Time to call out Durham’s art of catcalling

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Catcalling could be considered one of the most provocative and historic art forms of our times. This particular art form can be comprised of a variety of techniques, such as following in vans, derogatory comments and unwavering glares, and is held in high regard by some groups of men lingering at night. 

Nonetheless, the consensus among women is that this art form is more akin to graffiti found down dark alleys, that they wish to be wiped away. Last term, Palatinate exposed the increasing incidents of catcalling and sexual harassment in Durham. With these phenomena continuing to grow, now is the time to call out and confront catcalling. 

All too often catcalling is dismissed as an illegitimate form of sexual harassment. Consequently, entire social media accounts are dedicated to combatting this mindset, such as ‘catcallsofnyc’, ‘catcallsofoxford’ and ‘catcallsofldn’. These platforms illuminate harrowing experiences of catcalling through minimalist chalk art on street pavements across the world: a reminder that this occurs on the streets we walk along every day. The metaphor of contrasting catcalling, the epitome of thoughtlessness, with art, the height of meaningfulness, is poignant. 

Now is the time to call out and confront catcalling

Catcalling is undeniably indicative of larger societal contexts of sexism and misogyny, and overlooking it only continues to worsen the problem. During Covid-19, incidents only appear to be increasing. This could be due to the fact that during such uncertain and tumultuous times, harassers use catcalling as a medium to regain control. Moreover, the anonymity of a facemask can make perpetrators feel invincible. Personally, I was mortified when a man, triple my age, who was standing in the Tesco queue pulled down his facemask, looked me up and down, and proceeded to wolf-whistle at me. He then placed his facemask back on and acted as if nothing had happened. 

This is just one of many personal experiences, and I know every female would have similar tales to tell. In fact, when the topic of catcalling arises it can be a unifying force amongst women. There is a mutual understanding of the objectification, intimidation and fear at the forefront of these situations. The power dynamics within these scenarios is also highlighted, with groups targeting individuals, and older men targeting young girls. 

Understandably, there is a hesitation among women to report such incidents. It is easy for self-doubt to take over: am I overreacting? What did I do to make it occur? What was I wearing? Did I make eye contact? We are often told ‘we should be flattered by the attention’ and that it’s ‘no big deal’. 

The University has a moral obligation to address the issue of sexual harassment

The sad reality of this is that these incidents will always occur in spite of any behaviour on the part of the targeted individual. All of this accumulates to make us feel that no serious action would be taken anyway, even if we did report our experiences. 

Some may ask why should we care about this at Durham when it is a wider, national, even global problem? However, the University has a moral obligation to address the issue of sexual harassment. This is not merely a question of gender, this is an overarching question of student safety. No university student should feel uncomfortable on their campus and in their town. 

The University is aware of sexual misconduct and does have tangible policies and protocols, but they need to implement deterrents and proactive policies before there is even an incident to report, otherwise the perpetrators will always feel they can get away with it. It is time for this particular art to be wiped away from the canvases of our University. 

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