Catcalling and street harassment aren’t illegal in the UK, but sisters Gemma and Maya Tutton are campaigning to change this.
Miranda Hobbes put up with a lot of catcalling in Sex and the City. “Eat me,” a man dressed as a sandwich while handing out flyers suggestively tells her in one episode. “I got what you want, I got what you need,” shouts a male construction worker in another. Responding in typical feminist Hobbes style - “That sandwich out front is saying sexually explicit things to women walking by,” she tells his manager, many women relate to her experiences but also know that this sort of catcalling is often much harder to deal with in real life.
This is because, at its worst, catcalling can feel threatening and abusive.
Yet, women and teenage girls are still subjected to street harassment every day. Earlier this summer, one Stylist writer wrote about her experience of catcalling in the good weather – just because she didn’t need to wrap up in a coat anymore. And last year, another writer recalled the time a man decided to waltz up to her and detail exactly how he would “wreck your p**sy”.
A study by Hollaback! and Cornell University found that 90% of British women report experiencing street harassment before age 17. Plan UK reports that one in three girls in the UK have received unwanted sexual attention, and that one in seven had been followed while in their uniform. Out of over 3000 stories submitted to campaign group Catcalls of London, 72% were from under 17 year olds, 60% were wearing a school uniform, and 100% of the perpetrators were adult males.
But in the UK, there is currently no specific law against street harassment.
This is why Catcalls of London and Our Streets Now are joining forces to call for the UK government to criminalize street harassment. They believe that women have the right to feel safe walking the street, day and night, with the confidence that the law protects them. With countries such as France, Belgium and Portugal all leading the way in legislative changes on this specific issue, why has the UK not yet caught up?
Maya Tutton and her sister Gemma from Our Streets Now started the campaign after they became victims of street harassment as schoolgirls. “The first time Gemma was harassed in the street she was only 11 years old,” Maya tells Stylist. “Hearing that as a big sister was the most upsetting thing in the world. And knowing there is nothing I could do about it was heart breaking. As young women, we have gotten so used to constantly being scared. Catcalling is an incredibly threatening thing to experience. It makes us feel powerless, objectified, hurt, and angry.
“Gemma and I believe that street harassment is a topic that is too often ignored, belittled or silenced. The reality is that women and girls in the UK are being cat-called from a very young age, and that it has a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing. Our campaign started because we want to reclaim our streets and feel protected from this harassment. “France has made cat-calling illegal, why can’t we?”
In the online petition, Tutton also states: “You can get fined for dropping a cigarette on the street, but not for harassing and intimidating women? This has to change.”
The sisters will be leading a peaceful protest on Thursday (20 June) in Trafalgar Square after accumulating 3,760 followers on Instagram and over 6,000 signatures on their petition which has been signed by Jameela Jamil, Gina Martin and Munroe Bergdorf.
The response after a quick call out on Twitter for other women’s experiences shows just how important this movement is to make our streets safer.
“Last summer it became really weird, I’ve been followed to my apartment door by cat-callers, there have been times where I’ve been grabbed by the arm and stuff. I tend to answer to them if they’re being ridiculous, but sometimes that’s also scary because you don’t know if they’ll attack you or not,” shared blogger Carolina over email.
“The worst was certainly when I was shouted at in Birmingham by a local guy when I was a student there, saying: ‘This bitch should be sucking my dick’. Obviously quite scary stuff while walking alone at night,” replied Imogen.
“My scariest was when I was stuck in traffic in a low car with a van next to me whose passengers were leering at me, whistling and commenting on various bits of me. The most recent made me decide that from now on, I will ask the catcaller to repeat what they said/did in camera for me,” wrote Holly.
Clearly, most women have at least one catcalling story to share. So, how can you get involved to address the issue and help raise awareness?
Join the peaceful protest at Trafalgar Square on 20 June from 5:30pm to 8:30pm.