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I ain’t your baby: An open letter to all cat-callers

Whether its a whistle, an unwelcome comment or – that old favourite – someone telling you to smile, being on the receiving end of street harassment can be a demeaning and infuriating experience. Ta’ase Vaoga has had enough.

Dear Cat-Caller,

Please don’t cat-call me or any other woman who happens to walk past your current work locale. We don’t like it. We’re already self-conscious about walking past you when you’re on your smoko. We don’t intentionally walk past for your pleasure. We’ve got shit to do. We are literally walking from A to B to get shit done.

I don’t need you to holler your hot takes about my butt and I certainly ain’t your baby. I just want to enjoy my walk or run or workout or bus ride without you commenting on my appearance or trying to get my attention. If that’s the only way you know how to grab the attention of a babe like me, then you have bigger problems than your inability to keep your trap shut when I walk past you.

You might think it’s a compliment, that you’re doing us a favour, boosting our confidence. Let me tell you very clearly: that is not what is happening.

Ruth Orkin, An American Girl in Italy (1951).

Ruth Orkin, An American Girl in Italy (1951).

You’re demeaning the very form you claim you’re appreciating. When you cat-call me I’m not thinking “Yeah, my butt is great” or “Thank you for noticing my fine legs”. In that moment, you and I, we’re not in sync. I’m not hoping for a one-on-one with you, I’m not smiling on the inside. I’m thinking “What a gross twat, grow up already.”

While you’re busy trying to assert your power and look cool to your bros, I’m plotting your death by stare and thinking about your future partner and how sorry I feel for her to end up with such a complete tool. You’re abusing your power as a man by exerting it over a fellow human being. When you yell at those who are different to you, you’re further marginalising those who are less powerful than you. Stop. Just stop, OK?

I’ve compiled some helpful suggestions that might help you to break your bad habit. You should consider them as seriously as we’ve had to consider the impact your cat-calling has on us.

1. Don’t line the streets on your work breaks lest your wandering eyes tempt you into cat-calling. Find somewhere else to have your break – or if you don’t want to do that, you could just do your thing (i.e. have lunch) without imposing on my day. A novel idea, I know.

2. Implement a swear jar system. If you cat-call or abuse passers-by: money in the swear jar. If you’re complicit in cat-calling: swear jar. Put a minimum of $20 in each time. Employers: match that swear jar amount and donate the jar to Wellington Rape Crisis or the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network. Hit me up for the account details.

3. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on cat-calling. Men: don’t let your mates get away with it. Call them out. Ignoring it means you’re just as guilty. Don’t just awkwardly laugh if you feel uncomfortable. Make the situation more awkward by simply saying: “Not cool bro, not cool.” If your bro can’t handle it then maybe he’s not such a cool bro after all. Employers: actively do something about it when it comes to your attention.

4. Employers: teach respect as an essential part of your health and safety policy. Tell your employees/contractors off the bat that it’s simply not OK to engage in any behaviour that is demeaning to others. Make it clear that the only people they should be engaging with on smoko break is their workmates and passers-by that they know personally by name. And no: my name is not Babe.

It starts with YOU. You can create change by treating fellow human beings not as pieces of meat to be devoured but as people who, just like you, have places to be and shit to get done.

Yours sincerely

Ta’ase

P. S. Even without a swear jar, you can still donate to Wellington Rape Crisis or to the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network.


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