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Opinion: The widespread catcalling problem and what we can do about it

As I’m running, as I’m walking, as I stop to cross the street, as I just stand there, I hear the words I least want to hear: “¡Hola mamí!” I get catcalled, for maybe not the first time that day. I’m not a mamí, though, I am just 16 years old, almost 17. People like…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/k9ren/" target="_self">Karen Rodriguez</a>

Karen Rodriguez

December 18, 2019

As I’m running, as I’m walking, as I stop to cross the street, as I just stand there, I hear the words I least want to hear:

“¡Hola mamí!”

I get catcalled, for maybe not the first time that day. I’m not a mamí, though, I am just 16 years old, almost 17.

People like to destigmatize the events that just happened for a lot of girls, saying they look older for their age, but should age ever be an excuse for middle-aged men, old enough to be grandfathers, to harass women on the street? Certainly not.

In fact, age has never been an issue for those men. I remember the first time I got catcalled, I was only a mere 11 years of age. This is, however, just my experience.

To further my understanding, I conducted a survey originally targeting the youth in my area. I was shocked to see the amount of interest in the topic, receiving texts from people from not only different schools, districts, states and even people outside of the country, all eager to share their story and become a part of a bigger conversation.

According to my data, about 96% of the people who answered had been catcalled. Just 4% said no or were unsure. A majority of the people who took the survey were female, but it’s important to bring to light that men also share these experiences, perhaps not as common but should be treated with equal importance. With an 84.4% female to a 15.6% male ratio, the issue remains prevalent within both genders.

Some patterns observed were that a lot of the people were between the ages of 11 to 16 when they were first catcalled, and in almost all scenarios presented to me, they faced the same perpetrator — older men and women.

People also want to believe that the way you’re dressed is why you’re catcalled, but this is not the case.

“I wasn’t dressed provocatively, I was in my school uniform: big blue jeans and a big sweater that covered any shape my body has,” a student said.

In some cases, the people who answered the survey were catcalled while completing their daily tasks.

“Not that long ago, I was on my way back home from school wearing normal clothes,” another student said.

But what’s the harm, right? After all, it is just a silly little comment.

To many, it’s not just a comment, it can very well restrict the way one lives their day-to-day life, to be more aware of their surroundings and to even become hesitant to go out, especially alone. Almost 82% of the people answered that in some way it does. It also reinforces two deeper things that continue to prevail in our society: Rape culture and victim-blaming.

Rape culture, essentially, is the normalization of degrading, violent acts towards women such as rape or sexual harassment.

According to Marshall University Women’s Center, “Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

Victim-blaming, however, is something within rape culture. It pushes all the blame of these acts to the victim even though none of it was their fault while the perpetrator is free of any accountability.

Although many do not realize it, catcalling within itself is rape culture and victim-blaming. It creates a norm in society that causes its victims to feel at fault even though their actions had nothing to do with the incident. Although catcalling is street harassment, it can be really difficult to report the perpetrator, which also creates the mindset of getting away with something and trying to see what else one can get away with, which can be more violent forms of sexual harassment.

But, if we can’t report perpetrators that easily, what can we do?

The simplest answer is education on sexual harassment. By educating our generation on sexual harassment and its dangers, it can hopefully create a domino effect in making it known that people do not find it flattering to be subjected to harassment on the street.

Furthermore, people can also pass on the message to others to challenge the ideas of rape culture and street harassment in society by raising awareness and to put more perpetrators to justice.

With this, people like me and you can walk the streets without being stopped by the uncanny, “Hola mamí.”

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