Open Letter to Our Catcalling Classmates

Is this my fault? What did I do to merit this? Am I actually safe right now? These are the questions that run through our minds when you catcall us. You may not realize this form of sexual harassment is a problem here, on Covenant College’s campus; we didn’t expect it either. But it happens—often—and it’s unacceptable. We, women, are image bearers of Christ, not sex objects.

Some of us avoid walking by certain tables in the Great Hall because we have often been met with exclamations like: “That ass!” One of us has also had the experience of talking to a guy, only to be interrupted to hear him tell a nearby friend (to our face!), “she’s pretty hot, isn’t she?” While walking back on campus at night, we’ve been told we’re “looking good” in a way that is completely inappropriate—you’re dishonoring us and degrading yourselves. These are just a few examples of the ways women have been disrespected on Covenant’s campus. It’s not okay, and we want to start a dialogue about how we should be interacting before God.

One of the most unnerving feelings is seeing you look us up and down, then whistle or yell at us. You may not mean anything by it. You may not intend to act on your implications, but we have no reason to believe you won’t. Anytime we see you, we’re reminded of what you’ve said. You may forget, but we continue to feel uncomfortable and unsafe around you. Your catcalling is embarrassing for us (though it should be embarrassing for you as well), and it makes us feel less human. When you act this way towards us, it isn’t an accurate reflection of who you’re called to be. It’s not playful, it’s sinful.

As an example, Jenna Donet compares her experiences overseas to those here at Covenant: “I grew up in a Muslim country, where women’s sexual natures are generally elevated over every other part of their being. Almost anytime I left the house, men would catcall me, often following me. It grieves me to see that although the overall culture is very different on Lookout Mountain, there are men who seem to believe this behavior is acceptable—maybe even flattering. I want to tell you it’s not; it is dehumanizing.”

One of us grew up in Nicaragua and was accustomed to feeling insecure whenever she stepped out of her neighborhood. Men would catcall her, saying, “Beautiful, come to me.” Although not as frequently, she has had similar experiences here, on a campus that claims to hold Christ preeminent in all things. How are you demonstrating Christ’s love by demeaning us in this way?

We’re writing from a perspective of wanting to grow as children of God in every aspect of our lives. As human beings, we all have inherent dignity. We deserve your respect just as you deserve ours. The human body is the Father’s work of art, and sometimes the best way to appreciate art is to remain silent—it deserves respect. There must be a shift in perspective when contemplating our physical bodies.

There is no doubt that we are aesthetic beings, and we sometimes compliment each other based on appearance. That practice is not in itself wrong, but it is wrong when you push these comments on us inappropriately. This is a good rule of thumb: if you don’t know us, don’t comment on our physical appearance. If you are in doubt, ask us what we would be comfortable with. It’s a simple gesture, but it shows that you care about us and want to honor us.

Happily, most men at Covenant do not participate in catcalling. Thank you. However, just because you aren’t participating doesn’t always mean you’re helping. Passivity is also harmful. You can affirm our humanity in front of others and model the respect we deserve. All of us can intervene and help make this campus safe for us by actively standing up against those who harass us. Idly standing by will not bring about positive change. So please, help be the change. If a man disrespects a woman, tell him to stop. It’s really that simple. Just one step can make a difference.

We hope you hear these words in the right spirit; faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). This article was not easy to write and our hearts are heavy—we too are sinners, works in progress. As the psalmist writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord my strength” (Psalm 19:14). Soli Deo Gloria!