Could Being A ‘Misogynistic Jerk’ Who Catcalls Be Illegal?

MTV News investigated.

Like a lot of girls, Anna Aldridge has been dealing with what she calls "disgusting" and unwanted sexual attention from men since she was in middle school. "It’s always made me feel sick and angry and horrible and a little scared, but more angry," she says.

After dealing with the catcalling for so long, the Austin, Texas, native decided she had to take action. "Like, I know this is wrong in my gut and I just have to say something about it," Aldridge told MTV News.

That desire to take action led to her petition to make catcalling a ticketable offense in her city.

But whether you live in a big city or the suburbs, chances are, you've seen someone getting catcalled or been a victim of it yourself. Could this be a crime though? MTV News asked Lee Rowland, an attorney for the ACLU.

"The million dollar question is, what does 'harassment' mean?," Rowland said. "There is a huge difference between being harassed as a legal matter -- actually being placed in fear of bodily harm -- and being annoyed by boorish conduct.

"The first amendment [freedom of speech] prohibits government from criminalizing boorishness," she added. "So if these are attempts to actually make it illegal or a finable offense to say ‘hey baby’ in the street or to simply act like a misogynistic jerk, those laws will not be constitutional."

Rowland also said that trying to make catcalling a legal issue could lead to other consequences. "If we gave the government the ability to criminalize people who upset us or annoy us on the street, there is absolutely zero doubt that that power would be used against a volunteer for the humane society or a homeless person asking for charity," she argued.

So while the legal future of her petition remains to be seen, Aldridge said she hopes that, if nothing else, it will add to awareness about the damaging effects of catcalling.

"If people could just know that there are consequences to these actions, then maybe it’ll stop it in the future, she said. "And that’s just what sounds reasonable to me. I don’t know if that’s actually doable or if it’s reasonable, but it’s a place to start."

It's worth noting that Aldridge's petition includes a salient point left out of many conversations around street harassment: the pervasive and harmful irony that women are the victims of street harassment, and yet they're also dumped with the responsibility of dealing with it.

And a note before all ye "Meninists" collectively freak out -- this nationwide study from Stop Street Harassment said that men are overwhelmingly the harassers of women and other men.

"[Catcalling] is not complimentary and claiming that it is, is excusing and reinforcing the behavior," Aldridge's petition reads. "'Boys will be boys' is not a suitable excuse."

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