Respect - more than just a word.

Catcalling is not a Compliment

Written by Maddy Crehan

Almost every woman has a story (or 50) about being catcalled, there wolf whistled or yelled at on the street by men. This verbal abuse is in no way, shape or form a compliment, but rather, an all too accepted method of sexual harassment. What’s worse, a refusal to ‘give ‘em a smile’ or acknowledge their ‘flattery’ in any way is often warrant for further name-calling. Women’s bodies are not public property awaiting validation or approval from men.

cat calling

Sadly, these idiotic animal sounds are so ingrained in our society that many women have been forced to accept them as a common fleeting moment of their day on their way to work, school or home. This is a ridiculous abuse of public space, which should be a safe place for all individuals. When thinking about this issue it occurred to me just how widespread and frequent this type of harassment is, so I asked my younger sister whether she had ever experienced it, to which she replied “of course I have!” as if it absurd to assume otherwise. She’s fourteen.  This type of behaviour has become so normalised that young girls have grown to expect this objectification from men, sometimes two or three times their age, and many young boys have learnt to imitate these ‘role-models’. Just recently my close friend was on a train when she was approached by a high school boy and asked “do you want to root?” Taken aback, she politely declined, and then when approached again by the same boy, told him it was an unacceptable way to speak to someone. Stories like these are way too common and should not be accepted as part of daily life.

In March last year Snickers launched an ad in Australia that sparked some controversy. The ad showed a group of tradies shouting out to women passing by, but instead of the expected catcalls and wolf whistles, the men shouted positive feminist statements.  Despite the fact that these men are still yelling at unsuspecting women, the first minute of the advertisement seems to be generally positive (even if somewhat patronising) up until the last few seconds when that famous tag line appears “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” Putting aside the ad’s bizarre suggestion that men should eat snickers bars in order avoid treating women with respect, and the inaccurate labeling of all trade-workers as misogynist brutes, what shocked me most about this campaign was the reaction it received. Ninemsn shared the clip on their Facebook page shortly after its release early last year, sparking the all-intelligent world of Facebook users to offer their two cents. While there were several comments critiquing the ad, some of the more ridiculous comments included:

“You miss the once common woof whistle from building sites !!! everyone now days is too busy being politically correct just another Aussie tradition dead and buried” – Kim

(Such a shame that Australia is attempting to move on from its sexist, misogynist and ignorant ‘traditions’.)

“In this PC world, guys get harassed for complimenting women in the street. Women love getting wolf whistled even if they don’t admit it it gives them higher esteem” – Rob

(Women: stop harassing men for harassing you, how rude.)

“This is why PC is so wrong. It is time to go back to old fashioned values & ideals” – Rob…again

(Life was so much easier when women didn’t have a voice to speak up against street harassment)

“These days if I tell a lady she is attractive I get criticized for being sexist. I just can’t win

– Rob…yet again.

(Moment of silence for Rob plz )

“All women like to be complemented the only ones who complain are dykes (wannabe men) if you dont like attention dont dress the way n ya do pfft stupid” – Bruce

(Can’t argue with that logic.)

The alarming thing about these comments is that this attitude is so widely spread across Australia, and still too little change is being made to protect women on the streets at a legislative level. However more and more women are striving to create supportive communities within society to combat this issue. An example of this is a Hollaback , an organisation that provides an outlet for women to share stories of street harassment online and raise awareness.  Hollaback originated in New York and has now spread to cities across the world including Melbourne.

There is no argument to justify the act of street harassment;

  1. Some women may perceive it as a compliment and appreciate being catcalled – but the act is such a fleeting encounter between strangers, there can’t possibly be time for consent to be established
  2. Women should stop dressing so provocatively – this is a ridiculous form of victim blaming. Women should be able to dress how they want and the idea that their clothes provide an excuse for men’s behaviour is archaic and wrong.
  3. It’s a harmless joke – disrupting someone’s day and making them feel threatened or uncomfortable in any way is an outrageous display of misogynist entitlement.

Though it may seem insignificant to the perpetrator, this constant stream of harassment towards women is degrading, demoralising and simply unjust.

Maddy Crehan

Maddy volunteers for Rosie and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality


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