The Stop Telling Women to Smile (#STWTS) campaign, an art-based collective devoted to addressing street harassment, commonly referred to as “catcalling,” became a recent concern among local Pilsen residents. The Pilsen neighborhood is notable for its rich Latin American, family-oriented atmosphere, as well as its mom-and-pop convenient stores, vintage apparel shops, art, and kosher food shops.
Catcalling can typically be characterized as an individual, commonly a male, singling out a female to make an evaluative remark about her physical appearance, including specific body parts or about the woman’s sexual attractiveness.
As the harassment issue grew over the course of the warmer months, the community members and supporters of the Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign placed hand-drawn posters of women on streets where the harassment was most prevalent. Power phrases such as, “I am worth more than my body,” “Stop telling women to smile,” and other variations of these statements filled 18th Street, particularly around Thalia Hall, a popular music venue in Chicago.
Why is catcalling problematic and considered harassment?
A common misconception is that such behavior is a complement to women. This is a social and psychological topic that has received more attention within recent years. Catcalling is a form of sexual objectification, which is a term for acting in a way that emphasizes a woman’s body over her other characteristics. This attitude toward women as sexualized objects is not uncommon and is a form of oppression (Rudman & Mescher, 2012), as it reduces women to a body rather than other characteristics of a valuable human being.
As a result of such harassment, women are more likely to adopt the catcaller’s view of themselves as valid and feel more insecure (Lindner, Tantleff-Dunn, and Jentsch, 2012).
Another major downside to catcalling and other forms of sexual objectification is that it has been linked to several mental health issues, including disordered eating, depression, body shame, sexual functioning problems, substance abuse (Szymanski, Moffitt, & Carr, 2010), and many more.
Pilsen residents who spoke out about their experience conveyed that the catcalling was daunting and frightening, limiting their ability to feel safe when alone.
According to Pilsen resident Jasmine Cortez, “It [Pilsen harassment] got tedious at night coming home from the train.” With little public transportation in Pilsen, most residents walk blocks to the nearest Chicago L-train station where the Pink Line is located.
“We usually tried to go to the train together when it was dark out,” Cortez’s roommate Alex Mentz said.
Cortez recalls men following her on the street, making comments about her clothes, physical appearance, and their opinion of how she looks in general. However, according to Cortez, the neighborhood atmosphere has improved since the summer.
The Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign posters that once dawned the streets of Pilsen have been removed or covered with new posters highlighting upcoming music shows in the area. To date, both the street harassment and the campaign have appeared to abate.
Although we may not know all of the factors attributable the locals’ perception of the harassment substantially waning, it may be likely that the community’s assertive anti catcalling stance was a meaningful factor in this fortunate decline.
It is hopeful that Pilsen residents’ admirable efforts to improve their community have conveyed an intolerance of disrespect and have played a role in encouraging courtesy and empowerment of others to confront injustice.
Lindner, D., Tantleff-Dunn, S., Jentsch, F. (2012). Social comparison and the ‘circle of objectification.’ Sex Roles, 67, 222–235. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0175-x.
Rudman, L. & Mescher, K. (2012). Of animals and objects: Men’s implicit dehumanization of women and likelihood of sexual aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 734–746. doi: 10.1177/0146167212436401.
Szymanski, D., Moffitt, L. Carr, E. (2010). Sexual objectification of women: Advances to theory and research. The Counseling Psychologist, 39, 6–38. doi:10.1177/0011000010378402.