France’s secretary for gender equality Marlene Schiappa, 34, the youngest member of the President’s Cabinet says that one of her first orders of business is to make street harassment of women, a crime. Growing up in Paris, she herself has been at the receiving end of such abuses.
Buenos Aires is the latest to criminalize catcalling and this law is already in force in England, Belgium and Portugal to mention a few.
A video of a woman being repeatedly catcalled, as she silently walked through New York City, went viral in 2014. There’s been a debate ever since to outlaw catcalling in the US. More recently, a research by Laura Beth Nielsen of License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy and Offensive Public Speech’s fame shows that 62% of women, in her study, reported harassment in the streets almost every day.
While the opponents to criminalizing catcalling say it would punish a few individuals, it is actually a systemic problem that needs to be addressed and that it would also criminalize free speech. The ones in favour, though, say that it is already banned in American schools and workplaces and so should be banned on the streets too.
In an interview, Schiappa supported the idea that violators should be charged spot-fine worth thousands of dollars but wasn’t sure how such a law be enforced. The victims blaming themselves for such abuse, she opines, is a classic example of “rape culture”. She wants the punitive measures to send out a clear message that it is not the fault of women that they are catcalled.
The sociology professor Nielsen argues that “… catcalling is not [women’s] most pressing issue in terms of gender equality.” In her studied opinion, it is rather difficult to abuse, rape, beat up or pay someone less, if they are thought of as a whole person [and not an object].