Why The Way A Woman Dresses Is Not An Excuse For Harassment

Tumblr blog "But What Was She Wearing?" sets out to prove that harassment and catcalling happens no matter what one wears.

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Street harassment and catcalling has been getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to the viral video of a girl enduring more than a hundred catcalls while walking through the streets of New York that had surfaced a few weeks ago

After the video of a woman walking around New York City enduring hundreds of catcalls went viral, street harassment (or catcalling) has been getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. It's a terrible problem that is systematically overlooked or ignored.

However, the fact remains that anyone who complains about being harassed are often faced with responses along the lines of, "Yeah, but what are you wearing?" - which implies that a woman's way of dressing is to blame for the harassment or catcalls she has been subjected to

All too often, the response to a complaint of street harassment comes in some form of "Well, what was she wearing?" — as though that would make a difference. Simply put, that does not make a difference. Besides the fact that a woman's appearance is never a justification for street harassment, women are catcalled no matter what they're wearing.

While someone who asks the question "What was she wearing?" expects an answer along the lines of "short, tight dress, done-up hair and high-heels," the truth of the matter is much different.

To illustrate the inaccuracy of the "clothing" argument and inspired by her personal experiences, Tumblr user Kati Heng created a blog - But What Was She Wearing: Stop the Cat Call - to debunk the myth as well as to show that women are harassed and catcalled no matter what they are wearing

She describes the page 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”.

"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.”

While the blog was only launched in September, many users have taken to sharing their own stories in support of Kati's initiative. Here are some of their posts submitted to the Tumblr blog accompanied by photos of what these women were actually wearing when they were harassed:

1. Lauren Alexander was dressed as an avocado for Halloween when she was catcalled on her way to work. At 8AM in the morning.

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I was walking to work at 8 AM dressed like an avocado last Halloween and was catcalled. Dressed like this.

2. Emma Tan wasn't even alone (she was with her boyfriend) when a group of burly guys drove past them repeatedly while hurling provocative comments at the pair

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"[My boyfriend and I] were coming from a friend’s house. Friday night, he lived in the party side of our college town. Some punk kid rolls down the street in a car full of guys towards us and yells, "yeah, you better f--- her!" And drives past. Well, I got instantly mad and my boyfriend just assures me it’s some guy being a jerk. We walk on and the same car drives past us going in the same direction as us, with the guy yelling the same thing. This time, both of us are now nervous. And then the guys turn onto a side street ahead of us, WAITING for us, and turn their car around to keep going after us. My boyfriend gripped my hand tighter and told me to run and we sprinted through smaller apartment complexes and side streets until we lost them. I stayed freaked out for a long time afterwards. The way the guys sounded was that my boyfriend had better screw me or they would. And my man is not a small guy — 6 feet 4, 230 pounds. There were either 4 or 5 guys in the car."

3. If you think only grown-up men are capable of harassment, think again. Colleen McCormack-Maitland, who was completely covered up due to the cold weather, was catcalled by a small boy

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"I got cat called on the coldest day of the year, when nothing but my eyes and eyebrows were exposed. I took this photo right after it happened because it just seemed so absurd. Recently I was cat called by a small boy, who quickly apologized TO MY (masculine of center) PARTNER once he noticed her walking near me. No apology for me though."

4. All dressed up because she was meeting up with her parents for her birthday dinner, Emily had to endure suggestive comments from a middle-aged man as she waits for the bus

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"I was dressed up for my 20th birthday and meeting my parents for dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. As I was leaving my college campus standing at the bus stop, I was approached by a man at least 50 years old. He stood by me for several minutes saying things like “Hello, beautiful, where you headed? You could just come with me instead. I like your dress.” I didn’t say anything back or even look at him, but I had to stand there waiting for the bus as he made his comments."

5. Andrea Trenary wasn't only dressed in super casual clothes, she didn't even have make-up on and her hair was "a mess" but she was relentlessly hit on and physically accosted anyway

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"While looking at the seasonal Halloween stuff at Walmart, alone in the aisle, a man walked up to me, who I thought at first worked there and wanted to ask if I needed assistance. He then took my hand, but palm down as if he was going to kiss it, thankfully he didn’t, he then went on to tell me repeatedly how sexy I was, and wanted to know if I had a boyfriend. I said ‘Yes", and he asked if I was sure if I had a boyfriend. I quickly made my departure, but he kept turning up all the places I was in the store. When I told my mother about it (who was shopping with me) she told me I "should have put on a shirt" that day - which further irritated me, since as you can see, I WAS wearing one. I also seem to always get hit on when I am sans makeup and my hair is a mess."

6. Here's what Jannine had to say: "In my religion, we are taught to dress modestly to protect ourselves from men. We are taught that the things we value are the exact things we should keep safe. Which is why a lot of women choose to wear the hijab. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work."

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"I was driving home from work one day and pulled up to a stop light. While jamming out to Taylor Swift, I heard the guy next to me trying to get my attention. “Miss? Miss?!” I assumed he was trying to tell me my brake light was out, as that happens often, so I rolled my window down and politely replied "Yes?" He proceeded to tell me how "fiiiiine" I was and wanted to “see what was under that thing” referring to my hijab. I immediately rolled my window down and burst into tears. My cheeks burned red with anger as I continued to hear him say things like “awww don’t cry mami! I’ll make you feel better!”. As soon as the light turned green, I sped off. The worst part? My husband was driving behind me and when he saw me upset, he asked what had happened. I told him and he was not happy at all."

7. PrincessDabby couldn't even care less about what she was wearing, but that didn't stop a random guy from following her around and insulting her when she refused to acknowledge him

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"I was having a pretty bad day and did not feel like changing out of my pajamas or putting on make up. So I went to class like this plus some sandals. As I was walking on my own college campus a man walked past me and said “Hey Gorgeous I like that shirt” and I just kept walking because I knew it was going to be one of those times. As I kept walking he turned around and walked in my direction. He proceeded to ask where I was going, and If I wanted to go out with him. When I continued to ignore him and then called me a “selfish fat c---” and said that he was just “trying to give a fat girl a compliment and I should feel grateful.”

8. Lea Henderson was catcalled, ogled, and whistled at while pumping gas in the gas station. At 7AM.

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"This morning I stopped to fill up my car with gas. There was a construction truck parked beside me and one from the same company parked behind me. As I walked inside to pay, one man whistled and said “damn right." I’d hoped he was not referring to me and was taking about something else entirely. As I exited the store, one man from the truck walked past me and whistled and said “nice." While pumping my gas and avoiding eye contact at all costs because they made it VERY apparent they were sitting in their truck staring at me while waiting for their coworker to return, I was subjected to more whistles and a few muttered comments that I couldn’t make out. This. really. at 7 am."

9. Being catcalled and harassed has become part of a daily occurence for Ruby Ayon in her college campus

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"Pants, tank and a cardigan on top. I am a senior in college and have experienced cat calling for way too long and too often. Usually by many college students that walk the same campus as me. Things like, “Daaaaaamn”, or “hey mamacita” have sadly, become my reality."

10. Katie Bithos' story properly illustrates that some men really have no idea what the difference between a "compliment" and "harassment" is, to the point that they will laugh in the face of a woman's discomfort

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"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."

11. As Emily Hoppe puts it, "I was literally wearing the most unflattering thing I could imagine"

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"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."

12. Harassment and catcalls happen even when you're dressed like you just "walked out of Arkham Asylum" and about to go on a killing "spree"

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"It was Halloween and we dressed up at the office (I was my own version of Harley Quinn from Batman). I had to go out to do some runs to the bank and post office downtown. It was a nice day so I walked. Two men walked by me, one whistled and the other smiled and said “Damn, I can imagine what you would do, lookng hot..." Let’s be honest people, I looked like I walked out of Arkham Asylum and I’m about to go on a spree."

13. Mari Glover had to call the police when her harasser wouldn't stop following and propositioning her as she was walking down the street, saying "You can’t wear a skirt like that without asking for attention"

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"I was walking down the street and a man in a dark car pulled up, rolled down his window and just stared at me. I just ignored him, but finally told him to leave me alone. He flipped me off and sped off. He must’ve circled around the block, because there he was again, pulling up next to me and told me he thought I was hot and ordered me to get in his car. I told him to fuck off and he replied, "B----, I have a nice car. I can give you nice things. You can’t wear a skirt like that without asking for attention. You’re an ungrateful c---." I was legitimately scarred for my life. I told him one more second of him harassing me and I’d call the police… And I did."

While the above-mentioned Tumblr posts are mostly from women in the US, harassment and catcalling happens to women from all corners of the world, including Malaysia. Read what some women have experienced in the streets of Malaysia HERE:

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