Dead Men Can’t Catcall

how to, messy thoughts

Emma is the editor & creator (and occasionally writer) for The Messy Heads. She enjoys yellow curry, print media, and singing to herself.

The thing about New York, is people are always outside. Like the song goes, nobody walks in LA. Sure when I was living there I got the occasional yell out of a car window or unwarranted grope at a bar- but it is nothing, nothing like walking the streets of New York. 

People are out on their stoops in clusters or in solitude, especially in the summer. Walk down any street and find at least a couple occupied stoops. It is a weird line between a public and private space, where I can be on the sidewalk but directly in front of their gaze because they are technically on their property. It creates this extra level of entitlement to make a comment on my body, because I have entered into their space.

But it’s not only when I pass by stoops. It’s when I walk to the subway. When I’m walking bright in the morning to get a coffee, or when I’m out at night going to get a drink.

I have been catcalled by men in suits, by construction workers, by boys my age, by a literal 12 year old. I have been catcalled while wearing overalls and vans. I have been catcalled while wearing sweatpants. It doesn’t seem to matter what I wear or how many friends I am walking with. Nothing seems to ward off this awful, daily, verbal violation.

And though it’s happened to me daily since I moved here, I have not stood up for myself once, or replied once. Confront them and get called a bitch. Get asked “why can’t you take a fucking compliment?” Get put in physical danger.

I talked to a friend who has lived in New York for a while and asked with desperation, “what do I say in reply?” She kind of shrugged. “I don’t know, it’s just part of the culture here.”

But that is part of the problem. Saying that it is normal and part of a culture in a metropolitan city makes you passive to the problem and therefore part of the issue. I want to show these men that I will not stand for that, but yet I remain passive. I remain quiet. And it’s because I am afraid.

Because in that moment, “hey, nice tits,” aren’t just three words thrown at me like darts to a dartboard. It is a verbal dehumanization. It tells me that the perpetrator right off the bat doesn’t see me as a human. He sees me as a body, as flesh, as something that he has the right to label and comment on. It’s not a compliment, it’s a blatant disregard for the conscious part of my being. If the perpetrator already has this attitude towards a complete stranger just because of their appearance, there is really no telling what they would be willing to do to you. Dehumanization is one of the key elements of being able to carry out violence.

So what do you do?


If you do want to speak up for yourself, follow this formula. It is taught in self defense classes. Three sentences. Say them with power.

You just_________ . It made me feel_________ . Don’t _________ again. 

You just catcalled me. It made me feel degraded and scared to walk down the street. Don’t catcall again.


It works, but it takes bravery to stand up for yourself in this situation.  And often times when the moment arises you are in a state of panic. A state of confusion and thrown off guard. And maybe you wouldn’t have the power to say this. Or maybe it would put you in a dangerous situation. What else is there to do?

I remembered how my animal ethics teacher used to work for PETA. How when you confront someone who wears a fur coat with a paint bucket of blood, the response is never going to be good. They will see it as an attack between two people instead of a plea for animals lives and ethics. So instead, she thought up a plan. A silent confrontation between the perpetrator and their conscience. This was back in the 80s, when fur coats were on racks in the top level of the department stores. Instead of waiting for the coat to be bought, drenching it in paint or flour, only to have the person buy another one the next week to replace it, she thought of a better idea.

She went printed out fliers that explained how this coat was made. Talked about the animals that were killed, and attached some black and white images of a mink getting anally electrocuted before being skinned. She went to the top floor of the department store, folded them up neatly, and tucked one into every coat pocket. She sat and waited. As people came up to try on the coats, they would pause, pose in the mirror. After altering angles they would stick a hand in a pocket and feel that piece of paper.

She said in one afternoon she watched 40 people try on a coat, get confronted with the truth, and silently re-rack the coat. Nobody bought one.

Imagine how different it would have been if she had yelled those words at them, had said, “DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY ANIMALS DIED FOR THAT COAT!!!” She probably would’ve gotten laughed at and a few fuck you’s followed by the ka-ching of the register.

So why don’t we try the same formula for catcalling.


A silent confrontation with the oppressor and themselves. To stop and question their behavior, and put yourself out of danger.

Instead of a reply, give him a slip of paper with your “number” on it. Fold it up, give it to them, and make sure you have a good escape route and time to get away.

Download a PDF copy, print a few out, cut slits in the number slots for easy tear, and tape them up around your city.





  1. Anonymous says

    oh my god this is incredible thank you so much. gonna hang these everywhere in chicago

  2. Bridget says

    thank you so much. I can’t wait to hand these out to men who cat call me and hang them up in bathrooms at my university for other women to take and use.

  3. Anonymous says

    When I was 13-14 I used to feel so enraged when a man catcalled at me that I would respond by showing my middle finger to him . I quickly stopped doing that because my mom told me it was dangerous and best not to engage. This article has definitely made me rethink my reaction.

  4. I’m a firm believer that you have to set boundaries to protect yourself. This is obviously a statement that has to be contextualized… I live in SouthAmerica (Peru) and there’s no way I could approach some man who could potentially be a non-verbal abuser and act, specially if I EVEN have to pretend i’m interested. We are NOT obligated to teach them respect.
    I think this initiative is too risky to become reality in a place where you know police department is not even going to care about you or your statement.
    I’m glad you explicitly warned every reader in your post and I applaud the fur-coat method exposed but there’s a difference between inform and potentially risk yourself.

    I enjoy reading your blog, really interesting content!

  5. Anonymous says

    I saw a video of Shera Kerinski talking about her own story and another where she talks about catcalling and it was very helpfull like this article so go watch these! Actually the videos are in french so sorry if you don’t understand

  6. xtina says

    I like the sentiment of this post, as well as the majority of your content, but I would also like to point out that on a post meant to empower women, you used the phrase “it takes balls,” which seems slightly counterintuitive to the message that you are sending. I obviously believe that this was unintentional, and that you don’t think that standing up for one’s self is an inherently male trait, but I just feel that another phrase like “it takes guts” would vibe better with your message of women’s empowerment… just food for thought

  7. Anonymous says

    Do not think this is a good idea. I’m fairly certain these men already know it’s wrong, handing them a slip of paper won’t do anything except potentially put you in danger.

  8. Katie says

    To those who think this is a dangerous idea:
    Yes, it is important to choose your fights because while I believe that this method could be fairly effective and safe, it could be potentially dangerous in a few instances (i.e. a dark empty alley, in certain countries/regions, etc). But I think that we have the obligation to make this world a better place for all of us and for future generations. We have the right to feel safe, and when people continue to catcall and we continue to stay silent about it, no one will be able to feel safe and the issue of female degradation will remain stagnant.

  9. Anonymous says

    Please do a “How to survive high school – friends edition” or something!

  10. This post is soooo good, love it a lot!
    Might share this on my blog ( ) soon because it is such an inspiring and sadly relatable post!

  11. Anonymous says

    I am a 14 year old girl and I have grown guy catcalling me walking home from school everyday. They make me uncomfortable and scared and this helped me a lot.

  12. gabriela says

    I was in front of the beauty salon, waiting for my mother to come and pick me up.
    I’m fourteen. I was wearing my school uniform.
    In 5/7 minutes I got catcalled three times.
    All of them were around 30/40.
    I HATE this. hate.hate.hate.hate this

  13. Joanna says

    3 days ago I got off the bus and was on my bike looking for a place to buy myself a sandwhich. I was trying to lock up my bike outside the shop only to find out that I was getting followed by a man in a car. He parked right Infront of me and unbuckled his belt and pulled out his dick!! I was enraged and nervous about this, my best plan was to leave w my stuff immediately and get inside the store. called 911 bc he continued to follow me. Also told an employee & called my brother and mother. The guy left moments after. It really pist me off I would have been lovely to smash his face in hot cement. It sucks how in my own home town I can’t feel safe. Gals take care and don’t run home if something like this happens to you! You don’t wanna give clues about the place you live. Call 911 and look for help meanwhile cops arrive. Go up to a mother or a store employee or a mall security! Please take care! I’m glad and proud of what I did, who knows what worst things could have happened!

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  15. Anonymous says

    Thank you so much.
    Story time: when I was a young teenager I was kinda flattered abd also slightly annoyed the couple first times it occured. Then one time in the bus that creepy guy touched my butt. I just frozed and did nothing. After i got off I cried, disgusted and angry at myself.
    After this episode catcalling just made me really uncomfortable and I tried really hard to ignore it.
    The last time it happened, I’ve been trough shame, confusion and finally ANGER. Good anger 😀 my middle le finger rose up in the air and I shouted go fuck your self. In the middle of the streets. I was happy with myself but then I realised I had been as rude as him. I asked female friends but we came to no answer about how to react properly.

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