Kalamazoo, MI
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Counting Cat-Calls: Hoping for Change

There is a game that my friends and I like to play while we run through the streets of Kalamazoo during Cross Country practice: We count the number of whistles, random honks, incoherent noises, or two-word phrases that are yelled at us over the course of our run.

Usually we stop counting after reaching five or six. Or, we lose track after the first 10 minutes of running because it is too depressing to count over 15. Only the movement of our feet allows us to forget what verbal threat was just thrown out of a car window.

“Cat calling,” unfortunately, has become one of the easiest forms of sexual harassment to write off or dismiss in society. It has become the background noise women must face across the United States.

In contrast, I do not ever remember being verbally harassed while walking or running alone on study abroad in Scotland. While this may have only been my personal experience, verbal harassment received by women in the U.S. is higher. A report from the National Street Harassment Report noted 65 percent of women in the U.S. have experienced street harassment.

When a woman is walking (or, in my case, running) through the streets of her own community she is forced to try to make the best out of a humiliating, frightening, and objectifying situation when she decides to go outside.

Like many others, my friends and I either ignore and roll our eyes at the comments or throw back equally as absurd remarks such as “We are running 100 miles. Have a nice day!” The jokes are meant to displace how aggravating the act of harassment is, but this only gets us through our run.

The Title IX training that Kalamazoo students are to complete by this Friday, Oct. 10, connects the dots between the events of verbal street harassment and future severe sexual abuse.

In the training, a simulation centered on cat calling argues that though there is a strong difference between an act of rape and verbally accosting a woman on the street, the second act justifies and reinforces the first. That is, persistent verbal abuse reinforces rape culture in society. What a woman wears when she is harassed is beside the point, as years of being harassed in baggy running clothes can attest too.

The Title IX training will help students learn the importance of recognizing verbal street abuse as a stronger form of harassment than it is taken for now. At the same time, I would like to see more discussions on the issue of “cat calling” within the community on campus to reinforce the training’s messages.

I’m not sure if watching a ten minute video of animated people will remedy this issue. I am sure we need to start talking about how painful and dehumanizing cat calling makes a person feel during our wider campus discussions on sexual abuse.

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Counting Cat-Calls: Hoping for Change