I Got Catcalled By A 12-Year-Old: BUST True Story

by Erika W. Smith


Earlier this week, I was carrying a giant bag of dirty clothes to my local laundromat, dressed in my least-filthy shorts and oversize T-shirt when I heard it:

“HEY, BABY! NICE LEGS!” *Disgusting kissing noises*

I live in Brooklyn and walk everywhere, so this is a sound I hear literally Every. Single. Day. But something about this incident was different: the voice was so much higher than any catcall I’ve ever heard before. Something was off about this particular moment of street harassment.


I turned, and I saw him: several inches shorter than my 5’2” self, so skinny he couldn’t have weighed 100 pounds soaking wet, dressed in an Abercrombie Kids polo shirt and shorts, leaning against the building next to mine.

It was a 12-year-old catcaller.

I’m not completely sure he was 12: he could have been an old-looking 10 or 11 or a young-looking 13. But I would be completely, entirely, 100% surprised if he was old enough to be in high school – unless maybe this was some kind of Benjamin Button or Twilight vampire situation, which I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

Benjamin Button

My typical response to catcallers is either an eyeroll or a middle finger – occasionally a “Fuck off!” or “Go away!” if I’m feeling brave – but I had absolutely no idea what to do in this situation. If I swore at this kid, would his mom come and yell at me? If I shouted at him, would he start to cry?

Out of surprise, I ended up just doing a double-take and staring at him with a confused face as I continued on to the laundromat. Of course, I tweeted about it and texted my friends while my clothes started to spin, and told a few people about it IRL the next day. Some of my friends shared that they had also had the bizarre experience of being catcalled by actual children.

Betty White

The situation is kind of funny, but it’s also a little disturbing. Look at it this way: boys as young as 11 and 12 feel entitled enough to women’s attention that they shout at full-grown women on the streets. I’m in my mid-twenties – there is absolutely no way this kid thought I was anywhere near his age. And even if I was the same age as him, that doesn’t make it okay – it makes it even more NOT okay.

How old are boys when they first learn how to hate women? How old are boys when they first learn that it’s okay — a good thing, a macho thing, a thing to be proud of — to shout at women on the street? Why did they first do it? Who did they learn it from?

Jessica Williams

This spring, Mikki Kendall – the Chicago artist and activist behind the “Stop Telling Women To Smile” series – asked women about their first experiences with street harassment on Twitter. Using the hashtag #firstharassed, women overwhelmingly shared that they had first experienced street harassment as preteens – for some, it began as young as age eight or nine. A survey by Cornell University and Hollaback! backs this up, showing that 85% of women experience street harassment before they turn 17.

We tend think about street harassment as something that happens by anonymous adult men –  an annoying but unavoidable part of our environment. But it’s something that’s taught, something that’s learned. Along with the #firstharassed trending topic, I found two recent Reddit threads asking women, “How old were you when you were first catcalled?” – but I couldn’t find any research or any discussion about how old men were when they first catcalled a woman or a girl.


This is what I want to know: How old are boys when they first start harassing women and girls? How many of them keep doing it? How many of them stop – and if they stop, when and why?

If I see this kid again, I’m going to go full feminist killjoy and lecture him about respecting women and girls. Maybe then, he’ll learn to stop harassing women before he hits puberty – putting him way ahead of his peers.


Photos: Stop Telling Women To Smile, Giphy

Read more on BUST.com:

I Dated A Men’s Rights Activist: BUST True Story

I Had A Diva Cup Stuck Inside Me For A Long Fucking Time: BUST True Story

This Anti-Catcalling Mural Is Beautifully Badass

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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