How it Feels to be Catcalled

Shona Johnson delves into the topic of catcalling…

Before I go any further I would just like to point out that I understand that catcalling for some people is taken as a form of ‘compliment’, but please understand that I am simply retelling the way it made me feel, and the way it made the other people involved feel.
I wrote this post on my blog towards the end of August 2015, however I have decided to include this in the features section because I am hearing of more and more women having this experience in the same place. My post read as follows:

Last night was my first night of bar training at a local music venue that I DJ for in Swansea. As a general rule, if you are working behind the bar of any club or venue the dress code is black. I didn’t have many dry clothes in my wardrobe (I’m a student, tumble dryers use up a lot of electricity…and electricity is expensive!) so I was reduced to wearing some black high-waisted jeans, as well as a black crop top.

When I told my friend about my ordeal, she pointed out that it was irritating how I felt that I needed to explain to her what I was wearing. Even if you are walking around topless, it does not give anyone a right to deliberately make you feel intimidated, in any case, what I was wearing is irrelevant – but sadly relevant in the eyes of the offenders.

It takes me about half an hour to walk from my house to where I work, the last stretch of my journey being down ‘St. Helens Road’, a street dominated by takeaways, restaurants and a couple of newsagents. I made this trip yesterday evening at about half past six, bearing in mind that we are right in the middle of summer, the sun was still out and it was pretty busy. Down that road I have been wolf whistled at, followed and had throwaway remarks about my appearance hurled at me, but yesterday really topped it all off. I was coming up to the first takeaway on the main stretch of the street when I heard a few comments being thrown around behind me, like ‘Look at her ass!’ and ‘White girl has a black ass!’, I did not turn around as I didn’t want to provoke any more attention than I already clearly had. I ignored their comments, but they started addressing me. ‘You, girl! You with the green hair!’, ‘You girl, let me feel your ass!’. I walked faster, until I was out of earshot of their remarks.

I neared the end of the road when I saw two other men coming towards me, they were both staring directly at me. I met their gaze briefly but pretended to use my phone in order to avoid any more unwanted attention. I kept on walking, but they halted right in front of me. I tried to walk around them but they kept stepping in front of me when I did so, all the while making comments like ‘I’ll take you home if you want’ and ‘Oh my god look at her’. I was getting increasingly anxious about the group behind me catching up, I managed to dodge my way around the men and shout a few abusive terms their way. That was all I could really do. I turned around, and they had joined the group of men walking behind me. They followed me for a while longer, but I turned a few corners and managed to get away from them.

“It is not ‘normal’, nor is it an ‘okay’ occurrence”

I got to work on time, and put on a brave, if angry, face. I had work to do and a bar to learn. Inside I felt like breaking down. I had never felt so helpless, frustrated or unsafe in my entire life. Now I am a strong woman and I used to pride myself on the assumption that when it came to it, I could defend myself – but against so many men there was absolutely no way that I could have done anything, and it was one of the few times in my life where I can honestly say that I felt weak.
How dare anyone make me feel this way about myself? It made me question my own integrity, made me feel self-conscious about my body, and made me feel unsafe and fearful in my own neighbourhood.

Possibly the most upsetting thing about this entire ordeal is that it is so common, especially in this area of Swansea. I took to the internet, and learned of many other incidents like my one happening on a regular basis. Below are but a few cases that have had light shed upon them:

“I walk home from work along that road at night. One week I was walking and saw a homeless guy up ahead. I had planned to give him change until he said ‘I bet you could keep me warm tonight darling’. “

“My housemate told me about was when she was dressed in trackies and a hoodie, with a massive backpack on – as she was walking back from the train station, yet someone looked at her and went ‘Oh she’s just asking for it…’ “

“I was walking down there, when a couple of guys wolf-whistled at me and ‘woop woop’ed, while following me….”

“I was followed by a group of men down St. Helens Road who were discussing amongst themselves what they were going to ‘do to me’ if they got me back to their houses.”

“I’ve been stared at, wolf whistled, catcalled etc. along that road. I’ve also had men I have been with be applauded or congratulated on having me in their company.”

“I was physically stopped by a man outside of Subway, just so that he could ask if my boobs were ‘real’. Supposedly, they looked ‘too nice’ to be real. He then proceeded to ask me if I was busy that night.”

I asked the same people as mentioned above exactly how these experiences made them feel, I was presented with the words ‘vulnerable’, ‘unsafe’ and ‘angry’. One said that their ordeal was ‘Nothing short of intimidating, and disrespectful to say the least.’ Are these truly the words we want to be hearing when someone is asked to describe their walk to work, or their trip to the shops? What was even more upsetting for me to hear was that it had just become a ‘normal’ part of a woman’s day to experience verbal abuse when walking down that road, it was busy when I was accosted, and nobody even seemed to care about what was happening. Also, I use the word ‘woman’ because it mostly seems to be women (cis or trans*) that fall victim to these attacks, not to say that men (cis or trans*) do not experience the same inequality, they by all means do, perhaps just to a lesser or less-recorded extent.
It is not ‘normal’, nor is it an ‘okay’ occurrence in modern society when the negative effect it has on people are of this magnitude. What baffles me is why it seems to be just this area in particular. The attacks are not exclusive to a time of day, a particular race, a particular build, a particular job, or a particular type of victim – they seem to happen to almost any woman (cis or trans*) at any point in the week.

The people being affected are human beings, deserving of respect, not objects to be gawked at and ‘validated’ by ill-placed ‘compliments’. It’s aggressive, it’s intimidating and it is downright unfair. Be aware of the effects this has on a person, and be very aware of the fact that this is considered ‘no big deal’ by a lot of people, even in 2015.

It is happening everyday, and it is a very, very big deal.