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Attention, men: stop with the catcalls

By Mel Robbins
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A video showing a woman getting catcalls, lewd looks and unwanted comments goes viral
  • Mel Robbins: In many states, it's illegal to harass women on the street
  • Unwanted attention can make a woman feel emotionally and physically uncomfortable
  • Robbins: If a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. She is the founder of Inspire52.com, a positive news website and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine," about managing change. Robbins speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named outstanding news talk radio host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- If you are a woman, you've likely experienced the creepy, disrespectful and sometimes scary way some men treat you as you walk down the street -- lewd looks, unwanted comments, compliments about your body, elongated necks craning to see your backside, catcalls, even being followed.

It can be very hard to explain why catcalls and unwanted comments amount to harassment. Thankfully, there's a new video online that drives it home. In it, a woman walks around Manhattan for 10 hours (a hidden video camera is in front of her and she's got microphones in each hand.) She's harassed 108 times as she walks (silently) down the streets of the city. In two instances she's followed; one of the guys walks beside her for over five minutes. It's very eerie.

It's a very sobering and enlightening experience to watch the barrage of harassment happen. And sadly, since so many of you believe that women provoke violence and even rape based on how they dress -- get this, the woman in the video is wearing a plain T-shirt and jeans. There's no cleavage or midriff or bare leg showing -- she's just a gal walking down the street.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

The video is compelling, particularly for women. It is uncomfortable to be harassed like this walking down the street, and yes, harassment is exactly what it is. In fact, in many states, it's also illegal.

For a long time, I didn't see it that way. Maybe it's because I make a living giving keynotes on leadership and at 45 have grown to be a very confident, extroverted person. Every time a man would say "Hey Beautiful" to me, I'd just look him straight in the eyes, shoot a smile and shout back "Yo what's up" -- which works like a charm, de-sexualizes the whole thing, keeps it Midwestern friendly while leaving the guy speechless that I asserted myself.

But my opinion about catcalls changed when I saw it happen to my daughter. She's a beautiful girl, and just 15. A few weeks ago, we were walking in Boston -- she was in jeans, LL Bean boots and a flannel shirt -- yet the majority of guys eyed her head to toe and about half of them turned back to check out her butt. With every look, the momma bear in me started to get really angry. My daughter, on the other hand, just got very quiet. When we crossed the street in front of a work site, she just stared at the ground.

My viewpoint changed that day. She didn't want the attention; she just wanted to walk down the sidewalk and window shop. And, more importantly, she didn't know how to handle it.

That's the crux of it. When you catcall, the attention, the comments, the looks are unwanted and they can make a woman feel emotionally and physically uncomfortable. A woman (or a girl) walking down the street just wants to be left alone. She's not interested in what you think about her body or her face. If she was, she'd ask you.

How should men approach women?

It's hard for guys to understand this, particularly when the sex center of the male brain is 2.5 times larger than the female sex center in the brain. Guys will likely always have sex on the brain more than women do. And sexual desire and power is absolutely at the root of catcalls -- that's why you hoot, holler, leer, jeer at a woman -- and it's also why guys think there's nothing wrong with it. Whether a woman or a girl can handle the attention isn't relevant; guys shouldn't be putting women and girls in a position in which they feel like they are getting eyed like a piece of meat.

How should men approach women?

There's a huge difference between harassing a woman on the street with catcalls and actually trying to have a conversation with her. In case you fellas do want to speak with a woman, her are a few rules:

1. Speak "to" her, not "at" her.

Whistles, shouts, hoots, hollers, kissing and animal sounds may help you hail a cab, but if you do it to a woman you don't know, it's harassment.

2. Start a conversation "with" her, not "about" her.

Talk about the weather, the day, the book she's reading, because then it is a conversation. Do not talk about her hair, her smile, her outfit, her legs, her booty or her appearance, because that's harassment.

3. If she walks away do not follow her.

If she ignores you, drops eye contact or keeps walking -- just leave her alone. If you start following her, you aren't complimenting her, you are stalking her.

At the end of the day, if you want to connect with a woman, all you need to do is smile. There's no need to say anything. That's all it takes. Look her in the eyes and smile. She'll likely smile back. That's it. If she wants to say hello, I'm sure she will. If she doesn't, just let her be.

And speaking of eye contact, look at her eyes, because when you stare at her chest, her butt, her private area or do the top-to-bottom scan, it makes her feel extremely uncomfortable. Women walking on a sidewalk are not walking on a catwalk, and you're not a judge on America's Top Model, so stop acting like one.

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