Whether it's hoots, hisses, whistles, or sexual innuendo, cat calling can be more than just a minor annoyance. It can be inappropriate, scary, and even threatening. And unfortunately, street harassment is something that 65 percent of women have experienced, according to a new study from the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment.
Recently, a 28-year-old woman from Minneapolis named Lindsay made headlines for calling out cat-calling men in a new project called Cards Against Harassment. On the website, she provides cards that women can download, print, and hand out to harassers. The cards aim to convey how a cat caller's words affect women—explaining that the behavior is unwanted, without engaging in an argument or confrontation. Two of our favorites:
We wholeheartedly support her message that cat calls are not “complimentary.” (Guys, there are other ways to talk to women than a “Hey, beautiful!” or “Damn, girl,” you know.) Jarrett Arthur, a self-defense expert and Krav Maga instructor, agrees: “It’s fantastic that this project gives women the permission to actually stand up and have a voice against street harassment."
However, as Lindsay writes on her website, the cards aren't for everyone or every situation. We asked Arthur to elaborate on when you should—and shouldn’t—confront cat callers.
1. Don’t: Address him at all if you’re in an isolated place. If you're in an enclosed space, such a subway car or elevator, or alone on a street, Arthur says you shouldn’t hand out a card or address a cat caller for risk of escalating the situation.
2. Do: Speak up. There is a big difference between verbal cat calling and breaking a physical boundary. “That’s a situation that warrants a more significant response,” Arthur says. “If a physical boundary is broken, you need to address it in a more confident way.” But that doesn’t mean you should fight back—in fact, getting physical should be a last resort, Arthur says. “Use clear, concise phrases, like ‘Stop. Don’t touch me,’ or ‘Leave me alone,’ while maintaining eye contact to get your point across.”
3. Don’t: Hesitate to call authorities. “So often women don't want to call the police because they don’t want to overreact, but any time you’re feeling vulnerable you need to listen to your gut instincts,” Arthur says. She says that she often hears from victims of attacks that they had a feeling something was wrong, but they didn’t do anything about it.
4. Do: Make a scene. “Try to move a populated area if someone is following you or trying to grope you, and draw attention to yourself by yelling specific words: ‘I need help!’ ‘Attacker!’” Arthur says. “You can’t go over the top if you feel threatened. The saying ‘Better safe than sorry’ really applies to this situation.”