Last week I was walking home alone late at night when a man catcalled me. A sexualized, degrading and, to be quite honest, intimidating comment. I ignored him, ensuring I didn’t make eye contact, and started to speed walk home.
Women know this experience all too well.
Ruth George, a college student from Chicago, was walking to her car late at night when a man catcalled her.
And just like me, she ignored him. But instead, he followed, raped and killed her because he didn’t like to be ignored.
Stop Street Harassment conducted a survey that found 99 percent of the female respondents reported experiencing some form of street harassment such as catcalling. And most women start experiencing this at a young age. The Girl Scouts of American reported that one in 10 girls is catcalled before her 11th birthday.
Catcalling is not a compliment. It is not flattering. Catcalling usually involves a whistle or sexual comment by a man or group of men at a passing woman. It can even involve inappropriate grabbing. A woman is typically left feeling uncomfortable and scared. Catcalling is a violation of boundaries.
The fact that many are using catcalling and complimenting synonymously speaks volumes to the lack of knowledge of the female experience.
Women are constantly told to protect themselves. We’re told to ignore the catcalls and unwanted sexual advances. And when we do, we’re also told that maybe we shouldn’t be rude, maybe we should take the “compliment” or “a smile back goes a long way.”
But it’s not a woman’s job to stroke the ego of a stranger who decides he wants to make an unwanted advance. We don’t owe you anything. Ruth George wasn’t obligated to respond. No woman is obligated to respond.
Victim blaming cannot be the norm. As if any response from Ruth George after being catcalled could justify her death. Women shouldn’t feel obligated to respond to catcalls after hearing Ruth’s story, fearing that a man might retaliate if they don’t. No one is entitled to a woman or girl’s personal space.
Ruth’s story hurts for so many women because unfortunately, many of us have been violated with catcalls at some point.
Maragaret Atwood, a poet and novelist, said, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Similar to the #MeToo movement, the narrative around catcalling continues to push responsibility on women to put themselves in better situations. Rather than focusing on what women should do when catcalled, what needs to be addressed is the male ego.
Why was the ego of Ruth George’s killer so hurt? Why did he feel entitled to her?
William Castello, a professor at St. John’s University, blames low self-esteem, Staten Island Media Group reported.
“There is a competition to be boldest, strongest most macho, generally driven by rampant lack of self esteem, disappointment and frustration with life in general,” Castello said. “It is a sign of a rough and rude upbringing, which lends itself to a competition of sorts among the groups ... kind of a ‘oneupsmanship’ of who’s worse than the rest.”
The National Organization for Women states, “In the context of gender, harassment often ends up being a way for men to exert control over women and their bodies. Shouting a crude comment about a woman’s appearance suggests entitlement to her body. Groping or stalking or simply standing too close without a woman’s permission shows entitlement to her space. Expecting a woman to talk to you while or after you harass her displays entitlement to her time.”
Boys and men need to be educated. Catcalling has becoming a normalized experience for women, and the approach to how it is discussed and handled is screaming for change.
Hopefully the tragic death of Ruth George will further the conversation.