Tired of hearing that question, Kati Heng set up a Tumblr page to record what women were wearing when they were catcalled to show that clothes do not determine the likelihood of being harassed.
She describes the page – titled But What Was She Wearing: Stop the Cat Call – as “a project documenting what real girls were really wearing when they were the objects of street harassment, asking you to get over the question ‘what were you wearing?’ and just listen to our stories”.
Heng told BuzzFeed News that the blog’s aim is to share women’s stories of street harassment without allowing anyone to put the blame on what she wore.
“So often, when women try to talk about the harassment we face, we’re met with that stupid question, ‘What were you wearing?’ as if WE are the ones responsible for what happened to us,” she said. “By having the selfies of what we were wearing upfront, it takes the question away, forcing people to get past it and just read the stories.”
Heng said her personal experiences inspired her to create the Tumblr page.
“A couple days before I launched, I got catcalled twice in one weekend – the first time, wearing a shorts and a baggy flannel, walking with my boyfriend, some dude yelled out his car to my boyfriend, ‘Hey, I want to fuck your girlfriend!’ That one was really upsetting because I wasn’t even the object of harassment any more; I was just an object for men to compete over.”
She said she channelled her anger from that incident into making the page, and so far the response has been very positive, although the reaction from many men has been one of disbelief.
“Sometimes guys will call out outfits and tell me that I made it up, I didn’t really get harassed in that outfit,” she said. There’s also a “general disbelief” from men “that I do have something to submit every two days.”
Yesterday, a man I didn’t know called me the “c” word inside the grocery store. Why? Because I didn’t acknowledge him in the parking lot going into the store when he yelled “Hey honey, nice ass!” To have been singled out and followed into the store like that made me feel afraid to return to my car or drive straight home. It ruined my whole evening, when all I wanted was to get groceries for the week. This is what I was wearing.
Submission from Amanda Bush
I was on my way to my first half marathon. It was 6am on a Sunday and I was the only one on the street. I heard someone say “excuse me…” and, assuming the person was lost or begging for money, I looked over my shoulder to see a guy following me on a bike. “…may I touch your pussy?” He followed me for 3 blocks quietly repeating the same phrase and laughing to himself/at how obviously uncomfortable I was. Now tell me he was trying to “give me a compliment” or “joking around.”
**Bonus Harassment! I was going for a run around my neighborhood (in a similar outfit) and a gentleman decided to remind me just how vulnerable I am to assault by running after me a few steps then shouting “Yeah you better keep running. You don’t know what I would do if I caught you…”
Submission from anatomydork
This is what I was wearing when I was walking my dog two blocks from my house in my quiet, tiny town. It was 8 pm on a Monday. A group of men came out of a house and started yelling and whistling at me. The most noticeable remark was, “damn girl, why you wearing a sweater that covers dat ass?”
And they tell me street harassment only happens in big cities.
Submission from Abbie Amiotte
I spent a week in New York City over the summer. I decided to take a walk on my own one day, wearing my favorite dress (pictured), and I ended up going down a street where I was trapped on the sidewalk between the buildings and a parked bus.
A tall burly man shouted at me first, starring me up and down and said “Damn girl! You’re gorgeous! Stop walking, I want your number!” I picked up my pace, but then I realized there was a large group of greasy, sweaty, old mechanics two steps away ready to cause trouble. They whistled at me and called me all sorts of unwanted names, some even stepped closer.
This experience really freaked me out and I was left shaking afterwards. I was alone and entirely defenseless, I didn’t go out on my own after that, and every man was suspicious.
I shouldn’t have to fear walking alone. Things like this need to stop.
Submission from Gabrielle
On my way home from work, a man on Chicago’s red line told me: “I hope you aren’t a homosexual because you’re a cute little thing and that would suck for a lot of men.” As if I exist for the mere pleasure of “a lot of men.” Or anyone for that matter.
As I made my way from my red line stop to my apartment, someone yelled from their car window: “I bet your pussy tastes really good!”
Submission from Holly Stewart Sanchez Perry
I work at a theme park. These are my uniforms. Weekly, men of all ages walking by will call, “Hey girl, how you doin’? I like your dress” and other things along those lines.
The worst time was when a forty-something man introduced himself, and shook my hand. Fine, be polite. But he wouldn’t let go, he rubbed it and said, “What’s your name, baby? You’re the prettiest girl here. I can’t have a bad day if I get to see you. Can I have your number?” I couldn’t walk away because he trapped me at my desk, so after saying no several times, I just started ignoring him. He finally walked away, but not before saying “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Submission from Eryn Schlote
I work in a lab and this is my lab coat that goes down past my knees. I wear it over loose scrubs.
I was doing a drug screen on a very large male behind a closed door. He asked me “has anyone told you how beautiful you are?” I was glad I was finished so I just said “ok we’re all done here.” Then he said he’d “be thinking of me” on his next truck route.
I was literally wearing the most unflattering thing I could imagine.
Submission from Emily Hoppe
I was running an errand for work during the day in Chicago’s Gold Coast, threw on my oversized jacket and went on my way. As I walked past this guy, he said “mmmmm that ass” in the most disgusting and violating way possible. I felt dirty afterward. As I turned around in disgust, he had stopped in his tracks and just stared looking me up and down. I yelled “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?” and he turned around laughing and walked away.
Submission from Katie Bithos
I was walking to the bus stop after work (wearing this) when this kid who couldn’t have been more than 16 started walking with me. At first he just used a cheesy pickup line, but when I shot him down, he got insistent.
The age difference clearly didn’t faze him, nor did the fact that I was engaged. While I was walking away from him fuming, he was yelling after me that he would give me better sex than my fiancé because he had an 18 inch dick.
I don’t know what irritated me more: the fact that he refused to take no for an answer, or the fact that he assumed the only thing I would care about is size. This isn’t the only time I’ve been hit on uninvited in an outfit like this, but it definitely wins the prize for most obnoxious thing shouted at me by a male ever.
I went straight from work to a concert, left between sets to grab some food. As soon as I walked out of the concert hall, some dick in a white suit who looked a dirty Nick Carter starting shouting “hey blondie, I like your pretty blonde hair!” at me. I ignored him.
Then the guy ran and caught up to me, asking why I couldn’t take a compliment. He kept shouting “hey, I’m talking to you, why are you being so stuck up? Why don’t bitches know how to say thank you when someone gives them a compliment??”
He cornered me while I was waiting for the crosswalk to change, and there were enough people around, so I looked him in the eye and told him plainly, “I don’t owe you shit.”
Bad choice. This guy, for some reason, decided he was going to take his frustration on every girl who ever ignored his cat calls out on me.
He followed me more and kept saying “didn’t your goddamn mother teach you any manners? A man compliments you, you owe him a thank you! Why can’t you take a compliment? Why do you have to be such a goddamn bitch? I was being nice to you!”
And then I ran into the pizza place all distraught and the nice girl at Dimo’s was extra nice to me and made me feel safe again.”
Submission from Katy Heng
My roommate and I go to school in Orange City, IA. Here’s some proof that street harassment happens in even the smallest of towns. We were nearing the crosswalk, headed to the cafeteria to eat supper when a guy stuck his head out the back window of his pickup as they drove by, yelling “I want your pussy!” Sadly, this isn’t the first time this has happened here. Last year at about this time in a very similar situation, I had a guy yell out “Dear Diary, I like your ass.”
Submission from Joslynn Roth
So far, Heng’s blog mostly features young white women, which she recognises is problematic.
When asked about this issue, Heng said it was important to show multiple voices and perspectives, from women of colour, LGBT women, and women of different sizes.
“This is the thing that bothers me most – it’s a really white representation of street harassment,” she said. “Obviously, I’m white. A lot of the girls submitting are girls I went to college with in Iowa – obviously, a very white population. There’s maybe a couple or few submissions from women of colour, but it’s totally not an accurate representation. If this project is going to succeed, I’m gonna need more than blondes.”
She added that she was interested in the ageism of street harassment, and that often girls under the age of 18 receive “the worst harassment just because they left school still wearing their school uniforms”.
Heng is receiving more submissions by the day as well as messages of support.
She believes that women are “sharing their stories with the world instead of swallowing them”. If you’d like to particpate in this project, you can send your photo to firstname.lastname@example.org