Is This How You Should Respond To Street Harassment?

This is one of the cards you can print to hand out to harassers.Source: Cards Against Harassment

This is one of the cards you can print to hand out to harassers.Source: Cards Against Harassment

I would love to walk down the street one day without being harassed. It must be nice to feel safe and comfortable when getting yourself from Point A to Point B. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy compliments… from people I know. Today I am wearing loose jeans and a hooded t-shirt. I got catcalled three times on my way to work.

Like most women, I do not enjoy commentary on my appearance from strangers. Catcalls aren’t compliments. They’re harassment, and they suck. I’ve had my butt grabbed on the subway. I’ve heard everything from “You’re beautiful” to explicit details of what someone wanted to do to me. Hearing that you have a nice smile or that someone likes your dress doesn’t seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is.

I do not walk out of my apartment every day to please the eyes of strangers. I do not wear cute outfits for strangers. I do not wear sweatpants to the grocery store for strangers. I do nothing to please the hundreds of people I walk by on my commute every day. Yet, for whatever reason, some strangers think that I have exited my home just for them to look at.

A Minneapolis woman named Lindsey feels the same way. In fact, she’s been taking down street harassers for a while, most notably in this amazing Missed Connections post on Craigslist. After that, she started Cards Against Harassment. They’re little business cards that explain why street harassment isn’t cool that women (or catcalled men-it happens!) can hand out to their catcallers.

Lindsey also started filming the reactions of her harassers when she confronted them. Though a few of the men realize that what they’re doing isn’t cool, the majority don’t understand the problem. Some legitimately think the purpose of a woman is to be on this earth for men to look at. One even says, “Women are put on this earth to satisfy a man, so if she feels offended, she shouldn’t have been born.” Another man yells, “Hey bitch!” at her and proceeds to explain that “bitch” means “sexy.”

These businessmen mouthed “Minnesota chicks are hot!” at Lindsey when she was on her way to work. When she confronted them, one man says, “I’m surprised you’re offended.” Really, dude?

In several videos, Lindsey asks the men if they would holler at a woman who was walking with a man. They say no because that would be disrespectful. To the other man. Because that woman is his. Because a woman walking alone doesn’t deserve respect, apparently. Or she should feel grateful that by the mercy of God, some stranger took notice of her and blessed her with a “compliment.” Lindsey explains:

“If a woman is supposed to consider it a compliment that a stranger on the street finds her attractive and vocalizes about it, that requires that we all accept, as a basic premise, that women should care about what every stranger on the street thinks about her appearance, and whether she’s ‘hot enough.'”

Watching these videos is hard because I can feel exactly what Lindsey feels. I’ve been there. Pretty much every woman has been there. I’m really in awe of Lindsey for having the courage to confront these men because I’ve always wanted to do that, but I’ve been too scared. That’s one of the problems with street harassment: it’s dangerous. Lindsey states on her website that these cards are not for everyone because of the safety factor:

“These cards are NOT for everyone, or for every situation. Nor should anyone interpret my videos as representative of how a card-giving interaction could go. I have been engaging my harassers for the purposes of documenting the prevalence of street harassment in Minneapolis, but the average interaction handing out a card can be rapid and non-verbal. If your personal experience of street harassment tends to involve the fear of physical violence, this project is not intended to suggest you are in any way obligated to engage, escalate, or educate. Everyone deals with harassment differently and you have to do what’s right for you.”

There have been so many times I wanted to confront a harasser. I’ve come close. I wish I were half as brave as Lindsey. You want to say something back and let people know it’s not okay, but you also worry about your safety. Instead, you let a “Hey Baby” or a “Dayum girl” and explicit sexual words fall on your ears like it’s nothing, while inside you feel like you want to go home and take a shower.

But maybe if I’m brave enough to deal with being harassed every day, I can be brave enough to give someone a card explaining why it’s not okay.
What do you think about this project? Do you ever get catcalled? Have you ever confronted a harasser? Tell us in the comments!
You can reach this post’s author, Caitlin Corsetti, on Twitter and Instagram!

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  • Jasmine

    It’s not all about what the person says, it’s the way they say it. For example, if you’ve already walked past they person and they can only see you from behind, and they say “nice dress”, you know they really mean something else. There are other things like tone of voice, facial expression that play into how people’s words come off. Why would anyone need to pay me a “compliment” from across the street? That’s weird. And once again, there’s this idea that I should be grateful. I’m supposed to appreciate someone noticing something nice about me. They took the time out to tell me something good about myself, because…. Not to mention, there’s a reason why they don’t do this to other men. It’s because it’s not a compliment. To them it is a show of bravado. They like to show off for their friends or they look at women like objects there for their entertainment. The catcalling isn’t about you or how nice you look. If it was a genuine compliment, then people would only say it when you are in a proper speaking range, in a normal or cheerful tone. If it’s hard to think about the difference, consider the last time a woman paid you a compliment about the way you look. She probably told you straight to your face, and seemed only interested in complimented your hair, your shoes, or whatever. Then she left you alone. She probably didn’t interrupt you in the middle of something or make you have to turn your head or run across a street to tell you. If she did, it would be just as creepy as when a man does it. And I have had both men and women harass me, so this is not a sexism thing. It just happens to be men street harass more often.

  • crazy5150

    lol if you live in Lebanon and a someone attempts to cat call you, you don’t need to feel scared since you and almost everyone else around you would be teaching the fucker a lesson same applies to rape.

  • Lily

    Okay I totally get being upset if someone were to call you sexy or said explicate things about you. I would be right there with you telling them to back off. But if someone comes up and says they like my hair or I have a cute top it makes me smile. I pick out clothes I know I look good in, I fuss with my hair till it’s just perfect, I like getting dolled up because it makes me feel girly and confident. If someone wants to compliment me on it I say go right ahead. It gives me a little confidence boost and gives me a smile.

  • Laura

    Harassment of women is too common in my opinion, but i would never advocate confronting a stranger (of any gender) that vocalises a ‘compliment’ or vulgar comment. In the past myself, and other women i know have been physically intimidated, threatened with violence and rape and even followed home. I think the risk present with confrontation of strangers, especially those who have already vocally expressed either positive or negative comments, outweighs the need for individual education.

  • dara b

    So, if a random woman (Sexual preference does not matter in this scenario) on the street says to you “Wow, you are beautiful!” would it be as “uncomfortable” as a man saying? Just a simple “You are gorgeous!” makes your skin crawl? Seriously? I understand if anyone, stranger or not, of any gender shouts explicit comments it would make you feel uncomfortable and even pissed. But as you stated, someone saying you have a nice dress or a nice smile is a big deal. That’s just ridiculous.

  • Dina

    I didn’t even know how lucky I am until now. I live in small town with 200 000 ppl and I dont experience harassment. If strangers did that to me or did that every day I couldn’t cope with it my anxiety would explode and I would be home 24/7. Every woman who deals with that is a freaking superhero for me, I couldn’t honestly.

  • Alexis

    And why is the majority black men?! That’s probably why you feel so ‘unsafe’.. smdh

  • Alexis

    You’re too sensitive…

  • Ella

    I guess this was intended to be less of a comment and more of a question, like would you consider that harassment? I don’t know I kind of just want a different viewpoint

  • Ella

    I apologize for the mistake above when it says “comments” it was supposed to say “compliments”. Autocorrect blunder. But I want to reiterate that i mean my own comments here in the most respectful way and I do not mean to offend anyone and maybe ask I grow older my viewpoint here will expand. But no offense to anyone I am a huge fan of cards against harassment!!! This lady is a genius! And by compliments I meanthings like “I like your hair” or “I like your smile”. Not as stated above things like “you are hot” againNOT!

  • Ella

    Okay, I completely agree with everything you have just said above. That being said, as long as it is respectful, most people enjoy comments and it builds self esteem. I personally love it when people say they like my hair, not because I take care of my hair for these strangers but because it is flattering that people notice. Maybe this wasn’t the point you were making, but I reading through I got that impression- as long as it is respectful i don’t seethe harm

    • Ella

      Emphasis on RESPECT. There isn’t enough of that in the world and I try my best to bringit everywhere especially when I am on the internet