Home » Campus » Area » Catcalling can be a daily vexation on High Street

Catcalling can be a daily vexation on High Street

North High Street on Nov. 16.  Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

North High Street on Nov. 16.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Hunter Williams said she experiences verbal street harassment every day while walking in the campus area.

“People mumble something or say something that might sound like a compliment, but they’re alluding to more,” said Williams, a fourth-year in strategic communication. “I can’t walk down the street without someone saying something.”

Verbal street harassment has made its way to the forefront of national conversation after a YouTube video of a woman enduring more than 100 catcalls while walking through New York City for 10 hours went viral.

But for some students at Ohio State, street harassment isn’t just a topic of conversation — it’s an ever-present possibility that has created a threatening environment for them around the campus area.

Williams said continual catcalling has made her more cautious during daily commutes on foot, and that she now walks with mace ready and her keys clutched between her knuckles.

“I don’t want to have to be scared,” Williams said. “I live here. I’m forced to commute up and down the street, I’m forced to go to class, things like that … I just want to be able to get where I’m going without worrying about someone saying something to me.”

She said her friends have shared similar harassment experiences about their daily commutes, and they now discuss instances of street harassment as being routine.

Williams said her experiences with street harassment occur off campus, and said the stretch of High Street between 12th and 17th avenues has harassment “hot spots” with several regulars who are middle-aged men who first ask for change but then escalate to “creepy” comments or shouting.

Emily Kathe, a 2013 graduate of OSU with a degree in operations management, said she also experienced street harassment during her time at OSU, citing several instances occurring on and off campus.

She said her experiences walking in the campus area made her less sociable and less outgoing over time, and that she eventually took to riding a bicycle in an effort to bypass harassment.

Brady Costigan, a first-year in linguistics, said he has witnessed enough catcalling east of High Street to consider verbal harassment commonplace in the area.

“It’s a blatant objectification of women,” he said. “The guys who do it try to justify it by saying that they’re just giving compliments, but in almost all cases, those kinds of compliments from strangers are creepy, unwarranted and unwanted.”

Jesse Fox, an assistant professor in the School of Communication, said verbal harassment can cause short-term feelings of immediate threat, as well as long-term effects, such as paranoia and rumination.

She said the threatening nature of catcalls is derived from its suggestiveness, and that when a harasser points out a woman’s attractiveness, the harasser is implicating that woman’s sexuality.

“Since a lot of catcalling is framed as being positive, some people seem to think it’s a compliment. It’s not a compliment,” Fox said. “It’s an act of aggression. A woman doesn’t lack a sense of humor. She’s not oversensitive if she feels threatened by that behavior.”

MacRorie Dean, a graduate student in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said she has also been the target of street harassment in the campus area, and to her, even complimentary comments on the street can carry an undertone of violence.

Dean said she views street harassment as being a symptom of larger societal problems, specifically rape culture (society blaming victims of sexual assault and normalizing male sexual violence) and patriarchy, which allow appearances to gauge women’s value.

She said this, in turn, allows some men to believe it’s their duty to openly comment or offer appearance-based judgments of women.

“I’m not trying to interact with people on the street. I’m trying to get from point A to point B,” she said. “When someone says, ‘Hey, I’m viewing you as a sexual object only. Enjoy that on the rest of your walk to school,’ it doesn’t feel good. It’s a reminder of the vulnerability that women have because of their position in society.”

Dean said it is difficult to judge how best to react to harassers and that confrontation could lead to an escalation and aggression. She added that a lack of acknowledgement could result in harasser frustration or a sign of successful gender subordination and encourage more catcalls.

Fox said understanding that a woman’s actions don’t merit verbal harassment is the first step in collectively understanding the inappropriateness of verbal harassment.

She also said that one can speak out in certain situations or amongst friends when verbal harassment is observed to encourage respect for women.

“Try not to be a bystander,” Fox said. “When you see that, be the person who speaks up … That is the best way to break the cycle: conveying a social alarm that this isn’t OK and this isn’t acceptable.”

Williams, Kathe and Dean said they did not attempt to notify University Police or Columbus Division of Police concerning their respective incidents.

“It happens so often, it would take me a week just to report,” Dean said.

Kathe said she viewed her verbal harassment experiences as harassers “just being jerks.”

“They were a bit aggressive, but not threatening us with bodily harm or following us,” she said.

Columbus Police Sgt. Rich Weiner said if catcalling does not cross the line of being menacing, which would dictate a threat, then it is not a criminal act.

“Catcalling is not illegal,” he said. “Can someone be offended? Absolutely. Does that mean a police response is appropriate? Not necessarily.”

Weiner said if someone is being followed by a harasser, that person should seek out a well-populated, public place. If the harasser persists, he said to call the police and officers will assess the situation.

Dean said addressing verbal street harassment alone wouldn’t fix the problem of harassment in a broader sense, but that recognizing that it is part of a larger culture of sexual violence would be most effective.

“It needs to be a big part of the national and local conversations that we are having right now about rape and about women’s safety around campuses,” Dean said.

Michelle Bangen, sexual violence prevention coordinator at OSU, said students who have experienced street harassment and wish to seek counseling or other healing resources can access support services through Student Life’s Student Advocacy Center.

8 comments

  1. I can’t help but shake my head the victim attitude of females and this attitude.

    As a guy I have the same people yelling other things and also being aggressive. They don’t have to do with my looks but it also makes me uncomfortable when I’m walking alone and I’m being followed or harassed by the homeless for money or food or cigs.

    Instead of quality journalism where you write about how the homeless people are harassing everyone you turn it into the femist victim bandwagon.

    Females aren’t the only ones who are affected.

  2. What kind of ignorant comment is that, “a male”? It’s totally different being asked for change than being harassed. I’ve been asked for change and just not said a word and I get “have a nice day”. The next person to walk by was a female who reached the same way I had and she got a “Ok well nice to see you, good looking.” To say we as makes experience the same thing is exactly the mentality that fosters the catcalling and objectification of women.

  3. Cheesh! Nobody likes being yelled to on street, but come on. This sounds like wallowing in victimization.Here’s a thought. Cat call back. I’ve done it for years. If some guy cats you respond back with something about the size of his male accoutrements.

  4. I’m simply amazed at “a male”s and marley greiner’s responses. I’m really disappointed hearing young men say they think their churlish behavior towards women is just every day normal okay. It isn’t. Your generation needs to look up the word gentleman and stop advertising your sexual urges which is really base. And what are middle-aged men doing hanging out on the street talking to young girls like that? It’s disgusting. I’d say the police need to bother themselves a little more to enforce loitering and pandering laws.

  5. Alright “A male,” as a male, you are genetically the physically stronger gender, and don’t have to be as scared as women do when we walk down the street because at least you’re a contender against a male attacker. Not leaving us alone when we ignore you makes us feel like you might snap and decide to kill us, because, you know, that does actually happen to women in this country. Also, for the record, we know that men are capable of feeling uncomfortable too. Saying that men are victims too (please–someone get this kid a Kleenex) doesn’t make women not the victim. And Marley Greiner, this same reason is why we don’t catcall back. If you’re honestly telling a woman to do that to a man she doesn’t know then you’ve never had a dude go from hitting on you to threatening to kill you in the time it takes to say “no thanks.” Catcalling back? Yeah right.

  6. The piropo culture has been commonplace in Latin America, and you would think that men in the U.S. would have evolved past the machismo of an earlier era. In the Seventies you heard stories about ladies passing by male-dominated construction sites and the running of the gauntlet of crude gestures and catcalls that would be launched at them. Oddly enough, once in the Nineties my Costa Rican roommate came in to the apartment and was disconsolate; she felt unattractive since she had walked several blocks on High Street and no one had said anything to her!

    I don’t know how many times I have received a free pass in society on the workplace or the game of life simply because I am a tall white male. I walk down the halls of my college for entire minutes with the luxury of being lost in my own thoughts and not being the object of other’s comments. Do times change? They should. Grow up, guys. If you all you can think about when an attractive woman walks by is saying something that will shock her and put you at the center of attention, you’re the problem.

  7. Women everywhere; as I feminist of over 40 years standing, it grieves me deeply to see how feminism has been transformed into professional victimization. I’ve been yelling at jerks on the streets for decades. Naturally, this is not advisable in all circumstances and one should use common sense. I’m sick to death of liberal victim and carceral middle class feminism destroying a once great movement. If you don’t fight back you will never win.

  8. I’m a bit late to the conversation, but I’m so sick of men acting like women have no reason to be afraid when they’re dealing with a street harrasser. Have you, as a man, ever had someone literally twice your size cut your path off while suggesting you go back to their place? Have you, as a man, ever tried to get past this person as they continually step in front of you, blocking your path? Probably not. It’s terrifying, especially knowing that you’re physically weaker and can’t defend yourself as much as you may need to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.