Catcalling women on their daily walks ruins our one solace in this pandemic, and it’s not okay
My one stroll around Bute Park a day is as exciting as it gets, though recently even this has been ruined
Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual harassment
During the near to year long on and off British lockdown, my one walk a day has kept my sanity. It is so easy to stay inside when there is not much else to venture out for, but for anyone’s mental health some fresh air does the world of good in this mad dystopia we have become trapped in. I have always felt safe walking around Cardiff though recent events have swayed this view.
I put a post up on Overheard at Cardiff University, after a long week of catcalls, 6 in one week to put this into perspective. I nearly deleted the post right after uploading to Facebook but, after watching two women get shouted at by a man hanging out of his friend’s car window, I changed my mind. These women looked just as shocked as I had and after asking after their wellbeing I chose to keep the post up.
The post explained what had happened ten minutes before this. I was walking through Cathays, innocently eating a banana, when a man on a bike locked eyes with me. He initially winked, so I did what we have all been taught and tried to cross the road and escape his gaze. This is when he cycled up the street to then turn around and block my path. He then proceed to pull his mask down (in a pandemic) and make a sexual comment about my mouth on the banana. In shock, I simply walked away. He was in a full black tracksuit and had his hood up – there is no way I could have taken a picture to capture his identity.
I truly did not expect the mass response the post had and many people told me to call the police via 101 which I had not even considered doing; I guess I had, like many women, normalised the situation for myself. The supportive comments were overwhelming and I was so thankful, but many people had told me to either retaliate or walk with another person. It all happened so quickly, I had no chance to call another person over and retaliating comes with threat of provoking him to physically touch me. But above all else, it was broad daylight on a busy street. I should not have to take precautions at any time of day, let alone then, and to suggest that I should wrongly pushes the responsibility of this situation onto the victim.
It is infuriating to think the day before this a similar situation occurred, so I had put on my baggiest clothing and worn a long coat to cover myself in hope that this wouldn’t happen again.
But it did.
The sheer number of posts I see on overheard warning others of sexual harassment within Cardiff is shocking. As a comment on my post that read “Cat calling is only acceptable on a building site” shows, catcalling is incredibly normalised. The person who posted this comment and their friend called it a “light hearted joke” – but what follows this cat call? And if it remains viewed in this casual way, will it ever stop?
After the tragic death of Sarah Everard, I wonder how light-hearted they now believe the situation to be. We should not be afraid to walk home, to simply exist outdoors.
When discussing this with my housemates who are also Cardiff students, and who are all women, many of them stated they had not been catcalled/sexually harassed until we began discussing the topic. The issue is that catcalling acts as a domino effect – if we allow this behaviour to be normalised it will encourage the same comments elsewhere. Most of my housemates have worked in bar environments throughout university, and we discussed comments made to us – as young as 18 – by men old enough to be our fathers:
“When do you finish, we could meet somewhere after?”
“Do you come with the drinks?”
And, in regards to pulling a pint, “You look like you know what to do with those hands”
( Heather Reilly and Maddie Morris’ telling of their experiences in Cardiff bars)
We even discussed how sexual behaviour would unearth itself after a singular pint, when men may often encourage each other to say rude or sexual comments to bar staff. I myself was once told on a Cardiff rugby day that the sexual comments pay off as women are tipped better. As if this is justified. Male bar staff would come to your aid of course but a ‘not all men’ narrative is obvious without stating it to belittle the victim.
Belittling women through speech has become so normalized, on many walks home from nights out I and my group of friends have been told by groups of men to “get home safe girls”. Would they shout “get home safe boys” to a group of men?
Before you speak, you have to evaluate, would I say this to a group of men? If not, why are you saying it!
My narrative remains extremely gendered, and I can only imagine what it is like for non cis/white/straight people if the abuse is this bad for cis women. I speak from personal experience, as well as from the experiences of the amazing women who approached me to share their own experiences after seeing my post.
Chloe Harrison is a sociology and criminology student in Cardiff who is writing her dissertation on the way women respond to catcalling, and the long-term effects of catcalling. Chloe shared how catcalling has affected the ways she presents herself, with her actively dressing to discourage catcalls. She said, “my whole being has changed”. When she was just 15, a man fixing a drainage pipe shouted at her to “shake her ass”. This story inspired discussions with my housemates about how many of us have received catcalls whilst in our school uniforms. We were children, they were men.
Recently I have been trying to find the best time to go for a jog so as to avoid harassment, and I thought early could be fine. So, when Olivia Hooper messaged me, I was shocked. She was walking to her placement for university at seven in the morning when someone in a car shouted at her “I’d fucking shag that”. Are we supposed to say thank you? She just wanted to get to work.
Help and awareness in Cardiff:
• Some more Cardiff based students who are doing incredible work for the cause are Grace Packham and Sarah Farrance, founders of @catcallsofcaerdydd on Instagram. This page was influenced by @catcallsofnyc and their goal has been to give people a place to share their stories of harassment to raise public awareness. With chalk they have also put messages on pavements across Cardiff telling the public, “Leave runners alone” and “It’s not a compliment”. They are a great group to follow if you get the chance.
• Night time support for Cardiff Students includes the ‘Cardiff Safe Taxi Scheme’. You can phone Dragon Taxis on 029 2033 3333 quoting the scheme, giving your student number and name. You can also enter a taxi without money and pay this back in the Student Union in the next few days with the scheme.
Alongside this, an online silent vigil was held last Saturday in remembrance of Sarah Everard and “every other fatality at the hands of male violence”. The Cardiff vigil, which was meant to be held at Cardiff Bay, was a sombre occasion. It was heart-warming to see the support for the speakers on the call, forgetting the people who had entered the zoom simply to share inappropriate comments. But I think this really shows how important it is to come together right now. Ultimately, I will forever be amazed by the positivity and support within the place I am mostly proud to call home, Cardiff.