Catcalling or Street harassment is one of the most relatable social interactions for both men and women which may come in various forms. Such harassment may come in various ways such as-
- Vulgar gestures,
- Making of kissing noises,
- Stalking, etc.
Significant action has been taken by developed countries in curbing and addressing the issue of harassment in recent times with regards to harassment in the workplace and violence in the home, while little or no attention has been paid to sexual harassment in public places.
Many countries may have a name associated with all these forms of sexual harassment in public places. In India, this harassment is known as “Eve Teasing”. This includes:
- Lewd remarks, and
- Inappropriate sexual contact which includes:
- Rubbing, and
A report shows that Sixty Five percent (65%) of women in the U.S. experience at least one type of street harassment in their lifetime and a majority of them have happened more than once.
This ugly trend tends to abuse and demean young women and girls which can have severe Psychological Physical and Social negative impact.
No matter how stringent and proactive laws are, they cannot bring significant change in a public behavior as widespread as catcalling, which is deeply rooted in the culture of a country and deeply ingrained in local public and the criminal justice system.
According to a recent research study carried out on street harassment, it was discovered that before the age of 17, 84% of women have experienced their first sexual harassment. Also, 87% of women must have experienced some form of sexual harassment such as catcalling, groping, stalking and wolf-whistling in their lifetimes.
The research provided an insight into the constructive approach and narrative approach of me catcalling women to understand an iota of their experience. The catcalled women described their experiences as:
- Feeling unsafe,
- Blaming themselves, and
- Questioning the legitimacy of the encounter.
Catcalling As a Form of Sexual Objectification-
Sexual objectification occurs when a woman’s body or rather a woman’s body parts or sexual functions are isolated from her whole or complex being and made to be seen merely as an object of pleasure rather than as a human being.
This attitude towards the female gender has its attendant psychological repercussion on the victims. Such psychological repercussion of constant sexual objectification has only recently begun to be questioned and explored in the field of psychology.
The issue of sexual objectification is not limited to interpersonal interactions with strangers or acquaintances. In fact, most media outlets are even instrumental by creating further scenarios that are likely to depict women as sexual objects, especially the media which is the paramount content or exposure of women as a sexual object. An instance of the media’s effort includes:
- Television shows,
- Music videos,
- Printed media, and
All these media platforms constantly depict sexually objectifying images of women.
Research shows that women experienced objectification on average 3.69 times over the week, equating to more than once every two days. An instance is an objectifying gaze. This comprises 55% of all objectifying experience encountered by women. Wolf whistles and catcalls make up of 11% of women experience while sexual remarks make up 10%.
The implication is that objectification poses a great danger to the mental health of women. This is tantamount to being self-objectifying; that is worrying about how they look to others which on the other hand are a direct consequence of poor mental health.
A year ago, precisely October 2017, women took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment.
The #MeToo movement went viral and sparked a global outrage and discussion on issues pertaining to sexual harassment and advancement. Many individuals including men and women, mostly women have come forward with their stories. Their stories have formed an inspiration and a wakeup call to rethink the notion of sexuality in the society today.
Men admit that catcalling women boost their self-esteem and think it is okay. What they envisaged as self-esteem booster is a form of demented body whistling which boosts the confidence of one but demotes the worth of another. Men overlook the fact that confidence is internal and does not need outward promotion.
The dangers of catcalling cannot be overemphasized. For the victim, it is uncomfortable and insulting. For the tormentor, if continued can lead to physical or verbal harassment of the victims. Some men focus their desire on the dressing of a woman. But the key question is, why should a woman be dictated on what to wear simply because a certain category of men cannot control their urges?
The catcalling is precipitated on the principle of objectification theory which creates a state of self-consciousness and self-monitoring caused but the internalization of sexual objectification. Such analysis has been proven to lead to feelings of anxiety and shame.
The feelings of anxiety and shame most often can form aggressive experiences such as victimization and rape. This usually occurs when the aggressor is a stranger sexually objectifying women. When such aggressive form takes shape, it can push the victim to some form of depression.
When a woman is constantly exposed to acts of sexual harassment, it can create insidious or psychological trauma. These traumas can affect the social, emotional and mental balance of the victim.
A few of the psychological symptoms associated with the trauma of sexual objectification include anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, depression may not be the end of the co-relational chain in the context of sexual objectification, as it has also been found to be related to disordered eating among women.
Sexual Objectivity-Legal Solutions
Sexual harassment is an epidemic in today’s society. Several countries of the world are working hard to either contain the situation or totally eradicate it. Below, are discussions on the list of countries that have effortlessly contributed to the social and legal developments of legislation on sexual harassment and catcalling. Some of the legislation proposed or passed address public verbal harassment against women while some address sexual harassment in general.
The Illegality of Sexual Harassment and Catcalling in Belgium
Belgium passed a law against sexual harassment in 2014. The law came about as a result of a documentary created on street harassment in 2012. The documentary sparked a national conversation and legislative measures on protecting the victim regardless of the gender. Currently, in Belgium, it is legal for a person to sexually harass or intimidate another. Infringement of the law is punished by a year in prison or a fine.
To acknowledge street harassment as a gender-motivated crime is a crucial first step towards the education of the general public about institutional sexism. To make street harassment illegal and an offense in Belgium speaks of women’s right to safety in public spaces.
The illegality of Sexual Harassment or Catcalling in Portugal
Street harassment is an offense in Portugal, this started in August 2018. The earlier provisions of the law were that sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace but the recent law to make it illegal to harass at not just places of work but also on the streets.
The form of punishment prescribed for such infringement is almost similar to Belgium. The law provides that the infringer will face a minimum of one-year imprisonment to a maximum of three years. This is so when the age of the victim is less than 14 years.
Femicide in Argentina
Femicide is defined as the intentional killing of a woman because she is a female. It is a gender-based and gender-motivated crime against women. Argentina is one of the countries facing femicide as a form of street harassment.
Argentina has passed legislation forbidding femicide but nothing is said about street harassment.
Street Harassment is not explicitly prohibited in Canada
In Canada, street harassment is not expressly prohibited including catcalling. Canada insists on prohibiting public sexual harassment, the Criminal Code stipulates that no person should be harassed by another without lawful authority and appropriate knowledge. It added that any form of conduct or reckless behavior or harassment which causes another person (the victim) to fear for their safety or that of anyone is greatly prohibited upon.
There are some conditions which are classified as a form of sexual harassment and it includes:
- Harassment of the victim by conduct.
- Harassment of the victim by the conduct of the harasser without appropriate knowledge.
- The Harasser’s conduct can include stalking, targeting, catcalling, threatening, invoking fear, etc.
- The victim from the conduct of the Harasser may feel threatened or fear for their safety.
The illegality of Street Harassment in New Zealand
In New Zealand, section 4 of the Summary Offences Act, 1981 stipulates that anyone who purportedly threaten or insult or recklessly affect another person through insults, obscene words, vulgar words, etc. which puts the person addressed to be offended or alarmed, will be fined up to $1000. This fine is imposed by New Zealand on street harassers rather than terms of imprisonment.
The illegality of Catcalling in the United States
The United States is totally against street harassment and catcalling. In some jurisdiction, such is tantamount to a form of sexual harassment. But in the United States, the laws are not uninformed. There are different definitions and different punishment meted out on street harassment.
For instance, in Minnesota, street harassment is illegal and encompasses verbal harassments and lewd photos. In Wyoming, street harassment has a similar definition to the law in Minnesota but it also includes groping.
In New York, a street harasser can be fined up to $250 for an offense such as street harassment. But this fine does not deter the harassers. It is recommended that the fine is increased to reduce the number of offenders recorded each year.
Just like other countries in the world, street harassment cannot be ended with legislation and human rights campaign. Creating stiffer punishment for the harasser may reduce the offense but it will take decades to completely eliminate or end it.
Street harassment including catcalling is a global epidemic that requires a global effort to eradicate it. It requires all the countries in the world to take it seriously and address it head-on.
Catcalling need not be called an offense for the harasser to know it is truly an offense. A street harasser jeopardizes the wellbeing of the women they harass. It crushes their emotional, social and mental wellbeing.
Catcalling would always remain an epidemic if we continue to treat it lightly. The best solution is to create a unified law or amend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 to include street and sexual harassment as an offense punishable with stiff penalties. Although if such is done, it will be left for member states to ratify it such actions would be one of the best steps in the right direction.
It is terrible to objectify women and to condense their personality to clothing and whistles. It is not only a bad condensation but also, defines subjugation of women as second-class citizens unworthy of their opinion and choices.
Catcalling is a wake-up call to end all forms of street harassment in order to protect the lives of young women. Traumatic experiences and depression suffered by women who have undergone such and other forms of aggression should be a voice to men and bystanders that it is high time objectification is challenged.
It is hoped that in the long run, catcalling would be completely eradicated globally.