What Can a Girl Do About Cat Calling? - This American Girl
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What Can a Girl Do About Cat Calling?

Cat Calling  - 01

 

I’ll put money on the fact that every single woman reading this post has been cat called at some point in her life.

 

Cat Calling  - 02

 

The first time it happened to me, I was ten years old walking home alone after swimming at the lake with my friends. I was fully clothed, scrawny and underdeveloped, and clearly a child. Walking for an hour on a busy street that afternoon in the United States, I was shouted at a minimum of ten times.

 

I remember feeling like a piece of my innocence was lost that day. Like something was wrong with me. Mostly, I remember feeling run down and exhausted. It shocked me in all of my innocence, that anyone would ever treat me this way.

 

Cat Calling  - 03

 

As I blossomed into a teenager, I realized that blatant sexual harassment is an unfortunate reality. It didn’t happen that often, but enough for me to be aware of it.

 

Then, at 25 I left to travel on my own, in a highly Machismo culture on the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. I was shocked to discover that a ten-minute bicycle ride meant being eye raped by nearly every man that I passed.

 

And then there were the calls. The cat calls.

 

Cat Calling  - 04

 

“Ohhhhh mami, I looovvee you,” said in a seriously disgusting tone.

“Want sex, want sex?” the teenagers outside the grocery store shouted.

Most commonly I heard my personal favorite, the straight up hissing sound.

 

Cat Calling  - 05

 

I went to Mexico where a man masturbated in the ATM stall next to me, in Belize where someone reached up my dress in a bar, and to Nicaragua where underage boys grabbed my ass as they passed on their bicycles.

 

For them, my body was not the sacred temple that I have come to know it to be.

 

Cat Calling  - 06

 

So I tried everything I could imagine to make it better. I ignored them. I glared. I shamed them in my limited Spanish. I shouted enthusiasm sarcastically. I tried a lot of things but really, nothing made me feel better. (I even wrote this: What I Think About Machismo.)

 

I learned to not be shocked by it, but it still didn’t feel good.

 

Cat Calling  - 07

 

When I got to Morocco the harassment hit me like a bulldozer. This time the cat calls didn’t come from ten men, they came from ten thousand. And it was more than just calling. They followed me everywhere I went and harassed me to no end. While the men in Latin America just wanted to call me a cat, the men in Morocco wanted me to be their cat.

 

I dressed in long sleeves and long pants, which oddly seemed to elicit more harassment. I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. I walked as fast as I could through the streets. A few times I publicly shamed them, which did seem to make it stop. Though I felt exhausted, allowing my energy to be taken by every man I passed. (Read How to Travel Alone as a Woman in Morocco Without Going Insane.)

 

Cat Calling  - 08

 

I found myself hating a culture of men that in my heart I actually loved. My sister’s husband is from Morocco and I’ve never seen him nor any of his friends behave anything less than honorably towards women.

 

It felt really good coming back to the USA, where at least sexual harassment was the exception and not the rule. But I was reminded of it constantly, with so many women contacting me, asking what they should do to make the sexual harassment stop. And really, I didn’t have the answer.

 

I decided that coming back to Costa Rica, I was going to figure it out.

 

Cat Calling  - 09

 

Now, back in the sweet jungle, ultra machismo, oversexed Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, I’m dealing with the hungry eyes again. The eyes that tell you they want to eat you. Or as they say here, “yo quiero comerte.” Only this time I’m dealing with it differently, and I can honestly say, these days it hardly ever bothers me.

 

That’s not to say that I have the answer what you should to do to deal with it. Or how you should handle it. Because what I’ve discovered, is that the answer is unique for every single woman.

 

Cat Calling  - 10

 

I’ve realized that the only way I want to respond, in silence or in words, is the way that makes me feel the best. Whether what I say or don’t say, do or don’t do, is received or not received by these men, does not qualify how well I’ve handled the situation. What determines a successful interaction, is how I feel after the exchange. Because ultimately, the only way I find clarity is by focusing on myself. Confusion comes when I try to change what lies outside of myself.

 

So let me ask you this, what makes you feel the best?

 

Cat Calling  - 11

 

In Morocco what made me feel the best, was chanting loudly as I walked in the streets, forming a bubble around myself, tuning out anything other than the purity of my voice.

 

Lately, what makes me feel the best, is responding with a smile or a hello, with all of the innocence of the girl who never got yelled at walking home that day after the lake. What makes me feel the best is a kind greeting that comes from the purest depths of my heart. Not to prove that I’m a better person or to make them feel good, but to lift my own spirit with the weightlessness of my beautiful smile.

 

Cat Calling  - 12

 

And occasionally, what makes me feel the best is to laugh. Or to groan. Or to express anything that helps me to realize that I don’t need to absorb any of the shame of it, and I don’t need to carry the responsibility of changing them either. I do what I can to feel lightness in the heaviness it can bring.

 

I let myself radiate my sweet, pure, light, trusting that no one gets to take it. I don’t shine for them, but if they want to, they are welcome to let my light warm them. That’s how bright I am.

 

Cat Calling  - 13

 

My invitation to you, is to focus less on what they are doing and what they are saying, and focus more on loving yourself through it, so that you can see that none of it has anything to do with who you are. And that all of it has everything to do with how much you can open up your own heart to the paradise of who you are.

 

Do. What. Makes. You. Feel. Best. 

 

I know it isn’t always easy, but I know you’re a badass. You got this goddess. You got this.

 

For more solo female travel tips, check out: 

 

Why I Feel Safe Traveling Alone 

How to Feel Safe as a Woman Traveling Alone

 

 

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Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. There’s no right way to deal with the harrassment that comes from travelling and there’s only so much we can do to prevent it. Sometimes I wonder if our culture is the culprit, our music videos and movies portray us in a certain light to more conservative cultures. From what I’ve seen the local women don’t receive nearly as much catcalling as female travellers

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 13, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      Ya I did hear this in Morocco, that they think that we are into being told that we have a nice ass because that’s what guys do in rap videos. However, I heard from the local women that the men are actually WORSE to them than they are to us tourists…

  2. Thank you for this post – this is something that I really struggle with – and I must admit, I most often allow myself to respond in a way I’m not proud of when it happens. I have believed that I needed to respond in a way that would show or teach those disrespectful men that they are out of line and that their advances are disgusting; I allow myself to become so angry every time it happens – allowing their actions to control my reactions. Beginning today, I will make more of an effort to remember that I did not encourage this degrading behavior, I did not deserve it, and I do not have to react to it in a way that makes me feel displeased with myself. The problem clearly is theirs and they are trying to infect me with their sickness.

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 13, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      Yes, it is not your responsibility to teach them, it’s only your responsibility to give love to the places in yourself that are asking for love when it happens. That is empowerment <3 xoxo

  3. I just got back from PV and I know exactly why you would write this article! In San Jose the cat calls were even worse. I like to deal with it by humoring them and just flashing a smile and walking about my merry way, that’s what makes me feel best!

    Also, thank you for your Complete Guide to Puerto Viejo – it was great to have on our trip. I plan to return in October of next year! Read about my trip here! The first part of it was a nightmare, but things turned around once we got to Puerto Viejo. Cheers :) http://www.cnrcollective.com/life–travel/what-costa-rica-is-really-like-part-one-the-nightmare

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Yes! I agree, it’s what makes me feel best too. Today I was just laughing whenever it happened 😉 And you are welcome for the guide! xo

  4. I would rather organize a protest or wear graphic clothing depicting the sexist nature of their actions so that they get a mf clue.

  5. Much like you, I ditched my life in the USA a few years ago, to move to the only place on Earth that I have ever truly loved… Costa Rica.

    Every person who decides to begin a new life in Costa Rica faces “culture shock” situations similar to the “cat-calling” situation that you discuss in this post. I’m not going to comment on whether or not the “cat-calling” is appropriate, sexist, or offensive… I’m simply going to say, “That’s just the way that it is in Costa Rica.” Try as hard as you like, but you’re not going to change the culture of over 5 million Ticos. The cat-calling is going to be an integral part of your life in Costa Rica, for many years to come.

    If you use the term “sexual harassment” to refer to this behavior, when speaking with a Tico/Tica, he/she will most likely look confused or even say something like, “I don’t understand.” Here are a couple of incidents that I have witnessed, just within the past year:

    1) This one is ever-present… Tica bartenders and waitresses quite frequently work in sexy, revealing clothing, and high-heeled shoes. Costa Rica is one of very few countries where I have actually seen girls wait tables in high heels.

    2) I see this one at least 4 or 5 times every year… I’m in a store looking for some new shoes, or I’m with my girlfriend while she’s shopping for new shoes, when I notice that there is a mother in the store with her 8-year-old daughter, having her daughter try on shoes, so that her daughter can have her first pair of “stripper heels.” I’m talking about 8-year-old girls trying on platform shoes with stiletto heels… the exact same shoes that strippers wear in the strip club.

    3) This one has happened to me twice in the past two years… A girl that I know, such as a neighbor or a waitress that works nearby, comes home one day, crying. I have noticed that she has been dressing more and more… ummm… slutty (sorry, not trying to offend, just trying to convey the idea). So there these girls were, sitting on the front porch of their home or on the curb. I asked what was wrong, and in both instances, the girls basically responded, “Nobody will honk their car horn at me. Nobody will whistle at me or say ‘Hey, Baby!’ to me on the street. Am I That Ugly?”

    On an entirely unrelated note (right?), almost every girl in Costa Rica who can afford it spends several hours every month in her plastic surgeon’s office. Even absolutely gorgeous girls run to the doctor’s office frequently for botox lips, breast implants, or butt implants.

    My point is… I’m not saying that you’re right or wrong. What I AM saying is that the behavior that you describe does not meet the definition of sexual harassment in Costa Rica. It is good that you have found a way to deal with it, because it’s not going to stop for a long, long time.

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 16, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. Though I have to say, as a woman I feel that there is a HUGE difference between sexual harassment not existing and a woman needing it in order to feel validated. In fact, I would say that one is based on the other. I too have experienced moments wondering if I was worthy or not because I wasn’t getting as many cat calls on the street. But that doesn’t mean the cat calls actually make me feel good. It’s a form of feminine wounding that exists in this world that’s far far far more complicated than high heels and “slutty” clothes. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our worthiness is based on how many men want to possess us, and that’s not just a reality in Costa Rica, that’s a reality everywhere. The difference is in the way that it’s expressed in different cultures. Some do it more outwardly sexually than others, but that belief still exists. My work has been deprogramming that belief and feeling beauty and validity from within myself… and it’s not easy, because this is very very very deep programming that women have inherited from generation and generations of ancestors.

  6. I hear you on this one. I’ve had a lot of similar experiences on my big trip. I do smile at times, but then again I don’t want to provoke anything further so I often just look down. I just wish men could do this in a more pleasant way. Not in an I want to have sex with you way. A simple, “you look beautiful today” would suffice. Sigh.

    • Camille Willemain Says: October 22, 2015 at 10:59 am

      Haha, yes yes I know… but I’ve let go of trying to understanding it or change it and instead just focus on what feels good for me that I can control.

  7. Loved this! Thank you for writing it (also love all the cat pictures and the super bright and colourful images that go with the vibe of this post)

    it is such an unfortunate thing. I felt it the worst in India. The eyes that followed me everywhere.

    In turkey, I remember making the mistake of wearing a dress on a hot day and walking alone. I had men beeping, eyes staring, people stopping what they are doing just to watch me walk by or ask me if I needed directions, I felt like I was being eye raped all the time. Eventually I got to the pier I had walked miles being harrassed to get to. I noticed a group of men/taxi drivers only at the pier and turned back to my hostel. I just couldn’t deal with the staring and eye raping that I would of gotten going into that male infested, taxi driver filled peir

  8. It is the same where I live so I would dread having to walk to the market or walk to the electric and water company to pay bills. What has worked for me is to wear very large athletic pants and hooded long sleeved shirts and large thick eyewear whenever I walk outside. This way I now get to walk to where I can ride public transportation to work while carrying my work clothes and shoes inside my bag. I live in a country where it rains half the year and humid all the time and I do not care if I sweat underneath because I have children who need me at home and I have to find a way to at least be invisible when I need to run errands.

  9. […] my female readers, how do you deal with catcalling men?  This article provides some options.  This article provides some alternate strategies.  Both are primarily concerned with catcalling observed when […]

  10. Wow. You are absolutely incredible.
    I’ve been feeling crappy and sad and hopeless all day, as my day started by reading an article about how badly women are treated around the world, which led to a spiral of negative stories and videos and news articles. Including the one about the two Argentinean backpackers who were recently killed in Ecuador. I felt helpless and powerless and didn’t know what to do to change this terrible reality that women are constantly confronted with.

    And then I came across your blog, and you just radiated light. You had the perfect response to all of this negativity. Pure light.
    Thank you for your beautiful words and beautiful spirit. It lifted mine.

    • Camille Willemain Says: March 21, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Aw wow Kristen I am SO happy to hear that!!! Yes, focus your energy on the light, on the positive, on love and compassion, most importantly self love and compassion and all else will follow. <3 <3 <3 So many blessings to you on your journey!!!