Summer is supposed to be a joyous time – I shouldn’t have to spend most of it fending off street harassment

Women like me know what it’s like to be targeted more when the weather heats up. Why are we expected to choose between feeling safe and physical comfort?

Zoe Ettinger@EttingerZoe
Monday 29 July 2019 13:01
Catcalling: Women write in chalk to stop street harassment

Last Wednesday was far too hot to do anything. I spent the day reading a book in the shade in a swimsuit, periodically hosing myself down to ensure I wouldn’t melt. The discomfort came second only to the following day, recorded as the hottest in UK history. What I’m trying to get across is that it was mind-numbingly, boiling, seventh-level of hell hot.

As one does in the hot weather, I began to grow thirsty. I decided to head to the shop just two blocks away from my house for an icy cold drink. Without thinking, and covered in a thin layer of sticky sweat, I threw on a pair of short shorts and a crop top.

I had hardly walked ten steps when “WOOT WOOOO” came blasting at me like a police siren. I turned to see a man on his bike, veering toward me and grinning a big toothy smile. I gave him my usual, practised glare and kept moving. My mother always taught me not to respond, because you never know what someone’s capable of.

I continued on my way to the shop and arrived unbothered. I purchased my beverage from the nice man who works behind the counter. Leaving the shop I quickly guzzled my drink when “HOW YOU DOING BABY” was uttered at such close proximity that I felt myself physically cringe.

The large bottle had momentarily obstructed my view, and I didn’t even see the man approaching so closely. Unlike the last encounter, this one sparked a moment of genuine fear. Was he going to reach out and touch me? I made no response and quickly walked on, hoping that was the last of it.

Finally, I was at the gate to my house and safety was in sight when “HELLO DARLING” came bellowing from a man in a van who had careened his neck to shout at me. He swerved as he did so and I thought about how great it would be if he crashed into a nearby parked car.

“But what do you expect? That’s just the way it is.” I despise that mentality. I should not have to expect to be verbally assaulted simply because I am wearing less clothing on a day so hot that there have been government issued warnings. Or any other hot day for that matter, there’ll be more to come as we reach the height of summer and all the unbearable conditions that will likely come with it. With that in mind, perhaps we should issue warnings against this behaviour, stating: “If you choose to harass women in the heat they have a pass to throw whatever they can find in your direction.”

Though every woman I know has experienced street harassment at some point in her life, it remains an under-researched topic. The latest report by the Women and Equalities Committee stated that 85 per cent of women aged 18-24 and 64 per cent of all women have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places.

Though it draws no comparison to physical harassment, verbal abuse is still damaging. It creates an environment of fear and distrust, further perpetuating gender inequality.

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Farah Benis started a social media account called Catcalls of London to help raise awareness and stop street harassment. She was inspired by the Catcalls of NYC account created by Sophie Sandberg in 2017. Benis and Sandberg post submissions sent to them by women who have experienced public sexual harassment. On it, you can find such sweet nothings as “come back big boobs” and “you are definitely a screamer!” Ah romance, it’s not dead yet!

Yet a portion of the population doesn’t find catcalling harmful. A 2018 survey by Pollfish revealed that one in three men don’t think catcalling is sexual harassment. Therein lies the problem: under-education. More men must be educated on the experiences of women.

Between the report from the Women and Equalities Committee and the data from Pollfish, there is a clear gap between how women and some men perceive men’s treatment of women. Women didn’t just report experiencing sexual attention in public, they reported it to be unwanted, and that is the key word that needs to be understood.

There’s still over a month left of hot weather. I know that myself and countless other women will continue to face verbal abuse over what we choose to wear to stay comfortable. I just hope that for future generations, young men will be taught how to speak to women, so we don’t have to worry each time we want to go to the shop.

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