The arrival of spring means a few things: flowers in bloom, college graduations, senior proms, skin-baring fashions, and, of course, catcalls from random men on the streets and sidewalks of America. CNN.com has decided to celebrate the season by posing the question "catcalling — creepy or a compliment?" in a story today that has, at this point, been emailed to us some half-dozen times. Holly Kearl, a George Washington University graduate whose master's thesis focused on street harassment, conducted an anonymous email survey of some 225 women and found that 98 percent of respondents experienced some form of street harassment at least a few times, while about 30 percent reported being harassed on a regular basis. "For me, anyone who interrupts my personal space to objectify me or make me feel uncomfortable or threatened is harassing me," she said.
Kimberly Fairchild, an assistant professor of psychology at Manhattan College, says that catcalling "encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings." (On a personal note, I keep my iPod turned up so loud when walking down the street that it's been years since I've noticed being catcalled.) She continues: "When a man catcalls you, you don't know if it will end at that point, or if it could escalate to assault." Here's my question: Although guys who shout out sexual things to women on the street are certainly assholes, are they automatically potential-criminals? Do women really think that some construction worker is gonna get off his scaffolding and remove his hardhat to assault them with his hard on?
Trust me, I'm not blaming the victim here at all, but I think that Fairchild's assessment that we should fear for our lives — or at least our vaginas — veers towards the extreme. Anyway, if tuning out harassers by turning up one's iPod is too passive for some, there's always projects like HollaBack, in which women take photos of street harassers and post them online.