Let’s talk whistles and cat calls

Yes, this is more a female issue, but guys, I’d like your opinion, too.

Why are they called cat calls any way?

I’m betting there’s not a female runner out there who hasn’t been whistled at, stared at, or otherwise given uninvited attention at some point while out on a run. And from what I hear around the blogosphere, this is often not welcome attention. Some find it offensive. Or harassing. Just curious–what is your reaction when this happens?

To me, it’s not that big of a deal. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that at 46, if I get a whistle while out there, it kind of makes me chuckle. If they were only a bit closer and could see my well earned wrinkles and know that I’m probably old enough to be their mom, they might change their tune. I’ve never been in a situation where I found it threatening, frightening, or even just offensive. Does it make me want to go over and meet the guys behind it? Of course not. But I’m never angry when it happens. Heck, when it stops, my self esteem might even take a hit. ; )

I truly don’t think this unsolicited attention is ever meant to frighten women or to demean them. (And I consider myself a bit of a feminist). Frankly, I think in most cases it’s guys who are bored and looking for a little diversion. If they get a rise out of their target, or at the other end of the spectrum, a smile, then mission accomplished and back to work. Harmless, I think.

I just asked Mr. Zippy his opinion, however, and he thinks it’s actually a really rude gesture by males. He thinks it is demeaning to women and that men mean nothing good by it. Hmm. Since he’s male, maybe he knows better than I do. Maybe I am naive.

Enlighten me–how do you feel when you get this uninvited attention? How do you handle it? Guys–from your standpoint, what are we to make of cat calls and whistles? 


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  1. says

    I’m fairly new to running and as a ‘guy’ I can honestly say I have never been tempted to whistle at a female runner as I find it rude. I have to say, I’ve been heckled many times over the past few weeks, generally by groups of kids, and even I sometimes feel vulnerable. I don’t understand why people do it; I can only put it down to their boredom with life.

  2. says

    From a guy perspective, I’ve been with some girls that have gotten cat-calls, and I thought it was really rude and totally disrespectful. To me it’s one of the most spineless things you can do. If you are going to cat call, at least stick around for the aftermath and let the person respond to you and deal with the consequences. When a passing car did it, I wished there was a red light up ahead so we could tell the driver how much of an idiot they are. I don’t know, I’m a non-violent person, but I get really worked up about cat calls and guys who do it should pay the consequences.
    Nelly recently posted..Running and concertsMy Profile

  3. says

    It makes me so MAD…when I run past workers and they DON’T whistle, I run round the block and go past again in hope of a better result! 😀
    I am 35 and a married mother of 3 and it has been around a zillion years since I was last chatted up so I’ll take my little ego boost wherever I can get it 😉
    Actually, I am from Scotland then moved to Australia for 3 years before moving to Texas and I have to say men here are very respectful and NEVER heckle me or my friends when we’re out running. In Australia I would say 90% of men would whistle or shout something (or that’s how it felt – it did get pretty old pretty quick!) and in Scotland around 20% so the Americans have it for manners which is not helping my ego one bit, maybe I need a holiday in Oz?!
    Ok, I’m going to be a bit controversial now, ladies who run and wear skirts and knee high socks…….asking for attention?! ;-o hmmmmm, maybe I should get some…..

  4. says

    It depends on what it is. Whistling doesn’t bother me at all. However, there have been some situations where things were said that were just plain rude and disgusting. The worst was when I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. It happened a few times when I was running around the base I was stationed at – I don’t think it was male soldiers (I think it was male contractors). I honestly have never felt so violated in my life. Being a female in Iraq is tough enough for so many reasons and I felt that they were ruining one of the few things that I looked forward to each day.
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  5. says

    In my view it is really bad manners and rude to do that at any woman. I also believe the type of men that do it are not the type women would want to know better or get close to.

  6. says

    I agree with your husband and I agree with you too. On his side, I think men who have been taught properly by their mothers would never do this. I ask myself if I would drive past a construction site and whistle at men with no shirts. Probably not unless there were margaritas involved. But, I’m like you, doesn’t really bother me. Makes me laugh.
    Coy recently posted..I’m back. What about my back?My Profile

  7. says

    i get honked at a lot, given that i run along a main road. it infuriates me beyond belief. not only does it take me out of the zone and make me jump, but i do find it to be demeaning/demoralizing and offensive and extremely rude thing to do to runners, especially women. would these people still honk crazily loud if they saw their daughter or wife or grandmother running along the road? doubt it. i really wish it didn’t bother me this much or that i could do something about it when it happens. sometimes i think about writing down license plates! just because they might be bored while driving does not give credence to disrespect.

  8. says

    It’s rude. It always scares me (like when someone comes up behind me when I’m working and I don’t hear them kind of scares me). But my husband and I decided it’s harmless in that anyone who’s going to want to do harm is probably not going to announce it to the world :) What is weirder and even creepier is the phenomenon of men taking photos of women running posting them to pervy websites where other sleaze balls gawk at them. I get TONS of search engine hits with searches like “pics. of sexy joggers running with no bra on” because of this post: http://www.saltyrunning.com/2012/02/22/sexy-joggers/ There are some gross disrespectful men out there! Fortunately (?) most of them aren’t a threat and are just kinda pathetic.
    Salty recently posted..Heavy Topic: What is Your Ideal Race Weight?My Profile

  9. says

    I’ve not had that happen to me, but like you becoming 50 in August . It would just make me laugh and say to my self if they only new how old I was. At that age I would probably take it as a compliment. If I was in my 20’s or 30’s I would take it as rude probably.

  10. Renee @feministrunner says

    It’s not a compliment.Catcalls, comments, whistles, and all other forms of street harassment make women of all ages (psychologically and physically) afraid to leave their homes, discouraged about being out in public, and question their ownership of their bodies and experiences.

    Catcalls aren’t just rude, they are oppressive. They further embed a dynamic wherein men control women’s experiences. Men don’t catcall because they actually find you attractive (and to believe they do is to believe a lie that men tell us over and over again) — they do it because it’s a way to wield their power over you.


  11. says

    I guess it depends on the context. For the most part I just sort of roll my eyes and wonder what the guy is thinking. But if it is a whistle followed or preceded by a really creepy look, it creeps me out.

    On my route to pick up my friend when we go running, I have to go by the patio of a dive bar that is attached to a strip club (hey, I live in Montreal – most people have a neighbourhood strip club…). The WORST is to run by between about 4 and 7 on a hot day. It is so uncomfortable and so creepy to watch 5 dirty old men follow you with their gazes.
    Kristen recently posted..running in the heat – always humblingMy Profile

  12. says

    If someone whistles or calls out while they are driving, I find it annoying and will definitely roll my eyes. However, I’ve had more than a handful of guys be super aggressive about treating me like a piece of meat, and that is one of the worst feelings. Mostly, it will happen if I’m stopped at a light and people have more than a fleeting second to say something rude and gross. Also, if I’m running during morning traffic, a lot of people biking to work have been extremely over the top lately. One man on his bike nearly ran into me, causing me to step backward into a wall where I was cornered. He did it just to scare me, and when he saw that he had, he laughed, called me a stupid woman, and went on his way. After enough terrifying experiences, I’d rather the cat-calling never happen in the first place. I’m not out there running to get attention from anyone.
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  13. says

    I used to flip out and get angry when I’d get whistles or catcalls, but not any more. Generally the whistler just keeps driving and it’s no harm done. But it does annoy me that I get most “attention” if I’m running in a jog bra. I can’t help it – it’s got to be a jog bra some days. It can be over 100 F for some runs in the summer! I feel like I sometimes make outfit choices based on the guys instead of the temps – for example, if it’s 7 am I will go out in a jog bra, but at 3 pm I might wear a shirt even if it’s sweltering heat just to keep the drama down!
    (Or I could just go trail runner and avoid people. That’s a thought).
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  14. says

    I actually think they are making fun of me because I look ridiculous when I run. I do know quite a few people who live in the residential area I run in, and they will give a shout, honk the horn, whistle, or wave, and I love that because I know them (male and female alike). They know I’m out there trying my best and are just wanting to encourage me. I’ve never been afraid or anything of cat calls…the ones who drive slowly by sort of freak me out though!
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  15. says

    This was good timing as my hubs was beside me so I read him the post. It was interesting as for the most part I don’t really think about it. I think we are in the ‘harmless’ camp…I’m an ‘older’ running so a whistle or cat call at me I truly know is just a joke. I know when it happens when I am out with my run buds I am sure we say it is stupid but don’t harp on it.
    I take safety really seriously so if it were in a situation where my hackles got up a bit I would feel different I am sure.
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  16. says

    I find it incredibly rude and offensive. Men who are willing to catcall women or honk at them as they drive by might claim that it’s a compliment but it’s disrespectful and one more way to assert that they can control the emotional context of their encounters with women.
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  17. says

    I can appreciate a fit attractive woman without yelling at her. On the other hand, I have been flipped off and called a fatass more times than I have been honked at or anything else! LOL
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  18. says

    I’ve been whistled at and (more commonly) honked at while running. I really don’t understand the mentality behind it but for the most part I ignore it. The routes that I run in my neighbourhood are very safe and distanced from traffic so I never feel threatened. What I absolutely cannot stand is getting yelled at/harassed by drivers or others on the path I’m running on. Those actions deserve a beating from my foam roller.
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  19. says

    I hate getting honked at… and that’s just because it always makes me jump because I’m not expecting it, and then I look like an idiot trying to find my footing again. But, a lot of times it isn’t a “sexual” kind of honk – it’s kids being stupid, someone trying to be encouraging, etc., so I guess you have to take it with a grain of salt.

  20. says

    I get a good laugh out of it more often than not… but I hate when cars beep and scare the life out of me! I haven’t had whistles/catcalls lately, but rather, heckling from kids/teenagers “aw, you better run faster!” and “oh nice jogging” which is more annoying than anything else.
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  21. says

    I think it depends on the situation. When I am running with my team in the rain and working hard, but still lagging behind, and some buttonhole comes up in his vehicle, honks and says move those butts faster ladies (edited for audience ha). I just get annoyed. On a regular run, I just laugh.

    However, when I am alone, I think its creepy and weird.

    I have had a lot of people say way to go or good job or you are looking great, and those are appreciated comments!
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  22. says

    Good conversations.
    I’m pretty indifferent to it; I just ignore it and keep running. But I’ve also never been in a situation where it has felt threatening.
    I’d rather be whistled or honked at then yelled at negatively like my husband sometimes gets. That, I don’t understand!
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  23. says

    I’m pretty suspicious by nature, so treat them all as potential threats. Though I feel like the ones who yell out are probably the more harmless. It’s the quiet, brooding, calculating ones I’d be more cautious of.

    I would also bet that the “cat call” behavior is one that is passed down by their fathers and their fathers before, etc.

    With THAT said, I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point w/ today’s and tomorrow’s generations that cat calls only come in the form of a text?????
    Lisa recently posted..GratifyingMy Profile

  24. says

    Maybe the intention is not to be demeaning (although I might argue that one in some cases), but it is nonetheless. This doesn’t happen to me, so maybe I am just jealous. Or old. Or both. I think it would only feel threatening to me if I was alone and in an isolated area.
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  25. says

    There is a lot less of it here than it is in Europe.
    Honestly, I don’t mind, I don’t care. I don’t offend easily and treat occurrences like that with a sense of humor. If the guy is especially out of shape I will yell back that he ought to try running himself one of these days.
    Ewa recently posted..17min 46sec – trust me, time well spentMy Profile

  26. says

    The way I look when I run with my face all red, I’m even surprised if someone whistles :) It doesn’t bother me, at my age it doesn’t happen that much anymore and I’ll just take it as a compliment.
    It bothers me more when other (male) runners pass me and think it’s necessary to say I need to run faster. In that case it’s “mind your own running business please”. Not that I say that, I say nothing and just think it.
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  27. says

    i have to say i get a bit annoyed by it. i don’t really understand why they do it! the worst offenders are the ones that just stare and watch you as you run by but make no comment. creepy.
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  28. says

    It doesn’t happen much in my neck of the woods, but when it does, I have to say it makes me smile. There have been times that it has creeped me out, but if I’m running and I get a holla, it’s not a big deal.
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  29. says

    Meh doesn’t really bother me, I kinda think it’s funny. But I draw the line when the driver revs the engine and tries to intimated one with thier car. Now THAT is serious and really pisses me off. Doesnt often happen but when it does I go ape shit. I’ll take a whistle any day.
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  30. says

    I doesn’t bother me when that happens. If anything, it may throw me off my stride a little. I often think: what would happen if those boys were stopped at a read light when I caught up to them and started flirting (I never would), it would be funny to see their reaction.
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  31. says

    Creepy, a bit. Threatening, nah. I’ve been approached … even hit on once or twice. I’m very particular about running in visible, populated places when I am alone. I always bring friends when running secluded places. Truth be told, we get more attention as a group from other groups of men. I suppose macho intensifies in herds.
    It really ticks off my husband, though. He finds it absolutely unacceptable.
    On the other hand, I’ve for a friend who has to restrain herself not to smack guys in the tush during races. She’s never done it and I tell her she better not – she’ll find herself taken down by his girlfriend!!
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  32. says

    I don’t really care and just ignore it. Really, the only time I ever get it is when running on a particular road and people driving by. Those who honk and yell things just startle me more than anything when I’m in a zone and I don’t really see the point in them taking the time or effort to do it!
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  33. says

    I agree with Mr Z on this in that it is offensive to the women but also degrades the male species. I mean who thinks that the whistle would work? This isn’t 1928 anymore and whistling is not a good idea. Text them instead……I am serious though I think the cat calls are offensive.

    Now when the women do it to me I smile and say Thank You, my wife will appreciate the fact that her husband still has it.
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  34. says

    I think I’m pretty hard to offend, in general, but this doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t excite me, either, I’m just pretty indifferent to it. I don’t really care if it’s intended to be demeaning. *shrug*

    Kind of my philosophy is, I can’t control what other people are going to do, but I can control how I choose to respond and react. And I choose to not care, I guess. 😀 There are just so many other things to worry/stress/be angry about, that some random guy I’ll probably never, ever see yelling something in passing, it’s just not worth my time or brain.
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  35. says

    I live in a small town where I know just about everybody, so when I get “honked” at it is always someone I know waving and saying hi, which makes me smile. This time of year we get a ton of tourist traffic on their way to Jackson or Yellowstone, so sometimes I will get a more rude honk or whistle, but I am from NY so I am pretty good at just ignoring rude people. It doesn’t really bother me though – more just makes me roll my eyes internally. :)
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  36. Jo says

    I agree with you, I don’t find it offensive or have I ever been in a situation where I felt threatened. I live in a very small town now so it’s mostly people staring, but previously I lived in a city of 80k people and happened more often there.

    It’s all a mindset, I think. If you take it as a compliment to your hard work and training, it’s not a bad thing!
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  37. says

    Eh, it doesn’t really bother me. But I also don’t run in an area that gets a lot of traffic or other people hanging around with time to cat call.
    When I am out riding on the other hand I hate being honked at or yelled at. You never know what their intentions are and more times than not they are angry you are on the road. It is scary not knowing if they are just gonna yell or honk and not try to run you off the road. They could be yelling to tell you you have nice legs or they could be yelling to tell you to get the heck of the road. Whatever, it’s scary.
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  38. says

    I remember when I was 12 years old and my mom and I were crossing the street to go to one of my basketball games. As we crossed some guy whistled at my mom. Even at that age I found it out of line and disrespectful. (I can’t recall my mom’s reaction) I coach many runners, more women than men, and to this day I find it just as disrepectful. However, I don’t know how my runners feel about it. I may take a poll at tonights workout and see what they have to say! :-)

  39. says

    Look at you with the controversy. 😉

    I sometimes feel threatened by these cat calls if I’m in an unsavory area (like getting gas or whatever). I’m going to side with your hubs on this one. Although, it’s always nice to be complimented.
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  40. says

    It doesn’t bother me but I’ve never felt threatened. I’m sure it would be different. And at my age, I usually laugh inside thinking if they only got an upclose look at me they’d think differently.

  41. says

    i have to say that I don’t like it…but then that kind of makes me laugh because what the hell am I doing all this work to shape and love my body for if I don’t want anyone to notice?!

    I think it does make me worry and that’s why I don’t like it, but the guy who takes the time to call out is probably not the one i need to worry about
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  42. JW says

    Mr. Z and I agree on this issue. Getting cat called, whistled at, and honked at makes me feel angry that some men think my body is an object that they can critique. I don’t really see it as a compliment at all. I feel powerless, exposed, vulnerable, and sometimes unsafe when men catcall me. I feel frustrated and sad that we live in a society that lets men feel they have the right to comment on my body.

    I found that the best way to combat cat calls is a preemptive “hello.” Simply saying “hello” or “good morning” humanizes our brief interaction and makes the other person less likely to cat call.

  43. says

    My first ever 8 miler happened because a cat-calling guy was coming after me and I did not dare do the out and back I’d planned. So yes, I take it very seriously because I just never know if it’s harmless. Honestly I get more whistles when I wear skirts so I think twice about where/when/with whom I’m running before wearing them. Needless to say, I do not appreciate the attention. At. All.
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  44. says

    As a male, I think it is an incredibly disrespectful thing to do.
    As a male, I’ve never been cat-called or whistled at.
    As a male, I’ll admit that I’d probably smile if I was whistled at (by girls, not guys).
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  45. says

    I can’t say getting whistled at really bothers me, however, I hate getting honked at. It usually surprises me, makes me jump, then I wonder do I know that person, or are they just being rude and honking to scare me? Takes me out of my zen running place. :)
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  46. says

    The whistle or “cat call” is totally unacceptable. It’s a flat out jerk move. I’m ashamed for guys that have to resort to these tactics. Starring is also bad, but I’m not gonna lie, I have been caught “looking at the sun” for far too long. It’s tough, If an attractive woman is out there, we don’t mean to stare, but we do. It really is a conscious effort that needs to be made by the males and bottom line, it’s rude and you shouldn’t be subjected to it when you are out there, just like us, trying to get your run on.

    BUT and I’m gonna throw this out there… if there was a hot dude running with no shirt on and abs up to his neck, the ladies might do a little staring too… don’t lie, I’ve seen you do it.
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  47. says

    I hate it when people shout or whistle at me. I just don’t get it. My husband tells me to feel flattered about it but I don’t. I’ve had guys drive by me really slowly and gawk, stop at the stop sign and wait for me to get to said stop sign and then drive past me several times. So when I get shouted, whistled at, etc, I start to feel quite paranoid.
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  48. says

    I think there are flattering things to say, like one runner yelling to another “lookin’ good!” with a thumbs-up. That get’s an A+ in my book.

    And then there are the rude/lewd ones, like the construction worker or office-guy-on-his-lunch-break shouting sexually-suggestive comments (with or without hand gestures). Those are not OK.

    Whistling, I suppose, falls somewhere in the middle?

    Being that this is Florida, and neighbors yell things to each other all the time, I’ve definitely heard the full range of commentary. The older guy around the corner who shouts “pick up the pace!” with a twinkle in his eye = awesome. The dog-walker who makes kissy noises at me (not at his pooch) = disturbing and gross. To me, it all depends on the context and intent.
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  49. says

    I feel much the same way as you do! I usually just give them a smile and a wave. Since they’re generally expecting to be ignored or yelled at, they usually don’t know what to do when I do this! I could spend my life getting all hot and bothered by it, or just go with the flow…as long as it stays at whistles and doesn’t overstep the mark or become lewd, I’m fine with it.
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  50. says

    It’s fairly rare (I’m sure because I do most of my running early or on trails, right? :D), and it generally doesn’t bother me when it happens. I HATE being honked at; it never fails to startle me. And, somewhat different subject, I’ve had more and more people recognize me from my blog, which is both cool and a little weird, especially when it’s not a known reader.
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  51. Denise P. says

    I get honks more than anything and I just have an immediate reaction to get pissed. I am out there working hard, staying healthy, doing something I love and it is just annoying to get that attention. I guess I should just try and relax and remember I am out there for all those reasons above and above all I am out there for me and no one else should matter.

    But seriously what does a guy think he is going to gain by doing this – a woman will flag him down and say oh yes you are the man of my dreams, pull over and take me now? haha

  52. says

    I definitely get irritated by it. I’m just out trying to have a peaceful run and the last thing I want is some creepy man whistling at me. I am not out there for his pleasure, I’m out there for mine. I just think it’s gross. I think men do it because they find you attractive and they think you’ll actually be flattered by the attention, which I’m not. I bet some of those creepy dudes would be happy to know their whistles are appreciated by you. :) HAHA! You crack me up.

  53. says

    I have people honk at me while i am running and it always scares me so I jump mid stride. I hate that. It just makes me feel vulnerable because they scared me by honking – I guess I am just not expecting it cause it is so random. I have been whistled at and it is weird but what can I do.
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  54. says

    What a funny topic! Have to say, there aren’t many people awake and outside when I’m out running – usually just other runners, most of whom know me (and wouldn’t ever catcall or whistle). But I will say, every time I’m running, lost in my head and music, and someone honks a car horn, I about wet my britches.
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  55. says

    I hate being ogled because that makes me feel uncomfortable. Our neighborhood has a lot of construction going on so I am ogled during several segments of my run generally. I don’t feel threatened by it, but I don’t like it. When people actually say something, whistle, honk their horns, etc, it usually just makes me laugh or it totally startles me because I’m not expecting it. I had one guy roll down his window as he passed me running with the stroller and said “you are one beautiful, mama!” It didn’t bother me, just made me laugh.
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  56. says

    For a guy it can be a difficult area. There is a certain amount of looking you have to do to keep from running into someone. Outright staring or ogling is wrong and creepy. So where is the line? Is it different depending on what the person is wearing, such as a bathing suit, run or bike gear, or regular street clothing? I’ll generally take a few seconds to enjoy the view, but i’m not going to go out of my way to see or be able to see.

    The whistles, cat calls, comments ect to a stranger are just wrong. Honking the horn implies getting someones attention for an urgent situation. Even a compliment to a friend or fitness buddy has to be carefully done. Everybody likes to hear they look great but circumstances are everything. It doesn’t take much to turn a well intentioned compliment into a creepy situation when you’re wearing form fitting workout clothing.

    I’d like to think that most guys mean well, and don’t for a second intend to make women feel threatened. Most guys. Some of us, unfortunately, are jerks or creeks who have all sorts of offensive attitudes about what they can say or do about or to women. I certainly can’t blame women for playing it safe, and strongly encourage them to take precautions.
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  57. says

    i don’t like it myself, but i’m very strong in my belief that “i am not an object” so i don’t like it when guys treat me like one. while it is nice to be (essentially) told you look good, they could do it in a less-condescending way.

    however, i do kind of like your naive approach to it. why must we assume every gesture is automatically a bad one? as long as no harm comes from it — ie the guys don’t get more aggressive and try to attack/rape a runner going by.
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