Catcalling: An Unsolicited Soundtrack

By Sianna Boschetti

The first time someone catcalled me at Rollins was on an overcast morning when I was walking to campus for my RCC. I was still exhausted from my commute when the passenger sticking out of the rolled-down window of a black four-door sedan whistled at me as I stood alone at the Fairbanks intersection. I looked around just to double check that I was alone. Aside from a few people walking towards Fairbanks from campus, it was just me at the intersection, hunched underneath my backpack and holding a cup of black tea. I looked down at my outfit: a Wal-Mart t-shirt, jeans, and a worn-out, oversized flannel. Clearly “asking for it” apparel, I thought.

Despite Rollins’s relatively open-minded atmosphere and the attempts to improve the issue in recent years, our beautiful campus comes with its own soundtrack of unsolicited commentary and catcalls. Women at our school are well acquainted with this problem, and it’s unfortunately easy to become accustomed to street harassment when it’s a part of everyday life. For every gorgeous stock image of Holt Avenue, there’s also a whistle, insult, or slur thrown from the window of some guy’s car.

For every gorgeous stock image of Holt Avenue, there’s also a whistle, insult, or slur thrown from the window of some guy’s car.

In my experience, the lack of a car won’t stop the occasional comment or whistle from the passing man on the street, but most men who engage in this sort of behavior prefer to do so from the safety of a vehicle. The car, windows up, slows down just enough to watch us for a few seconds, keeping pace with us. Inside, there could be one creep driving alone or several talking us over amongst themselves. But with the windows up, it’s left a mystery to the victims. Other times, the harassers don’t care about subtlety; it can be broad daylight, and a car full of sunglasses-clad boys will look us up and down, making no attempt to hide their gazes.  Sometimes they don’t even wear sunglasses.

When traffic allows it, the cars don’t slow down; they speed up. These events are terrifying in their own way – the drivers can say anything they want and won’t be stopping soon enough to see the consequences. The car may not be taking the time to individually follow us, but the driver uses the car as a shield in a different way, saying whatever he wants from the safety of the vehicle and speeding away before we can take down a license plate number to report the incident to campus safety. We are left feeling hurt, scared, and vulnerable, knowing there’s nothing that can be done about the incident.

We are left feeling hurt, scared, and vulnerable, knowing there’s nothing that can be done about the incident.

In the spring of my sophomore year, even after becoming more accustomed to the street harassment, a female friend and I were caught off guard while walking to the parking garage. A red pickup truck flew by as the passenger yelled, “Gay!” at us with anger in his voice as we waited at the Fairbanks intersection. We needed a few moments to understand the incident, asking each other if we heard the same thing from the passing car. After our initial feelings of fear and anger subsided, we tried to brush it off and joke about the immaturity of the guy in the truck, but we both still remember crossing Fairbanks that day.

The little spark of fear I felt always makes me remember that there’s a strong possibility that some dude is going to feel the need to comment on my sexuality, shout degrading words, or worse. There’s a physical response that develops after a few years of seeing cars with dark-tinted, half-down windows slow when they near us. It starts with discomfort; then it turns into fear – what are they doing, and what do they want? As many women on this campus have to do, I have to ask myself if I can walk somewhere safer, or if I should be doing something differently, making myself less noticeable to the men around me. That gut reaction, now second nature, keeps me and everyone else who has experienced street harassment from feeling totally safe on the campus we call home.

I was walking with another female friend near the Fairbanks intersection when we heard something loud and familiar from the window of a passing car. We were immediately on alert, concerned it would be a drunken man ready to shout degrading comments from the safety of the passenger seat of his buddy’s BMW. Instead, we look to see a dog barking as its owner drives by, a light brown pit bull puppy excited to see outside of its yard and just wanting to say hello to everything it can. Catcalling sucks, but dogcalling? I could get on board with that.