Cards Against Harassment address street harassers directly

When a woman is verbally harassed on the street, an initial response may sometimes be shying away from confrontation. One women decided to turn harassment into an opportunity to educate others and start a conversation.

By , Correspondent

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    An image of one of the cards offered on the Cards Against Harassment web site.
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“Hey gorgeous!”

“Meow!”

“I want some of that!”

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Catcalls are a part of everyday life for many women, but it doesn’t make the practice right. It obnoxiously objectifies women and often makes them feel powerless to defend themselves from the verbal harassment. 

When I started getting unwanted comments on the street as a teenager and asked other women what to do, they told me to just ignore it. When I did that, I always felt like such a victim, cowering and walking away as fast as I could. The only alternative there seemed to be was yelling back insults at the harassers, which doesn't feel constructive either.

A young Minneapolis woman who was fed up with the unwanted comments has developed another way to engage with harassers and created the Cards Against Harassment project. Those who are harassed or witness harassment are encouraged to print out and give educational cards to street harassers to provide, what the project’s web site describes as, “feedback, however limited, that their behavior is unwelcome.” Cards Against Harassment also has a YouTube channel with video of conversations with men about harassment.

Cards can be printed from the web site for free. Here are a few examples of the messages on the cards: 

"I know you may think you just paid me a compliment, but unwanted commentary on my appearance by strangers on the street makes me feel self-conscious and objectified. 

So if you really want to make me feel good, don't treat me like a piece of meat. 

It's not a compliment. It's harassment."

The bottom of each card reads, "Learn more at CardsAgainstHarassment.com."

While some might think street harassment is a harmless cultural tradition, let me impress upon you that it’s toxic and can even be terrifying for those on the receiving end. 

One time, when I was about 15, I was walking my 5-year-old brother over to the neighborhood pool, which was only about a quarter of a mile from our home. I was wearing a one piece swimsuit and shorts, towels in hand, and holding my brother’s hand to keep him away from the occasional car driving by. 

A man who was probably around 40 started walking past us, and I pleasantly said “hello” and kept walking. The man said “hey baby” and my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. He kept shouting flirtatious, and then increasingly lewd comments at me as I quickened my pace to get away. I panicked, especially since my brother was with me and I didn’t want him to see something so inappropriate. Eventually I just scooped up my brother and ran the rest of the way to the pool, anxious to get away from the man as fast as I could. Thankfully he was gone by the time I reached the crowded pool area. 

I’ll never forget that incident, and now as a mom I can only hope my daughter never experiences that acute sense of panic I felt.

The Cards Against Harassment project gives women the opportunity to communicate with their harassers in a constructive way that promotes progress. 

There are 12 videos on the web site that show men making rude comments and the founder, Lindsey (who prefers to be attributed with only her first name), responding to the comments and sharing the cards. 

Perhaps many women won’t feel comfortable engaging with street harassers in such a direct way, and that’s OK. At least this creates an alternative to ignoring or yelling back at attackers. 

Just after college, I lived in downtown Boston and experienced street harassment almost daily while walking to work. These cards would’ve felt like educational ammunition in my pocket – ready to proactively correct anyone who disrespected me. 

I can only imagine the look of astonishment they would’ve had as I taught them how to behave towards women on the street. If the opportunity to educate a cat-caller presents itself while I am out with my daughter, she’ll be able to watch and learn how to demand respect from men, even those who she passes on the street.

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