“Oh yes mama, that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Slim-thick baby, slim-thick!”

The name of it is even insulting — “catcalling” literally refers to the act of yelling at a woman’s vagina. To “call” to a woman’s “cat” is to whistle, shout, or make a comment of a sexual nature to a woman passing by. 

Victoria Benjamin, a graduate student at Colorado State University with a degree in Women’s Studies and Gender Research, believes it “reduces a person to a sexual object, which is a denial of their humanity.”

And while the recent #MeToo campaign is raising awareness of sexual harassment against women to unforeseen levels, other countries have already begun pushing back on the bad behavior. Certain areas of the world have made catcalling’s alternative name, street harassment, illegal and punishable by fines or jail time (or will soon).

In France, many people there are working through a law that aims to slap offenders with a hefty penalty for unwanted sexual advances. The bill, which will be voted on by parliament next year, looks to define more clearly what street harassment is and isn’t.

Rotterdam, a city in the Netherlands, will officially make street harassment a punishable offense next year, effective January 1st. There, if anyone catcalls, follows, asks for sex or bothers a woman to the point they feel unsafe, they’ll be on the hook for about $4,800 with the possibility of three months in jail.

And in China, street harassment has gotten to be so extreme, vendors sell personalized flamethrowers to women as a means of repellant.

We’ll wait for you to re-read that sentence again … 

[credit: Guangdong YIPINXUAN Tradin/Taobao.com]

Vendors there advertise the device as a “popular deterrent for creeps.” Some reach up to 3,300 degrees and have the potential to extend nearly 20 feet. Absurd? Probably. But while making accusations of absurdity, consider how street harassment has reached such a degree women resort to flamethrowers as a viable tool of personal safety.

Convinced there’s a problem yet?

However, there is a fine line between innocent flirtation and harassment. Most women aren’t fighting to make men afraid of complimenting them as strangers, or hesitant to flirt when the timing’s right. As Benjamin explains, “Just because someone flirts with another person does not mean they are being inherently disrespectful or inappropriate.” 

Generally, a good rule to follow is to think of flirting as welcomed attention. In other words, if the object of your affection gives you a look that screams, “What the fuck did you just say to me?” it’s probably a good idea to immediately leave them alone. 

Additionally, if you have been politely ignored, refrain from repeating yourself. You were heard the first time.

“Respect the no, and remember that nobody owes you anything, not even a smile,” Benjamin advises. 

For women everywhere, know there’s hope. #MeToo did a great job of creating a viral space for victims to share stories, but that’s only the beginning of forming a world where everyone feels equally comfortable to be a part of it. 

“Women and others should feel safe walking down the street at all times,” adds Benjamin. “Articles such as these are a start into a cultural conversation about street harassment as well as the safety and bodily sovereignty of all human beings.” 

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the possibility of mandating flame-throwers.

How quickly things would change then.