (likely mostly men) who are affronted by such writing, but it is important to bear in mind that, whilst the comments at the top of this article are anecdotal and not intended to be anything like statistically representative of women’s experiences of social interaction with men, the concept of Schroedinger’s Rapist is very much a numbers game. If anywhere near one in six women are raped throughout their lifetime (a figure estimated for the USA, and one which I have no cause to argue with), then there is a significant proportion of men out there who either do engage in this sort of behaviour or have engaged in this sort of behaviour in the past. And whilst rape at the hands of a stranger is at the far end of this spectrum, it might well be argued that this pervasive culture begins with cat-called, unsolicited advances in the street and the invasion of personal space. How many men might be implicated in this is open to endless speculation, but the matter of whether it’s one in six, one in twenty or one in a hundred is almost irrelevant, when we consider that any number at all should be considered too many.
The question of what can be done about all of this is an exceptionally difficult one to answer, and while we – and I’m talking specifically to the vast majority of men, here – all like to think that we might behave in the way that this blogger did when we see this sort of behaviour take place in front of us, it’s worth bearing in mind that, for men, the possibility of ending up with a bloodied nose or considerably worse for intervening in such situations can be a very real and very intimidating one. Having said that, though, perhaps we should understand that if we can create a culture in which we all understand that if we are all prepared for the possibility of taking a bloodied nose for intervening in such situations – which, as pointed out more than once above, are rare because even the sort of men who do engage with this sort of behaviour won’t cat-call (etc) women who are with men, which in itself shines a light on the fact that even those who perpetrate this sort of behaviour are aware that it is unacceptable – then perhaps someone will do the same for your female friend, girlfriend, wife or daughter should they find themselves on a similar position. We might be able to build a culture in which it becomes numerically insignificant, which is the one thing that it certainly doesn’t seem to be at the moment. Ultimately, if we believe that it’s wrong, we have to stand up and be counted on this subject on a day to day basis.
With sincere thanks to everyone who replied, as above.
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