TW: mention of traumatic experiences involving harassment.
Catcalling is a serious universal problem. As noted in this picture:
Not that kind of catcalling. This kind:
Catcalling is considered a form of sexual harassment. Perpetrators (usually men) whistle, shout obscene things, or make noises or comments of a sexual nature towards their targets (usually women.) It happens everywhere – especially in college towns.
A few years ago, I transferred to BYU in Provo shortly after serving a mission. For some reason, I thought Provo was exempt from catcalling experiences – after all, BYU was nick-named “the Lord’s university,” and there was a temple literally 5 minutes away from where I lived. Surely a place like Provo was the safe, clean bubble I’d imagined it to be.
I was wrong. I’ll never forget walking home from campus one evening and having someone yell noises and inappropriate comments from their car window to me. I’ll never forget my shock as I looked over at the faces of those men in the car, because I had seen those same faces on campus earlier that day. I would see those faces again and again on campus, and I would relive the discomfort I felt.
Although I can count the scary encounters I’ve had with catcalling on one hand, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way I felt. These are experiences that took me a few years (post-BYU) to talk about openly. I felt anger at the hypocrisy, because I held everyone and everything to a higher standard. Although I knew that things like catcalling and sexual harassment could still happen in places like Provo, or BYU, it was nonetheless sad and disturbing to see it happen in a highly religious community. I know I can’t take the actions of a few (or several) people as a reflection of a whole community, but there seems to be alarmingly high rates of catcalling and harassment in Provo, and I hear about it from people I know who still live there.
If anything, it’s a reminder of deeper, more pervasive gender-related issues in Mormon culture. Too often, young men feel entitled to young women – they may see catcalling as a harmless way to get female attention, or a mixture of flirting and entertainment (at the expense of the target’s physical and emotional health.) Sadly, many young women are also convinced that catcalling is supposed to be complimentary. Because of internalized misogyny, some young women may feel that if they aren’t catcalled, then there’s something wrong with them. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
On top of internalized misogyny, Mormon women are often taught to function under a hierarchy of deference towards Mormon men. Attitudes of victim-blaming are fueled by modesty rhetoric and sweeping feelings of female discomfort under a giant rug. With these factors in mind, it’s no wonder that forms of harassment such as catcalling flourish in places like Provo.
Realizing that catcalling is a form of harassment – that it’s a prevalent problem, even (and especially) in supposedly safe religious communities, is crucial. Instead of telling young women that they just need to call less attention to themselves, or that they need to exist in a manner that makes them even more invisible, young men need to be taught to not harass women. We need to send out a clear message that catcalling and all forms of harassment are not okay – that it’s never ever acceptable.