My Story: How I Talk Back To Catcallers

When verbally abused, Dolène reacts fiercely, talking back to catcallers in the street to earn respect.

(© Elmer Martinez/AFP)

I can’t recall the number of times I heard about street harassment when I was younger. I’ve always been appalled to my guts by this. Just to be clear, I’m talking about these moments when women feel uncomfortable, afraid of walking the streets alone, getting insults because of the clothes they were. That should never happen.

Yet it is frequent. Several girlfriends of mine went through it. I kept on asking them what their reaction was in these situations. Like many women, they would answer: "I pretend nothing is happening and I keep on walking". Even though they are my friends, I don’t understand. To me, it is inconceivable to keep quiet when being insulted.

"No One Whistles At Me, I'm Not Your Dog"

As for me, I had never been approached in an offending or rude way in the streets, until… I did. I was strolling when a man whistled at me, just like if I was a dog. I felt like shit - pardon my french, but there is no other word.

At that very moment, I understood what my friends might have felt. However, I couldn’t help but say something, afraid or not! So I looked at him straight in the eyes and said "Hey! Who are you whistling at? No one whistles at me, I’m not your dog, shut it!".

The man looked at me, smiled, and kept quiet. He must have felt like an idiot to be yelled at by a tiny lady such as myself. I felt extremely proud with myself, my inner strength. That is when I decided to talk balk every single time, so these guys realize they have no right to treat us like that.

Like I Said, I Won't Shut Up

Unfortunately, this kind of scenario happened several times. So I kept on talking back, to show that I’m a woman, a human being! But one day, it didn’t go as planned and I was threatened. While taking a quiet walk with friends, a car ran passed us.

These type of guys, I identify very quickly. You know, the type to come at you and call you a "bitch" or even a "slut" if you ignore them. When they came along, I was a 100% sure they would say something. And they did. They said something to one of my friends. But like I said, I won’t shut up!

May they be five, it doesn’t change a thing, we are still women, not dogs. So I yelled at him "Hey, who do you think you’re talking to? Move along dude!". Of course, he played innocent and then threatened to hit me.

I was quite scared, to be honest. Even though I was with my friends, they kept their mouth shut. Until one of them eased the tension and the guys ended up leaving. But even without that, I knew I was stronger than them. Because everyone around us stopped, people walking by were ready to take our defense, as if we were all united. The feeling of being supported was empowering.

Yes, it is risky, and it is normal to be scared. But keeping quiet is accepting the fact we are despised. When being catcalled, we must speak up. I believe if we all open our mouth, at some point they will shut theirs.

Dolène C., 18, student in Paris

  This story was written during one of the workshops held by the ZEP (Expression Priority Zone) in France, a media project which allows young French people aged 15 to 25 years old to share their everyday lives and their opinions on the news which impacts them.

By La Zep, published on 07/12/2018