Understand our fear

Women are scared and often tempted to get pepper spray after being cat called.

Ashley Quinones (Created With Canva)

Women are scared and often tempted to get pepper spray after being cat called.

The world we have been living in isn’t safe–  it never has been, but it just seems to be getting worse. Living as a woman means viewing men as a threat, someone that we need to be wary of, need to be extra cautious around. We understand that it isn’t every man, but we still need to treat them like it is until we decide we are safe.

Growing up: 

Comparing how males and females have been taught when they grew up, we can see a significant difference in the limitations and strictness that parents show. They show their strictness in different ways, from being told your body is all that matters to men to not being allowed to hang out with friends. 

Senior Arlene Rufino said, “Growing up you’re always constantly told ‘This guy isn’t going to love you,’ ‘This is the only thing he wants,’ or ‘Men only want this, that guy is going to want that.’”

Freshman Michelle Perez said, “My mom used to do this thing where she would tell me to recognize what that person is wearing and their license plate because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Freshman Yojana Hernandez said, “They would mostly tell me to be aware of yourself and not let yourself be touched. Around several people I have to stop wearing different types of clothes, revealing clothes or tight clothes because I just don’t feel comfortable around them. Also when I am in public I have to be sitting like this *knee on top of the other* cause usually around comfortable people I sit like this *legs open* because it feels comfortable but in public, I can’t. I have to have it like this *knee on top of the other* because I am scared that a guy will come talk to me, which has happened.”

From a young age, I remember asking my mother if I could go to another female’s house and she would always tell me, “Tienen hermanos, tios, padres… nunca sabes.” (They have brothers, uncles, dads… you never know.)

I have two sisters and I see the difference in freedom between my brother and my sisters and me. My brother has more freedom in who he hangs out with and how long he can stay out, meanwhile, I get reprimanded for just having one male friend because, as my mother would say, “Una niña y un niño no pueden ser solo amigos.” (A girl and a guy can’t be just friends.)

Females who have been catcalled versus people who haven’t: 

Thankfully, not every female has been catcalled. Catcalling means “make a whistle, shout, or comment of a sexual nature to a woman passing by.” The girls who haven’t been catcalled don’t take as much precaution as girls who have been catcalled do. 

“I kind of really don’t care what they think about me. It’s like if I like what I’m doing ima keep doing it,” said freshman Victoria Higareda. “I can’t walk alone because I am paranoid. I watch a lot of scary movies and I feel like someone will come after me (It doesn’t matter if) if it’s a girl or a monster. (I) don’t know but not the opposite sex exactly.”

On the contrary, Perez said, “Whenever my dad is not with us, it’s just me and my mom and my little sister. So I get really scared because I’m just walking in the store with my mom and I don’t know, I get fear of what’s going to happen.”


Almost every girl who has been catcalled and terrified about it still remembers one experience. It can be while they were doing a simple activity like walking home from school or even being at the store or even being with friends. 

“I remember last year for my birthday my friends and I went to Irvine Spectrum. I was wearing a skirt with tights and everything. I was walking with my friend and my other guy friend and we were going to Target and there is this dude looking at me really weird and was gonna approach us. My guy friend noticed it really quickly and he gave me a look that said, ‘Are you going to be okay?’ And he held my hand and we acted like a couple. He kept an eye on him to make sure we were good but it kind of sucks that I just remember I was like “Ew/ugh,” and I felt so uncomfortable. I kept trying to lower my skirt or have my sweater cover it,” said an anonymous sophomore.

“Uhh when I was at a store (forgot which one) and this older guy was trying to get my attention by like calling me beautiful or something like that and I tried walking away but he followed me a bit until I turned a corner, ran and hid then saw him pass and then I left back to my mom and sister, ” said senior Daniela Arredondo.

Senior Ashley Navarro said, “When I was in 8th grade I was walking home from school and there was a guy, an older male in a pickup truck and he was riding right next to me. I was walking home and the guy approaches me in the pickup truck and he’s like ‘Hey do you know where this location is, I need help finding it.’ From what I was taught, I was taught not to go up to strangers and not to talk to them. So I quickly replied no and kept walking. After that, he kept rolling in his car and kept following me and said, ‘Are you sure you don’t know where this place is, I really need help I’m new here,’ and I told him no, you can ask someone else. He keeps going, saying he will pay me 20 bucks if I get closer to his truck and help him find the place and at this point, I started walking super, super quick and he kept following, and I started running but not making it obvious and he kept following me. Eventually, I went far enough that he stopped following me, and I called my parents and they told me to stay on the line with them until I got home. I remember being in 8th I was scared to be walking alone. I didn’t feel safe.”

“My mom told me to go to a woman who has children because she will understand what is going on,” said Perez.

Rufino said, “Walking down the street, even taking out the trash I have been catcalled, and even when I am working. When a certain person will come in or if there is a big group of guys, like high schoolers, I always tend to send my male coworkers to help them out or talk to them because there have been experiences when they ask for my number or they make certain comments that they aren’t supposed to make.” 

So normally this reporter wears baggy clothes or is fully covered. I was taught to always cover up and never show any skin. On February 14, I decided I wanted to try to wear a shirt that I normally don’t wear. It was above my belly button but I had a sweater to feel comfortable. As I walked back to class, I made eye contact with a college student and I saw his eye roam my body then he wiggled his eyebrows and stared at me. I felt uncomfortable, annoyed, upset, and disgusted. The reason I even looked up is that I have been constantly told to be aware of my surroundings.  

“A person came up to me and my friends. They were following us– like the guy was literally following us with their bike while we were walking,” said Freshman Yoselin Chavez.

Because of this incident, the student and her friends felt like they had to bring pepper spray to school just so they could feel safe and protected. 

Pepper spray as personal protection: 

Pepper spray is a safety tool that many women prefer to use though it is not allowed in school. In California, it is legal to carry pepper spray if you are 16+ years. 

To purchase a pepper spray, you need to be 18 years or older and the container can only hold 2.5 ounces. If you are younger than 18, you need permission from your legal guardians before you are able to have pepper spray. 

Pepper spray counts as a weapon. The Board of Education states, “To prevent potential misuse that may harm students or staff, students are prohibited from carrying tear gas or tear gas weapons such as pepper spray on campus or at school activities.”

Last semester, three female freshmen, whose names are being withheld to protect them, were seen carrying pepper spray and were taken to the office. Teachers have to report situations like that as part of their job to keep students safe. 

These freshmen experienced multiple incidents of being followed or harassed by men on campus.

The first said, “We wanted to make sure we are safe.”

A few students like to carry pepper spray with them because they walk home or they take the bus and anything can happen.

The second freshman said, “I was walking home from doing community service hours and it was like 5 in the afternoon and this car pulls up next to me and the man looks like he is about to get down from the vehicle. He was on the passenger side and he had someone else driving and he asked me in Spanish, “Oye mi amor, ocupas algo”(Hey my love, do you need anything?) and like he opened his door and was about to get off but he saw there was a car behind him so he drove off. That’s why I brought the pepper spray.”

These freshmen were seen with pepper spray and were reported to our principal. The girls said they wished they would have gotten a better reaction. Two of the freshmen both had a discussion with Mr. Voight and they recalled how the conversation went and how they perceived it.

“The principal blamed me for it. He was like ‘Why were you there? Where were you headed? Why didn’t you take a different direction? Why didn’t you stick with your group?’ I was heading to lunch, what way do you want me to go? He asked why I didn’t file a report, because then what? You guys are gonna tell me I’m overdramatic. After he questioned me about all the blaming stuff he was like ‘Oh never mind it’s okay I want you to be dramatic.’ I felt I was the one to blame that the guy was following me because I wasn’t going where he wanted me to be. It was like hey he was following you because you weren’t in the right spot but I was,” she said.

After this situation happened, this same female freshman opened up a little more about why she thought it was definitely necessary to bring pepper spray. 

“Women aren’t considered on campus. We are not protected. A few other girls also told me they don’t feel comfortable because Mr. Voight isn’t putting…like we are not protected. They specifically told me women are not considered. Like we are women. We asked Voight what other way we can protect ourselves. He said martial arts. We don’t have the money for that,” she said.

The other freshman said, “If they are gonna pay for it, then sure I will take the class but my parents aren’t going to take me. They don’t have the time or the money. He (Mr. Voight) will never understand. He is a grown adult. Most of the men that hit on us are adults. The lanyard is a target, it tells them that we are teenagers.”  

Mr. Voight was given an opportunity to comment on the students’ recollections of the situation.  He was very clear that he did not remember the conversation in the same way.

“I am deeply disappointed at the way our students understood our conversation.  It is absolutely not our students’ fault when people speak inappropriately to them.  What we want to do as a school is to make sure our students feel as safe and protected as possible.  Some of the ways we do that is by making sure you stay in areas where there is adult coverage to support you.  Another way is by making sure no one brings objects that could become dangerous (like pepper spray),” he said.

The feelings that females get when they get catcalled are feelings of disgust with the person and feeling uncomfortable in their own skin. They don’t feel good and not having the right support makes them feel worse.

“They made me file a report to the police and the police told me, ‘I have daughters. I know how this is. It’s like a box of cookies, you shouldn’t want it.” He compared me to a box of cookies after saying he feels sympathy because of his daughter. That’s another thing that makes me feel like there is not really safety because the people in charge who are supposed to keep us safe are males and they won’t understand,” said one of the female freshmen. 

This police officer that was supposed to be helping a freshman girl had decided that it would be okay to say that adults will want her so they stare but they can’t touch her.

The first freshman went on explaining, “It’s like saying you can see them but you can’t touch them. That’s the thing they want evidence, they don’t trust our words.”

The freshman who spoke of the conversation with the police officer said, “It’s an adult man against our word.”

Voight has suggested students should take self-defense classes but as the students shared their thoughts about it, it isn’t easy to take those classes. 

Teacher Kathleen Peterson said, “Unfortunately I think we do need some sort of self-defense class.”

Because Voight does care about all his students he is trying to figure out a way to provide a way for students to learn how to defend themselves but pepper spray overall will “Do more harm than good.”

“When people tolerate bad behavior it escalates. They think it’s okay. That’s what we want to impart on our students, ” Voight said to all Middle College students. 

Need to understand:

It is not what women wear or where they are. It is not women’s fault. Most of the time, males don’t understand how it feels. Males can be catcalled too, they can be uncomfortable, bothered, and get unwanted attention as well but not all of them understand the automatic fear or “icky” feeling. 

Can a male understand the fear a female gets when a man is walking behind her? Does he understand how her heart speeds up and her mind starts to think of all escape routes or how cautious she needs to be? 

Of course, I am not saying men cannot be catcalled. They absolutely can be and it’s an uncomfortable situation to be in but even if they know that feeling, they don’t fully understand the rush of fear most women experience. 

Men don’t necessarily get as scared as women do when they are cat-called by the opposite sex. Peterson emphasizes that men do not understand how it is to be a woman. It’s scary how any male can overpower us. Genetically, men are stronger than most women. Men are taught to sexualize women and are told that it’s okay for them to catcall them because, “boys will be boys.” 

But they shouldn’t be that way. 

Boys need to understand that catcalling women is not a way to positively get a girl’s attention. Instead of blaming girls by asking them to change what they wear and where they are, we need to teach men to be respectful. 

“Some of my friends are self-conscious about what they wear, I just tell them that as long as they are comfortable with what they are wearing they shouldn’t be caring what people think. Talk to someone to get reassurance that you will be okay. It’s not every male,” said Higareda.

Thankfully, not all men are disrespectful towards women. Women are so appreciative of these men, knowing how to show respect, how to be thoughtful and considerate makes them look good. There is still a big portion of men who need to learn though and no one should allow anything to happen just because “boys will be boys.”

“Let’s not teach our daughters to cover up in their clothing. Let’s teach our men to not react inappropriately,” said Peterson. “It’s not what we are wearing that brings you to us. You’re already there and that’s all on the man and the catcalling is not okay. I didn’t ask your opinion about me. It’s not something that makes me feel either good about myself or safe. “

Hopefully, we as a school can try to see what we can do and come up with suggestions for Voight to take into consideration. 

That way we feel safe and feel like we women are being taken into consideration.

As the reporter was doing research, I found this website where women give a few suggestions to guys so they don’t accidentally scare a girl by walking behind them.

The anonymous sophomore said, “it’s really nice when your male friends notice you feel uncomfortable and they have a feeling of why you feel uncomfortable and they try to make sure you feel okay. “