How Catcalling Feels, ICYDK

Five women who've been catcalled tell it like it is.
PHOTO: Tamara Schlesinger

Catcalling, in simple terms, is street harrassment. It's when a stranger gives you an unwanted whistle or comment when you pass him or her. Is it an everyday occurence? Yes. Should we discuss it and put a stop to it? These women's brutally honest accounts of being catcalled prove that we should. 

"I got catcalled for the first time when I was 14 years old while I was wearing my high school uniform. I was waiting for my car outside, and a truck passed by. The driver was going fast, but  slowed down when he saw me, and gave me a big, creepy smile.  I didn't know how to feel. Should I be flattered that a grown man stopped to acknowledge that I was beautiful? Did he smile at me because I was wearing a skirt? All I knew was I felt so afraid—ironic, considering I was just right in front of my school.

"When you are a woman in the Philippines, you get catcalled regularly. I can't count how many instances I've been catcalled on the way to the bank. I hate it when drivers would honk their horns and wink at me. Or when construction workers would stop what they're doing to whistle. Truthfully, I've gotten so immune to it, but it doesn't make me any less mad or afraid. Some days I fight back and give them the finger. Most of the time, I put my head down and walk as fast as I can. My biggest fear is that one day the whistling will stop and the catcallers would just chase after me. Some days I say a thank you prayer, 'Buti nga catcall langHindi rape.' How awful is it that one has to pick the lesser of two evils? I think it's the worst feeling in the world, to feel this unsafe in your own country.

"My dad used to say that the world is full of terrible people. I guess he was talking about this." - Sandra

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"Whenever I make the short walk from my office to the parking building, I catch myself unconsciously making efforts to protect myself, like covering my chest with my bag just in case a perverted man catcalls me about it or clenching on to my car keys so that I can escape quickly should anyone assault me in the parking lot. I even remember attending a talk in college about how some women are scared of wearing ponytails when commuting because it makes it easier for an attacker to grab them. This is what being catcalled and harassed feels like—you live in constant fear. You look down when you walk down a sketchy street and think of possible ways to escape should anything happen. You walk the other side of the road just so truck drivers, tambays, and even street children won’t harass you." - Retty

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"When I was a kid, my mother would always hold my hand and urge me to walk faster whenever we passed a group of men who'd stare at us like we were naked. I had no idea why they did that, but I remember feeling afraid, because my mom's protective instinct kicked in. Why did she feel a need to guard me? Who were these men who looked at me like they were dogs, and I was a piece of meat?

"These men have taken different forms as I grew up: that barkada of rowdy high schoolers in a mall who'd say 'miss, missang ganda mo!' to a random stranger who'd whistle at me from a street corner. Every time, I'd walk faster, and whip out my phone to call someone I know. As if to tell the catcaller, 'Don't come closer, because I have someone to protect me.' But who am I kidding? There's no one to protect me, and there's nothing I can do. I am helpless. That catcall is like a verbal threat, an announcement of an intention that has not been fully realized. And whether that intention is acted upon or not, the effect is the same—I am threatened, demeaned, and left feeling less than who I am." - Jillian 

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"Men seem to think being on the receiving end of a catcall is flattering, but it's anything but. It isn't something you can easily shrug off like it didn't happen. It makes you feel like you've been robbed of your privacy, exposing the aspects of yourself that you don't just show to anyone (and definitely NOT to some random person on the street). Most of the time, it's not just the verbal comments that get to you. It's the indecent staring and the eyes that won't stop following, which will unfortunately make you wonder just what disgusting things this person is thinking about you.

"Ironically, when you talk to a friend about it, you'll find yourself trying to make light of the situation and brushing it off as a joke. You don't really know why, especially when nothing about it is remotely amusing, but you suspect it has a lot to do with how people have been conditioned to think catcalling is a normal occurrence that we should just accept. Like it's something that's essential and tied up to your being a woman—when it's not." - Patricia

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"When I get catcalled, my face turns red and a lump forms in my throat. It’s a mixture of anger and embarrassment and I hate that because I am shamed for something that I can’t control. You can almost feel when it’s about to happen, too—like they're burning a hole in you with their eyes. And it doesn’t matter how many times it’s already happened. It doesn’t matter if I almost anticipate it every single time I’m walking home. It still feels as much of a violation as the very first time it happened. It makes me feel powerless because all I can do, especially in a city as unsafe and unpredictable as Manila, is keep it in or, on days when I feel brave enough, shoot them a look that could burn their truck to the ground." - Ysa

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Follow Jillian on Instagram.


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