Street harassment: what creepers say versus what they mean

Catcalling isn't just "giving a compliment"

We walk a little faster. We clutch our keys a little tighter. We feel relief when we make it home unscathed.

I feel confident saying that every woman has experienced this. If you haven’t, you will. Street harassment is rampant. According to Stop Street Harassment65 percent of women have experienced the act, defined as unwanted comments or gestures in a public place, usually of a sexual nature. The numbers are tragically even higher or represent more aggressive types of harassment against women of color and women outside the U.S.

Street harassment takes away a person’s right to exist in public spaces. It can escalate into more intense forms of abuse. It can even turn deadly.

Amanda Luberto, journalism senior, has been catcalled and touched in public, on public transport and on her way to class. She said even confident people can feel uncomfortable in their own bodies after being harassed.

“No matter how much you prepare for it, the moment it happens it still catches you off guard,” she said. “Every time.”

Kelsey Hess, also a journalism senior, said the fear that comes after being harassed about certain features can make you feel self-conscious about something that was previously innocuous to you.

“However brief that moment is, if enough of them build up, that would seriously impact anyone,” she said.

You may wonder why anyone would engage in such a heinous and pointless act. I decided to break down some common things that come out of harassers mouths to decode what they are really saying when they decide to degrade another person.

All statements here have been said to me or women I know. Allow me to enlighten you…

Disclaimer: This article was written by a cisgender woman whose experiences with street harassment have all involved men. This is not to say that all men are harassers or that all women are victims of street harassment.


1. “What’s a girl like you doing out here?”

Translation: “It’s 2016 and I’m still not used to seeing women in public.”

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2. “Damn, how old are you?”

Translation: “You’re young enough to be my granddaughter, and that arouses me. I'm assessing how legal this would be.”

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3. “Nice bike. Even nicer legs!”

Translation: “You thought you were going to enjoy a nice ride outside today? Think again. You’re still just a piece of meat.”

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4. [after being followed] “You have a nice ass. I just had to tell you that.”

Translation: “I am creeping around outside with the sole purpose of drooling over body parts, and I genuinely believe women care what I think. I am so important.”

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5. “Damn, baby! I’d like to [insert explicit sex acts here]”

Translation: “I never learned self-control as a child, so every thought that crosses my mind has to be shouted at maximum decibel.”

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6. “Take your headphones out! Why are you wearing those? I want to talk to you!”

Translation: “I am incapable of recognizing that you’re a human being with places to be and some new jams to listen to. I believe you came outside solely to please me and let me evaluate your potential as a sex object. Congratulations, you passed!”

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7. “You shouldn’t be wearing those!”

Translation: “I am a fashion expert. I am Anna Wintour. I am an aficionado of all things culture. I have a severe entitlement complex who believes women should look how I want them to.”

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8. “BITCH.”

“I’m not sure how to deal with rejection.”

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9. [after it happens] “Well, what were you wearing?”

Translation: “I’m so apathetic toward violence against women that I’d rather find a way to blame you than admit the harasser did something wrong.”

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10. “I want to grab your pussy!”

Translation: “I’ve always been awful, but now that we have a president who condones sexual assault, I’m going to be even more aggressive. Whenever you’re in a public space for the next four years get ready to devote an even greater amount of mental energy to protecting your body than you already do.”

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In addition to the comments above, harassment isn’t always verbal. It can include groping, physical assault and stalking.

Lauren Barnes, co-founder of the Barrett Feminist Club at ASU, remembers being followed in a car by older men when she was just 12 years old.

“Some people think those are compliments, but when they’re happening to you they don’t feel like compliments,” Barnes said. “Compliments make you feel good. These are catcalls. You feel really scared. It makes you feel repulsed.”

Barnes said that harassment stems from entitlement and disrespect for another’s body.

“They look at my body and they tell me what they want to do to it,” Barnes said. “That’s a feminist issue because we are people, and we shouldn’t have to experience those things … It’s an issue for all genders and all people.”

Harassers aren’t silent, so why should we be?

“There’s enough people right now that are motivated to sincerely have these conversations,” Hess said. “Change is possible.”

Women have the right to exist in public spaces, and we have been sacrificing it for far too long.

“We’ve created a culture now where girls are okay saying that’s not okay,” Luberto said.

So think twice before you catcall. You might be saying more than you think.

We just might have a few things to say back. 


Reach the columnist at lallnatt@asu.edu or follow @LibbyAllnattASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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