NY Post writer Doree Lewak likes to parade herself in skimpy dresses in front of construction sites and says catcalling boosts her ego, adding that “when a total stranger notices you, it’s validating.” You hate it? Lewak wonders. Oh, please…”don’t go rolling those sanctimonious eyes at me, young women of Vassar,” she wrote this past Monday in a piece titled “Hey, ladies — catcalls are flattering! Deal with it.”
Lewak did a huge disservice to her fellow females by giving a nod of approval to absolutely unacceptable behavior in a major New York publication that, whether we like it or not, does form public opinion. Women living in Bushwick know perhaps better than anybody else in NYC how humiliating, belittling, downright scary and dangerous catcalling can be. I personally love Bushwick to death (I am the founder of Bushwick Daily after all) but catcalling is the worst part about living here.
I have lived in Bushwick and Ridgewood for five years now and I have been catcalled nearly every single day here by men of different ages and backgrounds who usually yell obscene advancements, blow a kiss right into your ear as you walk by, and/or generally are incredibly creative as far as street harassment goes. I absolutely have become mindful of what I wear, especially during the summer months, and some outfits are off-limits in this area because I very well know what the street response will be. If I really want to be left alone, I cannot wear clothes that truly represent my personality, and I don’t mean “skimpy outfits,” something more “noticeable” like a bright color will do.
However, the absolute worst part about catcalling is not just feeling unsafe when walking to an art show after dark, it is that I was forced to give up daytime running by myself.
Being a female runner in Bushwick is like turning the catcalling volume from 2 to 10. Even though, I chose very modest running outfits, the catcalling continued. Have I ever felt flattered by all this unwanted male attention as Post suggests? No. Being scared and humiliated describes my feelings much more accurately.
Running is important to me. I have been running for about a decade, and it keeps me healthy, in shape and, most importantly, running keeps me sane. I ran through my college years, I ran when things got tough at my first job. Running kept me sane when I went through a tough break up and when I decided to fly across the ocean and start somewhere completely anew. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Bushwick Daily exists only because I’ve been running. Thanks to running I was able to always pick myself up, dust myself off and keep going.
About a year ago I was doing my usual 3-4 miles of daytime run at the Bushwick-Ridgewood border. I was running up the hill on Grandview Ave, passing by the Linden Hill Cemetery. This is a popular running route and I usually encounter there several runners from the area who like to make use of the hilly cemetery lap.
I was listening to music on headphones, and so I didn’t hear a teenager on a bicycle approaching me from behind. He spanked me and biked away quickly.
How did I feel? I felt absolutely horrible, jolted, I actually screamed out loud, and wanted to cry. I was totally scared, I felt betrayed by my surroundings, by my own neighborhood. I felt no longer in control of my body and of what was happening around me, and in shock ran home much quicker than I planned. How come a teenager thought it was okay to inappropriately touch a strange woman? Because he grew up in an environment where it is okay to catcall women, where respect to women is not much of a thing.
I didn’t want this incident to ruin my running schedule so I stopped listening to music while running and kept on going, although I did find myself running less and less, often choosing yoga or gym over Bushwick streets.
The catcalling in the streets never stopped and then I encountered another horrifying experience, this time on Woodward Ave in Ridgewood. I was running when a man started to pursue me in a car. He was driving behind me and was appeared again and again when I turned the corner to shake him off. He yelled that he loves blonds and a couple of other obscenities. Did I feel flattered? No! That was the last thing on my mind. I felt scared about what this man was going to do next. I also felt humiliated, as if somehow I asked for this by running in public.
After this experience I decided that it’s better not to run by myself and I started to run only in the presence in my husband. I still get catcalled, believe it or not, but it’s from further away, which I guess makes it less scary.
At the very least, it’s interesting that no matter who I am, what I’ve achieved, how many master degrees I have earned, how many companies I have founded – all by myself – when I’m on the streets of Ridgewood and Bushwick, I have to run accompanied by my husband. Here I am, just a running piece of meat available for grabs and obviously doing all this just for male entertainment. Why is that? Did I ask for it? Because I ran? Because I publicly used my body?
When I learned about the street art series “Stop Telling Women to Smile” by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, I donated to her Kickstarter, and I thought that it was really good that someone had started this conversation. My hopes were up that the public opinion may shift and catcalling may no longer be acceptable.
iHollaback.org, a non-profit organization that has been active since 2011, aims to end street harassment by exposing it. iHollaback.org writes, “The real motive of street harassment is intimidation. To make its target scared or uncomfortable, and to make the harasser feel powerful.”
Words are closer to actions than we think. Accepting words is encouraging actions.
We need to start talking about street harassment but not in a manner like Doree Lewak did on the pages of a tabloid magazine. We need to state a clear and firm “no” to catcalling. We need to make it known to the harassers that catcalling is NOT okay. To approve of catcalling is to approve of male dominance, enforced inequality and intimidation.
What can you do today? iHollaback.org writes that you can respond to catcalling (if the situation seems safe). You can pledge to be a better bystander, and don’t just ignore catcalling when you witness it. You can share your stories on their website, and what I find personally interesting is that you can report the harasser to his employer if you’ve been harassed while he’s at work.
Whatever we decide to do, let’s not be quiet, or worse yet let’s not fool ourselves that catcalling is flattering…