Hey baby: How catcalling burdens a majority of girls at Redwood

Maggie Smith

The girls were sitting in the front of a public bus, drinking lemonades, when a group of twenty-something year-olds in the back started yelling at them across the bus full of people, making comments about the straws in their mouths.

“They were yelling, ‘She’s the kind of h** you’d bring to the bathroom, not to your parent’s house,’” junior Lauren Kenneally said, recalling that it was probably her scariest experience with catcalling.

Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident or situation, and may be the reality for many students at Redwood. According to an October Bark survey, 73 percent of girls at Redwood have been catcalled, which means unwanted comments and actions of a sexual nature have been directed at them in a public place.

Fifty-nine percent of those who had been catcalled, according to the Bark survey, were upperclassmen. Still, 41 percent of freshmen and sophomores also had been catcalled, suggesting that it is an issue that affects students at Redwood no matter their grade.

Being catcalled is different than receiving a compliment, according to junior Anna van Dorsten. She believes that compliments are more specific, and less threatening.

“You know that [catcallers] focus on you in a sexual way,” she said. “When you get a compliment, they’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, she looks pretty’ or ‘Oh, I like her outfit.’ It’s not like they’re checking me out.”

Street harassment can be more than just a few spoken or yelled words. According to van Dorsten, she and junior Lauren Kenneally were in San Rafael when a man walking past them took out his smartphone and started filming them from behind. He followed them for a block, until Kenneally turned around and realized what was going on.

“I whispered to Anna, ‘Hey, we need to walk fast.’ I didn’t tell her what was going on; I just said ‘walk faster, walk faster,’” Kenneally said.

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According to van Dorsten, catcalling leaves her feeling very uncomfortable, and almost dirty. Kenneally agreed, adding that it can cause a lot of anxiety and makes her feel angry.

Both girls reported feeling helpless or powerless to do anything when they’re catcalled.

“I feel like if I try to defend myself, I’m getting myself into more trouble,” van Dorsten said. “It’s just kind of something that happens, and you just have to kind of accept it. You can be irritated about it, but you kind of need to just let it go and keep walking.”

Kenneally noted that when she’s tried to reply to a catcall, maybe by swearing at them or by flipping them off, men will often retort back or get very defensive.

According to both girls, the place they experience catcalling most in Marin is San Rafael. They also said that a majority of the time the people catcalling them are older men, though Kenneally said she has also been catcalled by high school age guys near Redwood after school.

Both reported being catcalled when they’re out running or exercising, and Kenneally said its has happened while she’s wearing her Redwood Cheer uniform.

“Guys feel that if you’re wearing something suggestive it’s more okay,” van Dorsten said.

While van Dorsten and Kenneally both said while they’re catcalled more when they’re with another girl, they’ve also experienced street harassment when they’re with guys, which they said is confusing.

“I think most guys have some awareness that it’s an issue, and they know better than to catcall a girl, but I feel like there are definitely some guys that need to understand,” van Dorsten said.

Both girls said that while they think guys know street harassment exists, they feel that  boys don’t know why it’s an issue or why girls aren’t flattered by it. And even when they’re catcalled with boys, a response isn’t effective or safe. The best thing to do, they said, both for victims of street harassment and for any bystanders, is to be subtle.

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“Don’t be aggressive about it, just show that you’re not flattered and keep going,” van Dorsten said.

She also uses other tactics to try to deal with catcalling, including making a phone call, explaining that she thinks guys are less likely to approach her when she sounds like she’s on the phone with a guy. Other times, she’ll ignore them or glare at them and continue walking away.

According to Sergeant Paul Barrolaza of the Central Marin Police Authority, catcalling is almost never reported to the police, but he believes it is an issue that warrants the attention of law enforcement.

“Any behavior like that we would want to know about,” Barrolaza said.

He was especially concerned about adult males catcalling young girls, saying that should definitely be reported.

“I would definitely want to have a chat with that person [doing the catcalling],” he said. “You never know what’s going to turn up.”

According to Barrolaza, if a teenage girl was catcalled by an adult, they should try to record the license plate number or get a description to report to law enforcement. On the other hand, if someone was catcalled by a fellow Redwood student, it should be reported to the school.

“It’s starting to come to public eye that it’s a thing that happens a lot. It’s not something that should be continuing to happen,” van Dorsten said.