Ponnada: Cut the catcalling

BY SRI PONNADA | APRIL 22, 2013 5:00 AM

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One of the most puzzling things to men, and women, even, has been how to get a woman’s attention. Let’s say you’re walking downtown to get some wings, and you see the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen waiting to cross the street. She’s standing right next to you — but how do you get her to notice you?

I might not be a love guru, but I know for sure that neither I, nor any other self-respecting woman, will respond favorably to you yelling, “Hey, baby. Nice tits.”

There are a lot of us women who are getting sick of being told how nice our tits look and aren’t afraid to do something about it. Just a few weeks ago, some members of the University of Iowa community tried to call out local catcallers and bring awareness to the issue.

On April 12, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program and WRACtivists held the event “Anti-Street Harassment Day of Action — Silent Witness.” Participants stood on the Pedestrian Mall for an hour that day to protest street harassment, such as catcalling and slurs.

But many people may not think much of someone saying things like that. Some people might find it to be funny. I find it to be quite irritating, even if I’m not the target of the ridiculous catcalls. My friends [jokingly] accuse me of being an angry feminist who’s just looking for something to be “pissed” about. But the truth is, catcalling and slurs are a small piece of a much bigger problem. They degrade and objectify women and fuel a culture in which sexual violence is not only very prevalent but also widely accepted.

I do not think it’s charming when someone asks me, “You want some of this?” or makes kissing sounds at me. It’s creepy.

What makes a person think it’s OK to say and do those kinds of things anyway?

“I think a lot of guys do it because they’re trying to look cool in front of their friends,” said UI first-year student Alexander Staudt.

Whereas some guys might be trying to show off their “game,” many of them have no idea that their behavior can make women very uncomfortable and is perceived as sexual harassment.

“I definitely didn’t know it is sexual harassment,” Staudt said.

He said that although he does not behave that way, now that he knows the behavior is actually sexual harassment, he will never even contemplate doing it.

Yes, it’s actually sexual harassment, and it’s time for it to stop.

UI junior and former DI staffer Katherine Kuntz participated in the protest.

 “We all stood silent for 15 minutes and held signs that said what we didn’t want to be called or what we wanted to be called,” Kuntz said. “Mine just said the word ‘respect.’ ”

Some of the other signs said such things as “Don’t call me anything you wouldn’t say in front of your mother” and “I’m gonna sleep with the man who humiliated me — said no one ever.”

Street harassment happens a lot more than we think.

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that noncontact unwanted sexual experiences, which include street harassment, were the most common form of sexual violence experiences by women. More than 40 million women are subjected to this kind of sexual violence in their lifetime.

With one third of women reporting having experienced this type of behavior, it seems as though it’s a deeply rooted part of our culture.

“There really is something troublesome about living in a culture where people think it is OK to call out stupid things and to joke about sexual violence,” Kuntz said.

Obviously, there is a need to educate people in our community about the significance of these kinds of actions. I’m very glad that RVAP and WRAC took the initiative to do so.

Women, we can take steps to fight this issue as well.

Now, I’m not saying we should run around attacking every guy who tells a woman that she’s beautiful. If someone told me that, I’d be very flattered. But the next time someone calls out rudely to me downtown, or worse, tries to grab me, I’m going to say something instead of just ignoring it and walking away. I’ll say something if I see it happening to another woman, too.

If I “like what I see,” I’ll find a way to say it politely, because catcalling is not cool.

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