The reality of cat-calling

Hadeel Ibrahim has experienced street harassment and cat calling regularly. The second-year STU student was born in Iraq, raised in Dubai and has been going to school in Canada for the last year and a half. She witness and experiences harassment everywhere she goes, but Canada is a bit of a relief from Dubai – she’s only been harassed in the street twice since she’s been here. Sadly, that’s a success for Ibhahim. But no matter where she is, it always happens.

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

“When a stranger screams ‘Hi baby’ and then would say a derogatory thing, then it is not a compliment,” she said. “They are drawing attention to the fact that they think I’m attractive, but not in a positive way at all. It’s completely objectifying.”

A conversation has sprung up around street harassment and cat calling recently after a video showing what one woman endures walking the streets of New York City went viral. The video was made by advocacy group Hollaback and shows men verbally harassing actress Shoshana Roberts more than 100 times in ten hours. The video has undergone much scrutiny; most of the harassers are black or Latino men and the video was created for an ad agency. Many women are still supporting the video, because even if it’s shady in some respects, it still details what many women endure on a daily basis.

Ibrahim identifies with the message. She said if you’re a woman in Dubai, the moment you hit puberty you’re subject to comments ranging from mildly creepy to threatening. It doesn’t matter what the woman is wearing – people are harassed in sundresses and in niqabs. Ibrahim said she has to be careful to dress more conservatively when she’s home and not to walk alone at night. Men in the street tell her she’s beautiful and ask her for sex.

“One time I was walking down the street and it was a really hot day. I think they meant well, but they stopped their car and asked me if I needed a ride and winked at me,” she said. “Yeah, they probably didn’t mean well.”

Ibrahim has been harassed in a myriad of ways, from someone trying to convince her to take $1,000 for sex to a man pressing his penis against the window of the Subway where she was eating. She thinks it’s more offensive than threatening in her experiences, but it still makes her feel like meat.

Street harassment can have implications that reach farther than these harassers realize.

Catharine Tunney works for CBC in Halifax and she fell victim to a rampant Internet meme known as FHRITP – “F*ck Her Right In The P*ssy”. It comes from a fake live news report from last January showing a man interrupting a journalist with the phrase, but now it’s a reality for female reporters.

Tunney was interviewing a man at the head of a union on the side of the street when a truck full of men yelled the phrase at her as they drove by.

“At the time, I didn’t know it was a thing. I just thought it was a group of guys yelling,” said Tunney. “I’m not really one to let a bunch of men embarrass me using sex. That’s just not who I am.”

She tried to brush off the moment as an isolated incident. When she realized this was part of a larger problem, that’s when she got angry. Thankfully, the interview wasn’t live, but her source was an older man and he seemed embarrassed by it.

Tunney said she’s experienced cat calling and street harassment before, but never while she was on the job. FHRITP could have affected her professionally, which is totally unacceptable to her. She knows this has happened to men as well, but the phrase is clearly targeting women.

“What this does is reduce what female reporters are doing out in the field and tries to reduce it down to an Internet joke. To me, that’s a form of objectifying women,” said Tunney. “If your idea of a joke is to dehumanize someone trying to do their job, especially women, then that’s misogyny.”

Ibrahim said men who cat-call and street-harass don’t know what it’s like to be a woman who endures this behaviour regularly. A simple “Good morning” is fine; soliciting a woman for sex and calling her a bitch when she refuses is not. It’s not a joke when real-life human beings are marginalized.

“When someone objectifies you, you literally feel dehumanized. You are nothing but a thing of sex,” said Ibrahim.

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