Stories of Catcalls & Street Harassment from Women Traveling Around the World

***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


Location: Spain

“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

 

Location: Aruba

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

A post shared by Ciara (@hey_ciara) on

Location: Cuba
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

Location: Nicaragua

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

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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.

 


Nikoleta from The Bonfire Dream

Location: Paris, France

Paris, the city of love and the city of dreams. The city where miracles happen. Although it sounds like the perfect place to visit, Paris was one big disappointment for me. Upon my first visit, my dreams were crushed. Upon my second visit, I was sick and tired of the city. Only upon my third and last visit so far, did I finally recognize that there might be some nice places around…

Regardless of how pretty the city is, it is a place where one cannot feel safe. I went shopping with my friend right upon arrival and on the way, we were catcalled at least 5 times. The men would talk to us. Even try to follow us. But one has to be tough and say very clearly: leave me alone, Laissez-Moi tranquille! One has to keep one’s head high and show off the confidence and strength otherwise it can go further than just catcalling, which is something that needs to be prevented. Because after all, catcalling is uncomfortable but not dangerous. What sometimes follows may, however, be dangerous. Wherever you go, keep in mind that catcalling is under no circumstance acceptable! So teach your children to value women, tell your colleagues that they shouldn’t be “animals” and step in when you see this happening.

 


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. 

street harassment catcall traveling

Mural in featured image by Danielle Mastrion

Victoria Alicia

21 comments

  1. How sad that this article even needs to be written but thank you for allowing people to share their stories. I was put into an awkward situation in a pub in my own city just a week or so ago, which led to me threatening to put a guy’s mobile phone in his pint of beer as he was determined to get a selfie with me to “show off the older bird he’d pulled”….

  2. We’ve talked about this a lot… I, too, have faced this type of abuse everywhere I’ve been… As sad as it sounds, I think my brain has finally realized that there are in fact places or situations that I just need to avoid in order to not feel threatened or at risk… However, I do know this will change one day… Sooner or later.
    I’m glad you posted this and I sure hope men read it. I know that not all men will stop when they think “someone could say the same thing to my daughter/wife/sister/girlfriend/mom” but I can only hope there are more men who will.
    Loved the stories!

  3. I really appreciate what you’ve done by compiling these testimonies. “Catcalling” is something very common as it happens more often than anyone would like to admit. Truth be told most of us women have gone through it: especially when traveling or living in another country it’s very difficult to know how to react to this or how to not be scared, it’s something that you learn how to deal with with time I suppose but we shouldn’t have to.

  4. This is so sad that catcalling happens all around the world, be it developed country or a developing one. I don’t think there would be any women who would have never faced it in her lifetime and then you step back and avoid doing some things. As if we don’t have the choice to roam freely, wear clothes of our choice and so on.
    I hope all parents teach their sons to be respectful towards girls. I will for sure.

  5. This makes me so mad – that men think it’s ok to act like this and to expect women to fall all over them. Thank you for sharing your experiences ladies and the tips to eliminate the need for women to avoid harassment are what we need to implement now!

  6. Some stories really made me think and also kind of sad – it is so unnecessary to do those things. I hope it will stop one day and thanks to all the girls that shared their stories!

  7. This is such an important article and I relate to each one of them in some way or another. Thank you so much for writing this (thank you to all the contributors who shared their stories.) We often share the beautiful side of travel but we women deal with a lot when traveling as well.

  8. Great article! Can’t we just bloody well enjoy our travelling without this sh*t!! Men have it so easy, they don’t have to worry about travelling solo and have that thought in the back of your mind of being extra careful of avoiding sexual assault & harassment.

  9. I wish that this article was never written because there is no need for it… that every woman traveler could explore the world and not be bothered and fearful. It so sad. As I’m reading these stories my jaw dropping and wondering what would I have done in that situation. I can’t remember a time being catcalled when traveling and I don’t know if its because catcalling is so common growing up that I’ve become a bit numb to it or if I’ve just been lucky to not experience it. Thank you for sharing the tips on how to stop the harassment.

  10. I love you girls for sharing your stories. I have never taken catcalling that seriously (probably because I partially sighted and so never know where it is coming from ) but this really made me think a little harder about it. It really is all about the machismo and power. Thanks again and stay fabulous!

  11. This is one of my biggest fears of traveling solo. It’s so sad to see that catcallers think this is ok. I haven’t traveled solo yet (my first solo trip is coming up!) but I’d never thought about how I would react to catcalling. Now I know to at least prepare for it, which is sad that I need to.

  12. Catcalling sucks, but unfortunately happens at home and abroad. I always stick my headphones in when in a new place. I’m not listening to music, just pretending to avoid the shouting out!

  13. Thank you for touching on a subject that female travelers face, but often not written about. After years of suffering the frustration of catcalling…I have finally just resolved to ignore them and put on my “don’t mess with me” face. What a pain to deal with and horrible that only women face the issue. Great topic!

  14. We all have these stories. One story I have is that I lived in Kenya for 9 years and tried my best to completely embrace the culture. As a white woman I drew a lot of attention, but I spoke the language, respected the culture and tried to blend in as much as I could. I was walking down my neighborhood street once and a man sitting at his gate said to me, “You know, I have never had sex with a white woman before.” I turned and said, “And you never will,” and walked away. It took every ounce of strength not to be afraid and hope that he would not follow me and try to hurt me. That, I think, is the worst part about being catcalled. You have to put up with the words and gestures, but the fear of being hurt if you reciprocate, fight back, or don’t say anything at all is the worst.

  15. This is a meaningful post and I know it needs to be discussed. When I was in San Jose Costa Rica I had a hard time because I was catcalled walking near the bus station. I made it a game and would count how many different guys would say something (otherwise it was more than a bit nerve-wracking). Thanks for writing such an important article.

  16. It’s sad to see that such occurrences are still happening all over the world, even with the rise of gender equality. Hope to see fewer of these occurring in the future, and stay safe! 🙂

  17. Thank you for putting together this article. As others have already mentioned it’s a real shame that in 2018 so many people don’t understand why catcalling isn’t a ‘compliment’ and why it makes women feel uncomfortable, and even threatened. I’ve probably been catcalled in every country I’ve ever visited, including my home country the UK; it really is a global issue.

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