By Valentina Henriquez
“Hey yo ma, you lookin’ real sexy right now, let me holla at cha fo’ a sec’”, a guy, about 20 years of age, yells to a female who walks by showing cleavage.
‘Catcalling’ : it happens all over the world, from New York to Paris … to the campus of John Jay. But what causes guys to catcall, even though it can legally be considered sexual harassment?
“Society seems to think that me wearing less clothing seems to be an invitation,” says Ieasha Galloway, a student of John Jay, who has been catcalled multiple times both in the streets and on John Jay’s Campus.
“There are times when I wore sweatpants and guys thought I was approachable,” says Crystal Rodriquez, who has experienced catcalling both in the streets and on John Jay campus. Crystal believes it has little to do with what a woman wears.
Sexual harassment, according to the New York State office of the attorney general is, “a form of gender-based discrimination, [involving] unwanted sexual context [one of them being] sexually offensive remarks or jokes…comments (either complimentary or derogatory) about a person’s gender or sexual preferences”. Catcalling falls under this category, yet it is not seen as a crime until it becomes more frequent by the same person, or involves physical contact.
John Jay’s Department of Public Safety defines behaviors similar to catcalling under the heading of “Hostile Environment.” Offensive comments that form an uncomfortable setting for students, commenting on physical attributes, using crude or offensive language and demeaning or inappropriate terms like “babe” are all considered a form of sexual harassment under the CUNY Policy Against Sexual Harassment.
Being a Criminal Justice school, John Jay College gives off the impression that most of its students are aware of many of the NYS and NYC laws. “In this country we are given the freedom to express ourselves however we wish, so it is not right to take advantage of someone who is exercising their right to free expression,” says student Anthony Auson.
Auson was caught off guard, however when asked if girls who wear more revealing clothing are more subject to sexual harassment. Auson said “The way society is today, yes, although I don’t think it’s right.”
Aldin Radoncic, wearing a Captain America shirt, agreed. “Girls who wear more revealing clothing are more prone to sexual harassment. There are guys who think they’re that kind of person.” He was asked to further elaborate, “Let’s say a girl is wearing short skirts, revealing tops. It is more likely that guys assume she is a slut, or skank and she wants to be catcalled.”
According to Buzzfeed media, several countries around the world have banned women from wearing clothing that makes them more susceptible to sexual harassment.
In Uganda women have been banned from wearing miniskirts. Closer to home, a school in Michigan banned its female students from wearing leggings because they were deemed too “distracting” for male students.
It seems fortunate that there are no restrictions on women’s clothing at John Jay but it does promote a policy against sexual harassment.
In fact, not all women find catcalling a form of harassment. In her story, “Hey, ladies—catcalls are flattering! Deal with it,” Doree Lewak gave the message that it’s ok to catcall. For Lewak, catcalling gives her confidence. “When a total stranger notices you, it’s validating,” she wrote. “Before I know it, winter will be upon us again and it’s not easy turning heads when you’re up to your neck in Gore-Tex.” But Lewak’s take is not the norm.
Off campus, protests against catcalling are happening, giving the message that what women wear shouldn’t suggest consent. Blogs and non-profit organizations such as Price of Silence and Hollaback! Price of Silence states, “We call street harassment the gateway drug to further forms of violence against women…This perception dehumanizes women to a perceived ideal of subservience. We need to create a standard of human rights which protects equality to public space.”