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Catcalling by Lorelei Dohm

Catcalling compromises women’s mental health

It was a warm fall afternoon as junior Leela Cullity headed to her internship. When she exited her car, a college student stumbled out of a bar. He approached her and called out derogatory names.

Whether seen as flattery or harassment, stories like this aren’t unique to Cullity or RBHS students. Catcalling is commonplace throughout America and the world.

Women and girls often hear comments like “Hey, beautiful.” “Why don’t you smile?” and even slurs as they walk the streets of Columbia.

The catcalling-focused activist group Hollaback! defines catcalling as “to make a whistle, shout or comment of a sexual nature to a woman passing by.” Nearly 81 percent of women under 40 experienced catcalling of some kind, according to nonprofit group Stop Street Harassment.

Several students report experiencing similar comments in recent months. Sophomore Lola Gingrich said she had even been catcalled at RBHS.

“I’ve been catcalled on school property this school year,” Gingrich said.“It made me feel confused and kind of grossed out. It happened quickly and took me by surprise.”

While many instances of catcalling happen when the victim is alone, in the United States there are several bystanders in 43 percent of cases of verbal harassment, according to a 2014 study conducted by Cornell University. Cullity describes regularly observing catcalling directed at herself as well as others.

“It’s happened multiple times at school and downtown,” Cullity said. “I haven’t observed it that often but in the few times I have seen it downtown I’ve seen it as an immediate issue of concern as many women still don’t know how to respond especially when catcalling can turn violent and threatening.”

Although some students may not mind catcalling, Cullity finds it harmful. She said when it happens she feels uncomfortable.

“It has felt degrading but as it has happened so many times I’ve definitely become desensitized to the whole experience,” Cullity said. “It’s awful that guys can still get away with treating women this way publicly. It definitely can be detrimental to self-esteem to women in general.”

A study published by the British Journal of Social Psychology supports the idea that catcalling can have significant effects on the mental health of victims. Counselor Lesley Thalhuber describes the effects of catcalling as detrimental to students and their learning.

“I think it changes your focus. When you’re worried about what that means, feeling unsafe, if they’ll do more than catcall you  or seek you out,” Thalhuber said. “As a building, I mean it could affect attendance rates, GPA’s and test scores.”

“I think it changes your focus. When you’re worried about what that means, feeling unsafe, if they’ll do more than catcall you  or seek you out,” Thalhuber said. “As a building, I mean it could affect attendance rates, GPA’s and test scores.”

Scientific research reveals that catcalling can have a detrimental effect on the mental and physical wellbeing of women. Women who report being objectified on a more frequent basis report greater body shame as well as symptoms of disordered eating and depression. Experiencing the objectifying gaze also decreases math performance among women but not men.

“Although there are more “minor” instances like a whistle,” Gingrich said, “it’s also a huge issue because the catcaller could persist, follow you, and make you feel unsafe in general.”

Not only does catcalling pose a threat to women’s mental health, oftentimes it can escalate into more serious or physical altercations. Cullity describes that her experience with catcalling also escalated after ignoring her harasser.

“When I refused to respond he shoved up against me and asked me if I could Venmo him money. When I moved away he started to curse at me and follow me into my internship,”Cullity said, “I ran in and my boss locked the door. He pounded on the windows and yelled derogatory names and curse words. It was a terrifying experience.”

According to the ILR School of Cornell University, 77 percent of women under 40 have been followed by a group of men in the last year. Another 50 percent of women under 40 have been physically attacked or groped by a street harasser.

“With increasing gender equality in the United States will come the solutions to fixing a system where sexual harassment and catcalling in a public setting are acceptable. Patriarchal norms are a part of the problem that equates to a system of submission for women in American society,” Cullity said, “The #metoo movement and other movements that destigmatize the societal associations with sexual harassment and catcalling are extremely important and are helpful in minimizing the public acceptance of blatant harassment towards women.”

To help combat catcalling and its negative effects several students, including Stephens College senior Kira McKee, have taken action. Observing the amount of catcalling in Columbia, she created the Catcallsofcomo Instagram account.

This page was based on catcallsofnyc, an Instagram page started by a New York college student to spread awareness for catcalling. Pages like these have been started in several major cities including, Seattle and London. She hoped that starting the first page of its kind in Missouri would help empower women and end catcalling.

“I’m glad I started this one because there’s not one for Kansas City or St. Louis yet, and I thought it was just a good place to start it since it is a college town,” McKee said. “It’s good to have people actually see how often this happens, especially in downtown Columbia,” McKee said. “It makes people fearful of walking around by themselves, and that’s a really big problem right now in America.”

Despite the prevalence of catcalling, examples of action and empowerment are visible throughout Columbia. Cullity emphasizes the importance of empowerment in moving forward.

“With the metoo movement and other social media pages making catcalling and sexual harassment public I think there is hope for constructive change,” Cullity said. “Calling attention to catcalling could change the perspectives of some and make it a less socially acceptable act and hopefully is the first of many steps to changing the socially constructed narrative that men have the authority and position to act in a demeaning way.”

Do you feel safe on the streets of COMO?

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