“Oi oi, wouldn’t mind a piece of that arse”
“I would absolutely destroy that”
“She wouldn’t be able to walk after I’d finished with her”
No, despite appearances, these statements have not been taken from the script of Channel 4’s notoriously filthy comedy series The Inbetweeners. Nor are they excerpts from Frankie Boyle’s latest stand-up tour. These are phrases that have grown so mundane for many young women that they have come to be accepted as commonplace dialogue. From personal experience, finding myself on the receiving end of such comments is an ordeal that is often tuned out and excused as an innocent display of ‘lad banter’. The technical term for this exchange however, is ‘cat-calling’.
Although some will say that cat-calling is no different to approaching someone in a club and complimenting them on their appearance, the distinction is context. Surrounded by your peers in a bustling night club, the prospect of a stranger admiring your looks and offering to buy you a drink doesn’t instinctively fill you with fear. But just imagine that you’re casually walking to a lecture, head down, exhausted from listening to your housemates arguing over who blocked the kitchen sink with pasta the night before. Despite the constant hum of engines streaming past you on the road, one sound resonates more clearly than the rest.
A single male voice: “Bloody hell, I would smash that till sundown”.
You glance upwards and catch the eye of a builder across the road, smirking alongside his work colleagues and slapping them on the back. You suddenly feel as though your outfit is revealing too much, that your top has unknowingly fallen two inches too low and three layers too thin.
Despite York being hailed as one of the safest student cities in the UK, having placed fifth in 2019’s ranking of the crime rates surrounding all major universities across England and Wales, many female students in York still feel vulnerable and unsafe due to experiences of cat-calling. Although the act of shouting a sexually suggestive comment at someone from across the street may not strike you as an act of criminality, cat-calling is, by definition, a form of harassment. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘cat-calling’ as “the act of shouting harassing and often sexually suggestive, threatening, or derisive comments at someone publicly”. The fact that it has its own official definition suggests that cat-calling is a bigger issue than one might initially assume, despite its lack of media attention over the last decade.
First recorded in the 1830s, the term ‘cat-calling’ was originally used in the context of sporting events, in which spectators would shout loudly and venomously at players in order to express their disapproval. Cat-calling in more recent years has morphed into an issue of gender politics however, with many women now condemning the cultural practise as an attempt by men to assert power over a woman by making her feel vulnerable. Since August 2019, French authorities have issued over 450 fines for sexist behaviour, with new legislation threatening fines in excess of up to €750 for being caught cat-calling or shouting degrading comments. With over 85% of UK women aged between 18 and 24 years old claiming to have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public in 2016, it is clear that the UK ought to follow in France’s footsteps and ensure that these figures do not rise any further.