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!