Stop Calling Me, I'm Not a Cat

Wolf whistling. 'Friendly' 'jokes'. Yelling non-sexual things. Yelling sexual things. Running alongside female runners. Leaning on their car horn. Driving really slow alongside female runners. Throwing stuff out of cars at them... The list goes on.

It's strange that this behaviour is so prevalent towards female runners, because catcalling in other parts of daily life seems to have (largely) died down over the past few years. The optimist in me hopes it's an effect of tireless campaigning, the pessimist thinks it might be because I look older now. I'm not implying that being older makes me less attractive, I'm implying that it makes me seem less vulnerable. However, this marathon training cycle I've really noticed an uptick in comments or yells, especially when training as a twosome and not solo. This is either because I tend to run in pairs later at night than I'd run solo, or because catcallling one girl makes guys feel like a creep but two is a-okay. Because then it's funny.

Sometimes the intrusion of passer-bys into my run does make me smile, like all the folk who gave me a thumbs up of approval in Hamburg. Sometimes it makes me laugh, like when a tipsy man offered me some chips and cheese for fuel. Sometimes it just makes me roll my eyes (I cannot even guess how many times I have heard, "Run, Forrest, Run!"). Sometimes it pisses me off, like the people lolling outside the pub smoking that yell that its bad for my knees. Even some of the sexualised comments are so blooming boring that I can't bring myself to react. Like, "LEGS!". Well done on identifying a body part dude, I bet you were sensational at 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' when you were in kindergarten last year. Or the man who yelled, "Oi, tits", at me, like some game of body-part Mad Libs. Not that it matters but I was wearing a jumper and a sports bra under that. You couldn't even tell if I had tits*.




Then there's the comments that make me sad. Exercise shaming- shouts about running faster, or about my weight. These comments occasionally come from women (although still predominantly from men), and I shudder to think what women who are of a less typical body shape hear. Lastly, a lot of the time catcalling makes me act like I have gone temporarily deaf, because that seems to be the best way for me to deal with intrusive or sexual commentary. Sometimes it has made me internally flinch, like the time that man old enough to be my grandfather waited till I was stopped at the lights to mutter something perverted and unnervingly specific about my butt.  Or the time that a full car of teens catcalled my friend and I... from a car driven by one of their parents. I'll note here that running comments are annoying, but they bother me less because they are gender-neutral and the men who run get those calls a lot too. The weight-based or sexualised comments are much, much, more female-specific.

Here are some examples of things my fellow female runners report (language warning):




FUN. For full transparency, a few twitter pals also replied saying that they aren't very effected. One runner said she tends to interpret honks and shouts as encouragement, another said that she likes catcalls. That's completely okay- everyone's experience and reaction is their own.

My reaction is mostly silence. I'm not sure if silence is the best response. I wonder whether it reduces the likelihood of the same callers doing it again, because they didn't get the coveted reaction. Or if it increases that likelihood because they didn't get a negative reaction. Or worse makes them escalate to provoke a reaction. Then again, I'm not sure it's my responsibility to make them see the error of their ways. I rarely say a damn thing, because I fear they'd get aggressive... Although sometimes they still get aggressive - "Think you're too good to talk to me? Well you're a fat bitch anyway", or (rarely) perform a physical intervention like blocking your path or racing up behind you. And also because, although I wish it didn't, catcalls usually fluster me so much that I can't say anything smart or cutting.

Many other women react differently. Some yell back, although of course then if anything happened afterwards people feel justified in saying that they provoked it. Some women's response is to defuse by politeness- to say thanks or smile. It's not that they like it, its that they are trying to get out of the situation safely. Of course then people feel justified in saying that the catcallers were encouraged by the runner, that they thought she liked it. In neither case is this woman responsible for escalation. As stated above catcallers that are going to escalate it will tend to even if you do ignore it. It's incredibly hard to estimate whether one (or more) man (men) that you do not know will respond well or badly to politeness, ignoring them, or anger. Realistically they may respond the same way to all three.

The big comment is always, "It's just a compliment", but complimenting is rarely, or never, the intention. Most of the time the intention is either to get attention, to intimidate, or to get their friends laughing at them having intimidated someone. If you understand that it's performed to intimidate, you can see why women feel intimidated by it even when it's 'Just Words'. I don't see how it could ever work as a way to get someone to actually be interested in you. Even if it were a compliment, a random person's right to compliment does not succeed someone else's right to not feel threatened. If you thought a passer by was attractive, and genuinely intended a call-out as a compliment... why is it your right to give that compliment? Can't you just keep it in your head, "Wow, that lady runner was attractive"?

Many articles give advice- don't run at night, don't run alone, don't run with headphones, cover up. Firstly, that places the onus for change on women and not on catcallers. Secondly, there is only so much that can be changed, and it won't make much dang difference. I have been catcalled running in my boyfriend's jumper, I have been catcalled in the morning, I have been catcalled when alone and when with others. I'm not asking for suggestions, I am asking for allies. Allies to say that this is frustrating, and wrong, and to be the sort of person who doesn't catcall runners. Who don't allow their friends to catcall runners. But also allies that don't immediately respond by asking us to change our behaviour. Our behaviour (going a run whilst being a woman) is perfectly acceptable.




The huge shame is that running is a method women use to feel powerful, strong, athletic. To connect with friends and nature. I don't run to be reminded that I am female or that to some people's mind that means I am on permanent display. I don't run to be reminded that I, like the vast majority of mammals, have legs or that someone is looking at them. Sometimes running makes me feel invincible. These catcalls remind me that I am not. They remind me that people believe they have a right to shout at you, or even a right to chase you. I want running to remind me that I'm free and alive. Catcalling takes away from that. 

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Do you have issues with catcalling? 

How do you feel catcalling can be stopped? I don't feel I have any answers, only frustrations. 


Post written by Scallywag and published on Scallywag Sprints on 07/03/03. My thanks to H for taking these photos.


* I saw someone on My Tights Won't Stay Up's post about running promoting yelling back 'Scrotum!' as if you were playing a body parts word association game. That could be pretty funny.


12 Comments:

  1. I think it's AWFUL that people think it's acceptable to yell out abuse to people running, especially if it's to do with size/appearances. But let's be honest, these people are absolutely cowards because they're driving past, safe in their cars and feel invincible. Small-minded pathetic people.
    I don't mind car honking if I'm honest. I just completely ignore them. Sometimes I'm flattered because hey I look rough sweating and I take the honk as a compliment.

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    1. You're right that they are mostly cowards- shouting from afar in large groups or from cars.

      What worries me more is the attitudes that they are indicative of!

      Delete
  2. I can't remember if I've told you this before (forgive me if I have!) - my response to being honked changed VERY quickly last year, when I accidentally gave the finger to a whole load of the Rainbows I look after when they got their mum to honk me in the car as I ran... Now I ignore it. Or wait til I've checked that it's a white van (80% of the time it is) before doing the wanker hand symbol. Not necessarily grown up but quite satisfying.

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    1. Ahahhahaahahahhaha that is amazing! The thought of their wee faces, "mummy, what is Bibi doing? Is she waving?".

      Delete
  3. I laughed a bit of my dinner out my nose at the "head shoulders knees and toes" bit.
    Seriously though, this is a great piece. It's totally weird how people justify this kind of behavior.

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad it made you laugh :-)

      Delete
  4. Great post! With moving about the country while on placement, at university and home I've found that in different areas I had different amounts of catcalling. I normally ignore it because I'm sure they just want a reaction.

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    1. It definitely varies geographically. And yes, I think ignoring is the best policy!

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  5. The worst incident I had was when a group of lads on bikes threw stones at me. It only hit my legs but I couldn't ignore it so I told them to fuck off. Well, that provoked them even more! They threw more at me, hitting me on my back, then hurled abuse at me calling me a slag. They then just cycled off but I was very shaken up and cut my run short. I didn't run alone in that area again for a long time. I don't know what the answer is, but it should definitely be something to change their behaviours and we shouldn't give into it. In Manchester recently there have been a few incidents including an attempted rape and strangle of female runners, so they are organising running events in the parks they happened in.

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    1. Helen I'm so sorry, that's horrible!

      I think that the organised runs are good ways for the running community to react- safe but not retreating. Our spaces should belong to us.

      Delete
  6. Great post.
    I've not had many issues with catcalling (thankfully) and tend to just ignore it rather than rise to the bait. As for honking, quite often people I know honk their horn when they see me running so I tend to be careful about how I react.
    I do think it's awful that so many people think it's ok to yell at others who are out minding their own business and taking care of themselves. I can't really understand what they hope to get out of it. I wish I had a solution.

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    Replies
    1. I wish I understood the motives better so I knew how to react better. I think just people intervening when their friends shout at runners, and being clear that the behaviour is not acceptable, will help.

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