Friday Question of the Day – Street Harassment

The problem with certain men…, originally uploaded by Now and Here.

It is clear from a previous discussion that street harassment is a real problem in DC. For obvious reasons, I’m sure it becomes worse in the warmer months. While I definitely advocate self defense classes, I thought for street harassment the best thing to do was to simply walk away, or nod and walk away with your head held high. I guess I’m wondering if folks feel that a self defense class is useful for dealing with catcalls? The class below mentions “prevention”. Sadly, from the stories I’ve heard, it seems impossible to prevent harassment. For those who have dealt with street harassment, would you feel more comfortable dealing with the situation after taking a self defense class?

“Dear PoP,

Thought your reader might be interested.

Get ready for Spring: Dealing with street harassment

With Spring, unfortunately, comes a huge increase in street harassment. Get ready for Spring by expanding your skills for dealing with the “hey babys” that may come your way.

Can you “ignore” street harassment? Of course you can. And you already know how to do that. This class will give you other options, making ignoring it only one in a range of skills to choose from, especially when ignoring it doesn’t seem safe.

The class will cover the range of self defense skills–prevention and awareness, verbal self defense, and physical techniques-that you might need in dealing with street harassment. Most of these skills can also be transferred to other irritating or dangerous situations in the rest of life.

* Saturday, April 18, 1-4 pm
* For women and teen girls ages 16+
* In NW DC near Howard University, Georgia Ave., and the Green Line
* $44.Register with a friend or family member and get $5 off each

56 Comment

  • I took a self-defense class about a decade ago.

    Is self defense “appropriate” for catcalls? If that’s all it is, I think its too much. Most self-defense maneuvers are about getting you from a trapped stationary position to a moving free position. To get away. If you are walking down the street and experience cat calls, and try to use a self-defense maneuver, you are doing the opposite–going from a moving free position to a stationary one. It puts you, generally, I think, at greater risk.

    But too often the catcalls escalate into more. If you don’t respond the way they want you to, they grab you, follow you down the street. This happened to me just a few weeks ago walking up 14th street. A man called out something, then suddenly became fascinated with a loose thread on my jacket, which he just HAD to take care of by putting his grubby paws all over me. I used a few of the techniques I learned to get him to back off.

    I’m really glad I knew some techniques to use in that situation. It was a Saturday afternoon and dozens of people walked by without bothering to assist. I know I have to look out for myself, especially in this neighborhood.

  • The biggest problem with telling off harrassers is the risk of escalation. It’s very easy for a verbal reaction to “hey baby” to escalate to a bunch of guys following you home.

    Of course, that’s where the old Betty Page trick of carrying a brick in your purse comes in handy.

  • I had a great moment last year when I finally got some balls in a “hey baby” situation. I was in Col Hts, walking back from Giant, and someone started from their car at a red light. The usual, “Hey baby, suck this, etc etc”. Having reached THE POINT, I walked over to his car, and by this time he had rolled up his window. I knocked on the window, which he did not roll down, smiled and said something like, “Hey yourself. I’d love to suck that. It’s usually $150 for the hour, but I’ll make it $125 since you’re so sweet.” He was absolutely terrified. It was awesome. This man was alone in the car, so it was a different situation than a group on the street of course.

    However, I have been catcalled by groups in the past. (By the way, I’m no spring chicken, and not even close to a Vicky’s Secret model… it almost doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you have boobies, apparently.) When they started up, I turned around and walked towards them and yelled. A lot. “You are not allowed to speak to me in that way. You are out of line. What you are saying is inappropriate.” And also yelled towards other people, “These men are sexually harassing me. These men are sexually harassing me.” I ended up following THEM for many blocks, yelling these things. Granted this was a crowded city street and a busy day, not late at night with no one in sight.

    Seriously, like we’ve said in the past on this blog, it’s about taking your own power back. Don’t LET them be in charge of the situation. Get over your own embarassment and get some balls.

  • Dude, this is lame.

  • I don’t think that a self defense class is going to teach someone to “tell someone off”. As the first poster noted, sometimes, the harassment is not just cat calls, but someone who insists on getting in your face and putting his hands on you. Some guys just can’t be ignored.

  • There are few situations when I find it appropriate to respond to a catcaller. I usually just ignore. And I’ve found when I am enraged enough to respond, it just makes it worse, and I risk escalation. That’s why I prefer to wear headphones when I’m walking around alone, so I can pretend (and usually don’t) hear it.

    It sucks to just ignore, but I value my safety more than a witty comeback that likely won’t teach them a lesson and will just get them more angry. Self defense is great and all, but sometimes the best way to protect yourself is just to ignore the cat caller.

  • I agree, ignoring is usually best. BUt right around this time of year is when I start to get irritated that whenever I leave my house in anything other than an nun’s habit, there’s always some sort of harassment. Are reeducation camps an option?

    Also, has anyone else noticed an epidemic of strage guys trying to hug you? It’s happened to me and a friend several times, usually walking down that narrow bit of U street between 14th and 13th- guy walking towards you blocks path with arms out trying to hug you. Not okay at all.

  • For last year’s mammoth discussion on this topic in this forum, please see:

  • There is another type of “prevention” that isn’t addressed here; since it’s mostly men who are doing the harassing, guys need to call each other on it, even if the harasser is a stranger. I’ve tried it a few times, and it can be really effective. Guys don’t expect to be called on it by other guys. We all need to develop a sense of responsibility for ending this if we want to make our neighborhoods more enjoyable. Every woman I’ve ever dated or been close friends with has told me about being harassed, and it pisses me off that it happens to them. I don’t want it to happen to them any more than I would want it, so I think that when people feel like that, we need to stand up and be counted too.

  • I was walking home from Rita’s on Sunday, and this man said “How are you doing sister?” To which I replied, “good”. And then he said “Well F*** you, you GD whore!” So I said, “what is your problem?” And he just kept walking. He basically just made a fool of himself.

    But, I always notice I get catcalled when I’m totally hungover, wearing sweats, and walking to get coffee or something. I’m like, are you blind? I look atrocious!

  • I find ignoring often invites animosity, as if I’m disrespecting the catcaller by not acknowledging him/them, so I’ll usually just smile and nod, or say “hey” and walk off. But LNic you’re my hero.

  • Just ignore it! Honestly – the only reason guys do this is because you respond. Unless they are touching you or coming after you, just ignore. I wear my headphones when there are lots of people around and I never hear it anymore.

    But it pisses me off to high hell that I actually consider not wearing form fitting clothes when I walk around Mt Pleasant, Columbia Heights, down Columbia Street. Most of the time I just realize if I do it, I’ll be wearing headphones blaring, but I’m always conscious of the fact that guys are staring and catcalling. And that sucks.

    When I used to shop at the Giant (before my love affair with Harry Teets began…), I would wear this pair of super ugly, super huge men’s shorts and clinch the waist so they looked like Hammer pants made into shorts. That with a Tshirt guaranteed there were no catcalls. I was looking pretty ridiculous, but it was so blissful for me.

  • Does anyone know if carrying/using Mace or pepper spray is illegal in the district? The harassment sometimes comes very close to being an impending rape. Would like to know what options for protection are.

  • When the punk rock/riot grrl thing was still alive and well in Mt pleasant many years back [90’s] there was some attempt to combat street harassment. The ‘debate’ ended as so many others do here, with cries of racism/cultural insensitivity, and even more insulting, that street harassment was somehow an intrinsic part of Latino culture.

  • Trying living in other countries, like Mexico or Italy. The harassment here is like a breath of fresh air compared to the culturally accepted, 24-7 attention you get elsewhere.

  • There’s a house on Lamont, between Sherman and 11th, that constantly has a group of people (its residents, I assume) sitting on their tiny porch, drinking beer out of brown bags, and catcalling. No matter what they weather, they’re always there. It got so annoying that I make a conscious effort to walk on the other side of the street when going down that block.

  • It is legal to carry mace, but you are supposed to register that you have it with the DC police department. When I bought a can of mace it came with a registration form for that.

  • This may be outdated, but the last I heard carrying certain forms of pepper spray in DC is legal, but if you purchase the spray in DC, you need to fill out for PD-102 to register it with the DC MPD. (If you purchase it outside DC, no need to register. Makes absolutely no sense to me). I’ve also heard that people have great difficulty finding the form.

  • I know that I should be aware of my surroundings, but like U Street Girl, I like wearing my headphones and being able to ignore the catcalls. It feels like the guys doing the hassling are less likely to be offended at being ignored if they can tell themselves you just didn’t hear them. But perhaps I’m ascribing too much rationality to these lowlifes.

    While I usually ignore them, I did say something one time. It was youngish guys on 14th street, but a few of them were probably old enough to be fathers. They started with that hissing sh*t, the hey mamasita… I stopped, looked right at them and said “you got a sister? a daughter?” They fell silent. I said “What’s WRONG with you?” then sorta waited around for an answer. There was a lot of foot shuffling and a couple even muttered “sorry”. But I don’t see myself doing that very often, since this was a bright sunny day with a million people around, and my husband was a block or two behind me. Special circumstances, so to speak.

  • Yes, mace and pepper spray are legal. Most hardware stores carry it, but of you want the good stuff get Fox or Sabre online. DC law states it has to be registered, but MPD does not have a registration form available, and any officer will tell you that if you use it lawfully [in self defense] you have nothing to worry about.

  • See, I find even when I look gross as hell I still get catcalled, like when I walk a friend’s dog at 11 pm in my sweats and my hair a mess. And yeah, I’ve tried the “did you just hear what you said, you’re disgusting” or given the finger (bad idea). After doing that, I had a guy follow me back to my apartment building, so that strategy went out the window.

    Though, I think we’ve talked about this before, there’s a difference between someone just saying “Hi” to you in the ‘hood and a cat caller. If someone says “Hi, how are you” or something along those lines, that isn’t threatening in anyway, I always respond back.

  • Re: pepper spray, what do you mean by “the good stuff”? I would think that anything labeled pepper spray would be enough to stop an assailant long enough to get away, even if it didn’t blister the skin and send him to the hospital, no? Are you talking about “stopping power”, or doing damage?

  • I must be oblivious, or butt ugly, or both, because I really haven’t had a problem with street harassment in the 3 years I’ve lived in Columbia Heights. I get “Hi, how are you?” and I usually just smile, nod and say “How ya’ll doin?” Sometimes I get “hey, I want to talk to you” or some such thing, and I usually say I have a boyfriend (which couldn’t be a bigger lie) and move on. My strategy has just been to be nice to everyone and hope for the best.

  • Everyone should check out HollaBack DC, a blog documenting women’s experiences with street harassment in DC and strategies for fighting back against it:

  • No, brands like Fox and Sabre are just better in terms of stopping power – anything that actually caused lasting damage or burns would be sued out of existence. Heat output of anything pepper based whether it’s a spray or chilli pepper is measured in ‘heat units’ called SHU’s. Some consumer grade sprays don’t list this number which is a good indicator it’s weak stuff. Also percentage numbers don’t mean anything – it’s all about shu’s. I’ve been sprayed with several different brands for ‘training’ in a past line of work [Hazmat response]. Not to sound like an ad, but Fox kicked my butt. Thoroughly unpleasant, but no lasting effects.

  • u street girl you value your safety by wearing headphones? How does that help you hearing or knowing someone is coming up from a blind spot knocking you down (or worse) and taking your purse, etc.? Seriously. With those stupid headphones in most people have NO situation awareness. They generally are more in-tune with the tunes than the street they are crossing, or the dark alley they are passing by.

    As a female who walks to and from work 5 days a week, I would rather listen to cat calls and homeless begging than risk myself by wearing headphones.

  • Some guys just don’t know how to get a lady’s attention without being disrespectful or they assume that she gets so many compliments, so they try to get creative to stand out.

    On the flip side, ladies, you know which outfits attract attention. You can’t look like a sex object and expect not to be treated as one…well, you can, but expect to be disappointed…

  • ET, some of us (like me) leave headphones in and volume off. It’s just easier to ignore the hissing and crap that way. I can still hear it, but I have an excuse to ignore it. Sunglasses do the same thing. I’ve found that the harrassment tends to get more aggressive when you’re obviously listening to something or on the phone or whatever. The carryout on the corner of 14th and Florida is especially bad, at least for me.

  • I tend to use the headphones to my advantage. I keep the music low or even turn it off so I can be aware of my surroundings, but I’ll wear them so I can pretend to have not heard the catcalls. I agree that fully blocking out your surroundings may not be a wise move.

  • belmontmedina, I also appreciate the camouflage effect of headphones and sunglasses. Even if it’s only in my head. I get the feeling that harassers give themselves a pass if they can tell themselves that you just didn’t hear their oh-so-clever come-ons.

    And Black, that blaming the victim crap is just wrong. This is the mentality that leads to mandatory burqas. “Men can’t control themselves, so women must censor themselves.” It’s insulting to everyone. The men in my life hold themselves to a higher standard. Why do you get a special dispensation from the most basic of mature comportment? And anyway, didn’t you read all the earlier posts about women who get harassed no matter how they’re dressed?

  • Just because I’m wearing headphones doesn’t mean that I can’t hear. And yes, at night I’m not wearing headphones so I’m more aware of my surroundings. But during the day, music turned low/medium, I’m aware of my surroundings but can tune out what I want. Maybe I’m lucky, but 6 years in the District and I’ve never been robbed or harassed beyond cat calls, and I wear headphones more often than I don’t when walking alone.

  • Dave Chappelle:

    “The girl says, ‘Wait a minute! Just because I’m dressed this way does not make me a whore!’ Which is true. Gentlemen, that is true. Just because they dress a certain way doesn’t mean they are a certain way. Don’t ever forget it. But ladies, you must understand that is fucking CONFUSING! It just is.

    Now that would be like me, Dave Chappelle the comedian, walking down the street in a cop uniform. Somebody might run up on me, saying, ‘Oh, thank God. Officer, help us! Come on. They’re over here. Help us!’

    ‘OH-H0H!!! Just because I’m DRESSED this way does not make me a police officer!’
    All right, ladies, fine. You are not a whore. But you are wearing a whore’s uniform.”

  • I think there needs to be a general understanding of what constitutes a “catcall”. Having a man ask you how you’re doing in passing is not a catcall. It’s just not. Homeboy could have generally been inquiring about your well-being or he may have been trying to pick you up. Regardless, he wasn’t rude or inappropriate.

    Catcalling, in my mind, is a loud, aggressive, lewd, relentless and embarrassing event. It’s designed to humiliate and create discomfort. It’s the feelings associated that make women uncomfortable and may warrant the need for some sort of physical or verbal self defense in extreme “breaking point” situations.

    There’s a big difference between actual catcalling and a passing comment. Asking, “How you doin’,” is fairly benign. Responding with, “I’m doing well,” or ignoring the situation is appropriate in this case.

    And, commenter “Black”… don’t get me started in about how completely ridiculous it is to blame clothing choices for catcalls. I will wear whatever I damn well please and would request that men keep any and all excitement at an appropriate decibel level. I mean, really.

  • Rachel, I’m with you. Reading about the constant harassment these women face makes me wonder why I haven’t had this problem (not that I’m complaining). I thought “maybe I’m butt ugly” too, but I haven’t really had a problem attracting attention from guys I actually want to date (some of whom aren’t too shabby themselves)

  • It pisses me off that women have to be concerned with ‘insulting’ the harassers by not responding. Seriously, this is NOT right. I understand not wanting to get the harasser more worked up, but damn it pisses me off.

    I have been harrassed many times, all over the city. If they are just saying hello or how are you, I’ll respond. If it’s in any way demeaning, I ignore it. But the worst was in Georgetown when I was waiting for the bus, leaning against the wall at Barnes & Noble at 6:00pm. I was reading the Express and noticed someone approaching out of the corner of my eye. I thought he was going to lean against the wall next to me and wait too, but the guy stood next to me and grabbed my ass and then started to walk away. I was so shocked I couldn’t move or speak and then I punched him in the arm and yelled something I can’t remember, but not what I would’ve wanted to say looking back. And he looked at me like I was doing something wrong.

    Street harrassment frustrates me to no end because it feels like there is nothing I can do to stop these men who don’t realize how wrong it is.

  • Black-I really don’t think it’s fair to say that catcalling and other forms of harassment happen because women are dressed like sex objects. Seems to happen to me mostly when I’m in sweats and a hoodie, or worse, in a suit going to or from work.

  • I sympathize with all the women who feel harassed. But I seriously doubt catcalling is illegal anywhere in the western world, DC included. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.) So it’s unregulated behavior that’s annoying and to some, threatening — which means it’s basically something we have to live with, along with all the other inconveniences of city living.

  • I’ve read studies that rely on interviews with perpetrators of mugging and rape, and there seems to be consensus that the way a woman (or any victim) carries herself is more important than her physical attractiveness. If you walk hunched over, clutching your keys, looking nervous, you’re more likely to attract negative attention. A woman who looks strong and confident is generally safer. I keep this in mind, and try to walk briskly (but not rushed) and with good posture. I guess it’s a predator thing– they tend to go for the weaker-looking members of the herd. So Rachel and anon, (maybe) you’re not ugly, you just look strong!

  • Ladies,
    I would be careful about putting on ear phones and walking down the street. I’ve heard that makes you a better target for being attacked because it looks like you’re not paying attention.

  • I understand the difference between catcalling and a friendly hello gesture. The man asked me how I was doing, so I replied in a positive way, and he had to respond by calling me a whore! That was just inappropriate.

  • Anon 11:37am: Agreed! Thanks!

  • i live on 14th and randolph, and walking home from the metro is basically the “gauntlet” i feel like we are all talking about the same people. For me, its always the group across the street from the Exxon, and those in front of the Alcoholic Anonymous place. (which always struck me as odd, because there are often drunk people there)

    maybe maybe maaayyybee these guys are inquiring about me, because they are sincerely interested in how i am. but i doubt that. maybe other women are probably more adept at responding, but for me, its quite frightening. in my quite honest opinion, i do think it has everything to do with race and gender. (prepares for the crucifixion) those that catcall me, are in general, of some sort of latin american heritage. a culture in which, in general, is ruled by “machismo.” This behavior is acceptable in their countries, and so they think they can bring it over here. Next, I think they catcall to humiliate women, and i do imagine they get their jollies out of harassing me. i try not to get rattled, but it does bother me. what they dont know is my father is from ecudaor, and I do speak spanish, thank you very much. i know EXACTLY what you just said to your buddy about me. I just look white because my mother is american. nothing quells inappropriate remarks in spanish like with a response in kind about their mother, sister, auntie, etc.

    What I really do want to know is the exact reasons why? Do they just to do to everyone in the odds that ONE woman will give them their number? Do i look like the type of girl that would go with you? Do you think that by calling me “mamasita” im going to drop my panties and let you screw me right there? REALLY IS THAT WHAT YOU THINK? YOU WANT TO SCREW YOUR MAMA? Maybe i’m naive, maybe im giving them the benefit of the doubt. I cant imagine that ANYONE regardless of race would be that ignorant, so I choose to go with the race/gender reasoning. Growing up, my father always told me that women in his country were treated like second class citizens. He saw how his father treated his mother, and never wanted that for me and my sister. For me, this is just an extension of the machismo cultura.

    its that whole “dont talk to strangers” thing. i dont know you, so dont talk to me. why would someone i DONT KNOW inquire about how i am? ask me at church, at the red derby, WHEN YOU ARE NOT reeking of booze and stumbling half drunk in front of the target. (true story, had my parents here for the easter weekend, and i thought my dad was going to pummel that man).

    I never know what to do. Im constantly afraid that one day one of them will follow me home because he didnt like the fact that I ignored him.

    Headphones are a bad idea at any time. Especially if you are female and alone. And i never, ever, walk home from the metro once its dark.

  • dani, why don’t you use the Petworth stop? It’d be a shorter walk and a lot less harrassment.

  • I dated a woman a long time ago who loved the attention. She’d respond to catcalls by stopping and flirting with the guys, who loved it. I hated it. Relationship didn’t last long. I mention this only to make the point that while I imagine most women hate the behavior, some don’t, and every once in a blue moon, a cat caller probably does get the girl.

  • “Hey how are you doin'” is no different than a cat call, IMO. Pervs never say this to men on the street. They only say it to women.

    And the comment about dressing like a whore is grossly inappropriate, especially given the number of people who’ve already commented that they get harrassed when wearing grungy baggy sweatpants. I wouldn’t doubt it this poster has made a few ‘how you doin’ calls of his own.

  • Sometimes, when I’m catcalled, I respond by doing something disgusting like farting or picking my nose.

  • I’m tall as shit and confident, and I get cat called all the time — never hi, how are you. I also had a guy grab my crotch once in AdMo, and I hit him and yelled at him. He was maybe a half foot shorter than me. I ignore the comments as much as I can. When I took self defense, their big piece of advice was don’t escalate. But they didn’t teach me how to deal with 14 year old kids on a bike shouting “hey mamacita” or high school kids trying to goad me into a fight. The only thing that has saved me from probably being beaten down by a pack of kids is my ability to not react, and keep walking. It sucks, but it’s better than the alternative.

  • Okay, I’m a woman, and I have to tell you, nothing makes my day more than a guy who says :mmm mmm MMMM!” under his breath when he passes me in the street.

  • I usually do a brisk head nod when people ask how I’m doing and keep on walking without looking back. It’s the briefest of acknowledgements. And they usually shut up after that. Haven’t had much worse.

  • Dress has nothing to do with it. I get harassed just as much wearing baggy jeans and a jacket zipped up to my chin as I do wearing a dress. Read the comments from other women here, and get with the program, guys.

    And ladies – Anon 11:37 is right. The harassment goes down to almost nothing when I keep my head up, shoulders back, and stride quickly and confidently. Think about how models stomp a little bit when they walk. If you carry yourself like you could knock that sleazy little teenager into the gutter with one swipe, he won’t dare say anything to you.

  • Well, Anon 1:36, there you go. Thanks for making it okay for men to treat women like pieces of trash.

    I can only hope you told us that in your pathetic Anonymous way, and have never directly given a man that information. Talk about enabling.

  • From my experience cat-calling is a behavior confined mostly to black and Latino men. Why is this?

  • Latino and black men say whats on their mind.

    Getting catcalled by a white guy is a girl’s ultimate challenge and it does happen!

  • Being a dude, I don’t have much experience being catcalled (or catcalling, for that matter). On a few occasions, though, I’ve had insults & jeers from groups of people hanging out on the sidewalk.

    It’s usually just under the level where I can make out what’s being said, but the glares and laughter are clearly pointed in my direction. I think the ambiguity is intentional, but honestly I wouldn’t usually stick up for myself even if I were sure I was being berated by these random people… I suspect they’re looking to get a rise out of me anyway.

    I think this is basically about who “owns” the sidewalk, with the usual racial & economic overtones of gentrification resentment… and I wonder if there isn’t an element of that behind the catcalling as well.

    Either way, it’s stupid and annoying, and I feel sorry for women who have to put up with this stuff.

  • Latino and black men say whats on their mind.

    Getting catcalled by a white guy is a girl’s ultimate challenge and it does happen!

    I wish comments were moderated so you’d have to use a user name…stupid Anonymous comments. Never have anything of value to say.

    Why should anyone endeavour to get a rainbow assortment of harassment? White, Black, Latino, whatever…it’s harassment!

    I am so glad the above-mentioned HollaBack DC was created, especially with the warmer weather coming. Even when it was cold and nasty out this year I still had ridiculous men harassing me.

  • My wife is from South America. She is very petite, dresses modestly, and gives off an innocent girl-next-door vibe. According to her, black men are normally polite, as in “how are you doing today?” She says, “fine, thank you,” and that’s the end of it.

    The Salvadoran men, however, all 5’3″ of them, can be more agressive, probably because they assume she speaks Spanish. On more than one occasion, she has stopped, looked them up and down like they were a piece of shit, and moved on without saying a word. For her, it’s almost a social class issue….she lets them know that she is out of their league with a single demeaning glare.

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