Public reaction to catcalls speaks louder than the words themselves

Capture d’écran 2015-04-30 à 10.52.19Poppy Smart, the 23 year-old, who has been catcalled by the same group of builders every morning for a month before reporting them to the police, has been a hot topic in the press. The real story isn’t that she or other women see this type of behaviour as a common occurrence, but in the violent reaction Poppy had for having the ‘audacity’ to report it to the police. Highly ironic timing, given mid-April was International Anti Street Harassment Week.

As detailed by Laura Bates in her Guardian piece, ’Wolf-whistling is not the story here – our reaction to sexual harassment is’ : when ‘the case hit the headlines, sparking a wide range of responses. Though many later spoke out in support of Smart’s decision, the initial response on social media seemed to be predominantly ridiculing or criticising her.’ Comments from both men and women focused on Smart ‘wasting’ police time to personal attacks on her looks, questioning if she was even ‘worthy’ of the wolf-whistles to which she was subjected. As Bates explained: ‘Some news outlets used pictures that seemed to have been taken from Smart’s social media accounts, showing her posing for selfies wearing a low-cut top – a decision it’s difficult not to interpret as a snide suggestion that she might have somehow been “asking for it”. What all this seems to suggest is that, as a society, we are more concerned about, and outraged by, a young woman’s audacity in standing up to sexual harassment than we are about the month-long, everyday campaign of verbal abuse she endured on her walk to work.’

Sexual harassment remains a neglected issue and is accepted as a cultural norm. For proof ’A police spokesperson confirmed they had followed up Poppy’s complaint but had not taken further action’. A recent online survey on the newspaper Metronews shows that 71% of people who voted think that Wolf-whistle shouldn’t be a criminal offence. Most girls see street harassment as a daily occurrence and men may view it as a way of maintaining their power whilst give a ‘compliment’. But as Poppy and anyone else who has been followed, stopped or leered at can attest: it’s not flattering – it’s degrading and intimidating. Cat-calling is even more common in France with 100% of women surveyed saying they’d endured sexual harassment on public transport, most by the time they were 18 according to the High Council for Equality between Women & Men.

Female Breadwinners recognises most men don’t street harass, but if they accept it in others, it silently condones the behaviour. It you remind them the ‘everywoman on the street’ is someone’s  daughter,  mother or sister – it can stop the behaviour. You can see more on why this is vital in ‘6 Cool Things Guys can Do to Stop Street Harassment’.

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