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Auntie SparkNotes: How Should I Handle Catcalling?

Auntie SparkNotes: How Should I Handle Catcalling?

Hey, Auntie!

This question isn't related to any event in particular, but I was just wondering... What is your advice for a person wanting to give a mature and acceptable response or reaction to a catcall? All the other advice I've seen or heard seems to either encourage inappropriate (not to mention impolite) behavior or seems to incite unnecessary conflict. I want to know how to maturely control the situation so that the catcall causes as little disruption in my day as possible and therefore isn't as much of a problem for me. Do you have any suggestions?

There's just one problem here, Sparkler: asking for a mature and acceptable response to catcalls is like asking for a mature and acceptable response to, say, someone taking a dump on your living room carpet. The very nature of the situation means that all bets are off, that the usual rules of polite behavior have ceased to apply, and that even in the best-case scenario, you're still dealing with a certain amount of human filth. (Also, while most of the common rebuffs to a catcaller might seem "impolite" to you, it's worth noting that a person who makes unsolicited sexual remarks to a complete stranger isn't exactly adhering to etiquette in the first place.)

And when it comes to how you respond—whether it's politely or aggressively or not at all—the unfortunate truth is that nothing you say or do is going to have much effect one way or another. Catcalling is all about satisfying some need on the part of the person doing it; the woman on the receiving end is just anonymous meat. And until or unless the men of the world get together and agree to just stop it, already, there's no real option but to deal with the intrusion as best you can.

But if these comments tick you off (and based on your characterization of them as problematic, I suspect they do) then let me be the first to suggest that you forget about controlling the situation, or being polite, and just be ticked off—whatever that means for you. You can walk past without reacting at all; you can give the guy a long, mute, dead-eyed stare and then move on without a word; you can use a universal hand gesture to convey your feelings; or you can confront him, for what it's worth. Not that it stops the catcalling—more often than not, these guys will insist that their lewd comments are actually lovely compliments for which you should be grateful—but because there's nevertheless a certain social value (not to mention personal satisfaction) in expressing, out loud, just how much you don't appreciate unsolicited invasions of your personal/psychological space.

What's most important: it's your call, and it's your comfort which should take precedence—and not some abstract idea of what constitutes the correct or appropriate reaction. And while it's worthwhile for men to know that catcalling, well-intentioned or not, makes you (and a lot of other women) really uneasy, what really matters is that you react in a way that's natural and genuine for you, because that's how you keep a moment like this from disrupting your day. It's when you start censoring or second-guessing yourself that you end up dwelling on what you did or didn't do, or should or shouldn't have said. And when you do find yourself on the receiving end of a comment you don't appreciate, your only job is to react, or not, in a way that you can feel good about.

I mean, within reason.

So beating the perpetrator about the face with a tuna fish is probably off the table, but I'm sure you'll think of something just as good.

How do you respond to catcalls? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, advice, guys, catcalls

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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