Street Harassment and Catcalling

This semester I’m taking a really great class called “Women’s Political Resistance Through Political Song.” We’ve been moving closer and closer to present-day music and this week we’re studying the 80s/90s era. Yesterday, we watched Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y” from 1993. Apart from the great throwback to the 90s fashion style, a part of the video that stuck out to me was the segment in which a man gropes Queen Latifah’s butt while she’s walking down the street with her friends.

Queen Latifah spits a pretty fiery response: One day I was walking down the block/I had my cutoff shorts on right cause it was crazy hot/I walked past these dudes when they passed me/one of ‘em felt my booty he was nasty/I turned around red, somebody was catching the wrath/then the little one said “yeah me bitch” and laughed/since he was with his boys he tried to break fly/huh I punched him dead in his eye and said “who you calling a bitch?”

Even though Queen Latifah’s music video came out nearly 25 years ago, street harassment and catcalling are still commonplace for women today. In fact, I don’t have a single female friend who hasn’t been catcalled or harassed at least once while walking down the streets. Additionally, while watching her music video, I was directly reminded of the recent viral video that came out two weeks ago about how a woman was catcalled over 100 times while walking through New York City. 

Props to Queen Latifah for stepping up for herself. But I know that I don’t always feel as confident in confronting cat callers. What should I say? Or do? Am I potentially putting myself in danger if I choose to engage? Even if I get catcalled in broad daylight or in what people consider to be “the nice part of town,” I sometimes just let it go for fear of inciting something more serious should I choose to respond.

Furthermore, for women of color such as myself, catcalling is also often racialized. For example, I was walking with a friend in Boston this summer. As we walked towards a restaurant, an older man shouted out: “Ni hao.” First of all, I’m not Chinese. And second, even if I were, I am astounded that some people think using someone’s native language to catcall is attractive or seductive. It’s not.

I wish the common denominator between women walking out in the streets wasn’t this shared experience of being harassed and feeling uncomfortable, or unsafe. Is it too much to imagine a society where the shared experience is, instead, one that is safe and respectful of women’s bodies and personal spaces?

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