***Trigger Warning: Street/ Sexual Harassment***
A catcall is never flattering. Shouting about a woman’s body and making kissing sounds to her in the middle of the street is unacceptable. Women are interrupted, demeaned and treated as sex objects as they walk to school, head to a bar or explore a tourist spot. They receive catcalls no matter what they’re wearing. Catcalls are not compliments and they are not welcome.
The following are personal stories by female travel bloggers from different parts of the world and the catcalls they have experienced in various countries. The intent behind mentioning countries and cities is not to dissuade anyone from traveling to these locations but it’s there to show that women cannot escape catcalling and street harassment regardless of the country they visit. The message is simple: stop catcalling and speak up when you see others catcall. Make sure you read the bottom for two important lists:
-Ways for Women to Avoid Street Harassment
-Ways to Eliminate The Need of Having a List Called “Ways for Women to Avoid Street Harassment”
Martha from Quirky Globetrotter
Location: San Pedro, Belize
I was cruising on my gas-powered golf cart down the streets of San Pedro, Belize. While slowing down to pass over a speed bump, I heard a shout of “nice legs” from the sidewalk. I promptly ignored the comment, as I usually do, and I heard the man shout again, “You have a lot of mosquito bites anyway.”
I had to laugh. Simply because I didn’t reply to him, he decided that he needed to put me down. My feelings weren’t hurt. In fact, the opposite happened. I felt sorry for the man who thinks that shouting at women is a way of showing his admiration or affection. Ultimately, catcalls are nothing more than a line saying, “I think you’re an object I can fantasize about.” To me, that’s utterly ridiculous and incredibly insulting. If you have any comments about my appearance, keep it to yourself — I don’t want to hear them.
Sojourner from Sojournies
“Morena, morena!! Negra!” *insert sexual growl and moan here*
A simple Spanish translation took the average catcall to a whole new level. I was 20 years old, studying abroad in Spain at the time, and on my way home from school. I froze, shook my head “no” with wide eyes, and crossed the street. I was taken aback. I didn’t truly understand what to make of it, yet I knew the goosebumps I felt weren’t the good kind. Every step I took thereafter, looking over my shoulder to make sure the catcaller didn’t follow me, I felt relieved to be home soon. As I speed walked, I just couldn’t shake the gross feeling that overtook my body. Upon arrival, I plopped in my bed with only one statement plagued in my thoughts: no guidebook prepared me for this.
After growing up in Milwaukee, I thought I perfected the resting b**** face against catcallers. I caught the city bus throughout high school, and let’s just say people make very bold propositions at red lights. But to have a Spanish man do it felt even more objectifying. Everyone discusses “culture shock” while abroad, in the context of language barriers, meal times, and work schedules. However, prior to my trip, there weren’t any discussions about catcalling and fetishes. Black women are seen as exotic to Spanish men due to our bodies, hair, etc. There are ways to approach someone of interest without animal noises or yelling their skin color on the street, to appease your sexual desires. Catcalling strips a human being of their safety, personal space, and their clothes, as you undress them with your eyes or whisper sexual innuendos in their ear. It can sour any travel experience and lead people to generalize whole countries on the actions of a few. Catcalling needs to stop now because for some, the damage has already been done.
Emily from Two Dusty Travelers
I had only stepped away from my husband for a few minutes – just long enough to walk back to the car to grab my hat before we sat down for lunch on the beach in the bright Aruban sun. Apparently it was long enough to leave me open to being catcalled. As I walked back to the restaurant, a stranger in a passing car whistled and shouted something at me (“Hey baby”? Who even remembers what exactly; they all start to blur together.) Without thinking, I flipped him the bird. It’s not how I’d recommend reacting when traveling outside your home country – but he caught me off guard.
He continued driving and I wrote it off as just one more catcall. That is, until a few minutes later, when I saw a single man enter the outdoor restaurant clearly looking for someone. He locked eyes with me and seemed to recognize me, though I’d never seen his face before. Walking right up to our table, this stranger proceeded to confront me about how rude I was. Shocked that this man would park his car and come to find me because I didn’t appreciate his catcall, I refused to back down. I told him how frightening that behavior is to women. He stomped off angrily, turning back to shout “F**k you, bitch!” before he left. To me, this disgusting action reveals exactly what catcalling is really about: It’s about power and ownership, not respectful appreciation of beauty. I chose not to silently take his abuse, so he unleashed his anger on me. Who knows if he’ll change his ugly behavior, but I’ll always be glad I stood up to him.
Ciara from Hey Ciara
In December, I had the pleasure of spending 2 weeks in Cuba. I had a wonderful time, but I did face a few challenges – of the biggest being extreme catcalling. Typically, I can handle catcalling. I just ignore and keep walking. It might be because of where I was raised, but I’ve become quite accustomed to catcalling. It hardly bothers me, which is a shame. However, the catcalling was next level in Cuba. Every single man felt it necessary to shout or hiss at me. It was so extreme that I couldn’t just ignore it. It made me so self-conscious and leaving my Airbnb became a task because I knew what I’d have to face with each step. I had no choice but to silently bear it until one man in particular set me off.
I was outside using the public wifi service when a man entered the doorway of his home across the street. Instead of walking inside, he began hissing once he saw me. I attempted to ignore him, but the hissing didn’t stop. He made noises while staring directly at me for about 15 minutes straight. He even waved his hand, prompting me to follow him inside several times. I’d occasionally look up to give him the ultimate B**** face, signaling that I’d had it. He continued to hiss anyway. There was a crowd of locals surrounding me, but nobody said a word. He continued to hiss at me until I finally yelled “f**** off!” across the street. Still, he stood there hissing at me for another 5 minutes before walking inside. I’m honestly ashamed to admit that those words came out of my mouth in reference to another human being. I don’t speak to people this way, but it was the icing on the cake. At that point, I was mad. I felt as if my voice didn’t matter. I felt upset that someone would continue to do something like this against my wishes. I felt insulted. Did he REALLY think I was going to follow him inside? What would he have done if there was no crowd around? He didn’t care about my discomfort and that’s the disheartening part. I, as a person, didn’t matter. He only saw me as a potential sexual object. I am okay, but I worry about the girls who have faced much worse.
Catcalling is annoying at best and dehumanizing at worst. It is not okay and furthers the dynamic of men having power over women. My hope is that one day women around the world will be able to walk down the street without being harassed – verbally, physically, or sexually.
Madhurima from Orange Wayfarer
Location: Karnakata, India
One of the worst experiences of being catcalled was when I was on my solo trip to Hampi. Hampi houses the ruins of Vijayanagara, an empire from the 1500s. It is situated in Karnataka, India. I was vlogging for my YouTube channel while travelling. The town and the ruins are a few miles apart. On the way, I spotted a body of water, all empty by its banks. I wanted to take a picture of it from close up. I got down from the bus and walked up 4 Km to reach the place. It was a beautiful site. The sun was about to set, and it was around 5 PM. The body of water lies by the side of the main road that visitors and locals use to commute. While I was standing there, a few of the bikers stopped and wanted to take a photo with me. Clicking photos with travellers is a common activity, as I understood, while exploring the villages. Children will flock towards you and want to frame the moment. But there is a difference if grown up people want to join the party. I ignored the men who approached and walked down from the main road.
Soon after, a group of men, riding bikes came and stood by the main road. And they started to talk, which escalated to laughter, all intended for me since the place was forlorn, and started making different gestures. I was scared. I do not speak Kannadiga, the local language. Hence, I could not make out the exact words. But the body language said it all. I loved Hampi, and I still do. But that one incident made me shiver. They could not even blame me for wearing revealing clothes or anything of the sort. I was wearing normal Salwar Kameez. I stayed put for a while as long as they remained standing and ignored their presence. Later, I was kindly given a lift by an auto rickshaw and reached the hotel.
Not only does this mar the experience, the catcallers need to know they put murk on the region’s face and defame the culture. Hopefully, more women come out of the house and spotting a lone woman walking alone can be a regular sight and not a phenomenon. Hopefully, that will eradicate the practice.
Kate from KateKorte.com
Location: Dublin, Ireland
My friend Brooke and I were catcalled excessively at our hostel in Ireland. It started when we first checked in, Brooke and I brushed it off and went upstairs to our room. The room we booked was a 10 bed dorm with a shared bathroom but what we actually had was a 10 bed dorm with an adjoining 8 bed dorm and all 18 (2 girls, 16 guys) sharing a bathroom that didn’t have locks on the shower doors. We later realized the 8 bed dorm was entirely reserved by the bachelor party that had just catcalled us downstairs. When we walked to brush our teeth, they would call awful things at us – the language used had definite bad intentions. We informed the hostel and requested to stay in a female dorm, but they had no other beds available and told us that if it got worse they would approach the group of guys. After we persisted, they finally gave us a key to use the girls washroom to shower.
For two nights we couldn’t go to the bathroom or eat our breakfast without being catcalled. We still made the best of our days in the city but our impression of Dublin was tainted by their behavior. I was so tired and constantly tense during my trip. Because of this experience, I won’t be staying in a mixed dorm hostel again. Writing about it makes me feel sick and I hope no traveler has to experience treatment like this. When it happened, my immediate thought was that it was our fault, and that we should’ve booked a female only room and we should’ve booked it earlier. Although both of those things would have made catcalls less likely, catcalling and other forms of sexual assault happen to women everywhere. If it’s really going to stop, it’s the guys at the bachelor parties that need to change.
Stacey from Deafinitely Wanderlust
I’ve received several catcalls around the world, but there are some that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget it because I was constantly catcalled almost daily that it made me cringe. That was in Nicaragua. Here is a thing though: I’ll never ever understand what they are saying when they are catcalling me. It is not because I don’t know Spanish, English or even other languages, for that matter. It is because I am Deaf. I cannot hear what they are saying, but I can see their facial expressions and their body languages. I honestly don’t know what is more disgusting, listening to what they may say to me or seeing their creep, perverted crooked smile as they nodded and licked their lips at me. They were saying something as they opened their mouth, but I couldn’t decipher everything. All I read on their lips was “mamacita” as they whistled and bit their lips.
With this constant visualized catcalls, I feel like a prey that was waiting to be pounced on. I was a mere piece of meat to them than a human being. I felt that I was literally nothing but an animal. I really hate that feeling SO MUCH. Maybe it wasn’t always a good idea but I sometimes give death stares. My friend claimed that I give a very frightening death stare. At times, I’d just scoff and ignore them. Perhaps they shouted something that I didn’t hear, like “you should appreciate that I called you beautiful” or whatever. There are some days where I wish I can react differently, more positively and calm, but I was utterly annoyed in Nicaragua. Additionally, I don’t want to bother attempting to communicate with them since I will not able to have an effective communication, or even heated communication, since I’m Deaf. I’m against catcalling and verbal attacks, because we deserve to be respected, treated appropriately and to feel safe. We do not deserve to be shamed or attacked if we don’t “appreciate” their “compliments.” Even if there are nice compliments, there is a boundary to it. We, women, are not their possession. We are not animals. We are human beings.
Isabelle from Dominican Abroad
Location: Havana, Cuba
I’ve traveled to many countries where street harassment is ubiquitous. But my NYC upbringing had already exposed me to what it’s like to be a walking sexual target for unwanted attention on the street, so I wasn’t shocked when I experienced it abroad. A dirty look, a bitter no, maybe even flipping them off if they were particularly vulgar. From Morrocco to the Dominican Republic, I was able to figuratively push them all out of my emotional space because I had already stressfully endured it in NYC since I was 11 years old. But it wasn’t until Cuba that I became triggered by the relentless street harassment. On the streets, I was touched, followed, blocked from walking, and at one point physically threatened. I also realized that with my darker friends the street harassment would reach cruel amounts. Incessant commentary, whistling, sexual invitations, kisses, tongue flickers, gawking stares. But when I was with lighter skin friends, it was far less. And when I was with another man in my presence, it was non-existent.
At dusk, one evening, my two darker-skin-toned childhood friends and I were walking down the upscale neighborhood of Vedado in Havana when a tall man began to walk up from behind us very closely, beckoning a conversation. I sighed, he was probably the 20th man that day and told my friends to cross the street. In my doing that, the man began to furiously demand why I sighed, why I seemed uncomfortable, why I won’t relax, why I want to walk away, why I won’t respond to him. Why, why, why – he demanded hatefully. Feeling cornered, bullied, and pressured, I screamed and told him to back away and leave us alone. At this point, a Cuban family quickly hurried into their car avoiding eye contact and sped away. We were now alone on a dark street with no cell phone (hard for foreigners in Cuba to get). The man continued screaming vulgarities which escalated to violent threats to beat and rape us. He stood at the street corner and cursed us out some more before finally disappearing into the darkness.
“What’s wrong with just saying hello to someone on the street?” Some men still ask, naively. This. This abuse of power which goes very deeply into many other complexities of gender issues. And above all, that it is clearly unwanted.
Katherine from Bright Lights of America
Location: San Francisco, California
My first run-in with cat calling in the U.S. came exactly three days after I arrived in San Francisco. I was there to start a new job and try out expat life but first I was going to do a bit of sightseeing in the city. I figured that walking from one end of the city to the other to see the Golden Gate Bridge would be a breeze. I soon remembered that miles and kilometres aren’t the same thing. So I was tired and hungry three hours later when I crossed the street at a set of traffic lights. Two men in their 20s passed by me and I didn’t think anything of it when one of them said “You’re really pretty.” I actually thought he was telling a story to his mate, so I didn’t react at all. Except that it was directed at me, and when I didn’t immediately turn around and profess my love for him, or give him the response that he was hoping for when he muttered that compliment, he got mad. Not violent, just loud and abrasive. He turned around in the middle of the street to yell “You’re a f**king crack whore” at me, at full volume, much to the delight of his friend, who burst out laughing. Way to save face in front of your friend, mate.
Not only was it a confronting experience, it was also pretty embarrassing and a little scary. I know he only said it to look cool in front of his friend, but in that moment you don’t think about that. It shakes you. It makes you feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Cat calling is awful because men feel that the object of their attention owes them something. If you don’t react the way they want you to, things can escalate quickly and badly. Especially if he’s trying to avoid being laughed at by his mates.
Victoria from A Traveling Translator
Location: Everywhere I have not been accompanied by a man
Every time I’ve traveled by myself, I’ve had to endure catcalls and street harassment. The women that bravely shared their stories above picked different locations and wrote about just one instance of catcalling. But they have, just like I have, received catcalls all over the world while traveling. I’ve been catcalled in Ecuador, Spain, Canada, the United States and each location that I’ve traveled to by myself. Some of the catcalls were comments above my body and others have been about what they would like to do to my body. Neither is acceptable because they take away my peace and remind me that society still sees me as an object instead of a human.
One day, a group of men on a street corner described the sexual acts they would do to me in such a disgusting manner that I turned around and told them: “When you have daughters and they grow up, I hope a man in the street tells them exactly what you’ve told me.” I didn’t mean it at all (as I hope this never happens to anyone), but I wanted them to think about whether they would want their daughters to listen to the sick words they say to strangers. But they continued to make jokes and laugh.
So what will it take for catcalling to stop?
Ways for Women to Avoid Street Harassment
I couldn’t sit down and write this list. Unfortunately, most of the recommendations I know are what to do after a catcall in order to ensure the situation doesn’t escalate. These tips are crossing the street, ignoring the individual, avoiding eye contact, running. And then there are those recommendations that focus on what to do before a women ventures outside: dress conservatively, don’t go out at night, don’t walk near an alley, don’t instigate the aggressor. Yes, these are all suggested tactics to stay safe, but they do not focus on eradicating the act of catcalling. What is worse is that they continue to put the onus on women to prevent catcalling and street harassment. The lists that we should be reading have to focus on putting the onus on men to stop harassment. Here is what this list should look like:
Ways to Eliminate The Need of Having a List Called “Ways for Women to Avoid Street Harassment”
○ Teach boys and girls that masculinity does not equal asserting power over women, whether physically, emotionally or as a form of basic communication.
○ Don’t make any comments about a stranger’s body in a public space.
○ If you are a man, imagine being addressed by a stranger taller than you, with way bigger muscles, who decides to tell you how sexy your lips are. This is how it feels like to be catcalled. You’re caught between wanting to tell the individual to stop but at the same time you fear what would happen if you made this person angry.
○ Catcallers may see mere words as harmless. Nonetheless, women may interpret catcalls as the precursor to physical threats. Even if your intention is not to touch, some women may see this is as the initial step towards sexual harassment and rape.
○ If you are a man that does not catcall, great. But please say something when you witness a friend, uncle, brother, coworker or anyone make a catcall. If not, the catcaller will think the behavior is normal.
○ From all the stories above, I hope you understand why women do not take catcalling as a compliment. Thus, please don’t ask women to take unwanted comments as forms of compliments and affection.
Please listen to women and understand that catcalling, wherever we are, is not acceptable. We hope that our daughters, nieces, friends and all the women in the world may one day travel without having to worry about street harassment. Our bodies don’t need your words.
Mural in featured image by Danielle Mastrion