THE BLOG

Is 'Tat-Calling' Street Harassment or Tattoo Appreciation?

05/08/2015 09:44 BST | Updated 04/08/2016 10:59 BST

"Tat-calling" is a type of cat-calling specifically aimed at women with tattoos, but whether or not it's a form of street harassment is a much debated topic.

Website Everyday Feminism put the phrase firmly on the map when they published the piece "My Tattoos Aren't an Invitation for Harassment - So Please Stop 'Tatcalling' Me".

Author Melissa A. Fabello wrote that if you're a man on the street commenting on a woman's tattoos, you're not just simply complimenting her artwork - you're "actually reminding her that men, on the whole, feel entitled to her space, time, and especially her body."

Despite not even having many visible tattoos, apart from on my lower legs (pictured below) it's something I often encounter in the summer months.

"But what do they mean?" is the most common question I get from men, which is an entirely weird thing to have to explain on a packed commuter train, and is usually followed by the man is question having the immediate and unexplained desire to show me all of his tattoos (including a faded Bart Simpson from '94).

tattoos

I often bemoan this fact to my long-suffering mother (who was completely against all of my tattoos in the first place), only to receive the response that I "got them for attention anyway", so why would it bother me?

But I didn't get tattooed because I like attention, I simply got them because I like tattoos.

As Fabello said, "I have tattoos because they make me feel pretty. And just like anything else, that's not for you. It's for me."

If someone else happens to like them too, that's great - but it doesn't mean I should have to constantly take time out of my day to respond to all the questions and comments thrown at me.

Of course, if someone stops to ask something in a genuinely respectful way (as I'm known to do whenever I spot someone with a bag or a dress I like), I'll take the time to respond.

It's the complete lack of manners and invasion of personal space that seems to accompany these interactions that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

And it only takes a quick sweep of the Internet to see the real extent of the issue. Like the disturbing comments on the hashtag #tattooedgirlproblems:

I spoke to lifestyle blogger Rhian HY from Wife Life, who is all-too familiar with the concept of tat-calling.

With tattoos spanning from her feet to her neck and chest, Rhian told me she receives unwanted attention from men on an almost-daily basis.

"I've had to ask several not to touch me after they grab me and turn me around to look at my tattoos. Its such a violation, especially for someone who has anxiety already.

"It's like being different automatically suggests you're fair game to harass because their little brains can't imagine why you'd do something for yourself and not to please men," she said.

tattoos

Lifestyle blogger Rhian HY

But as Rhian also notes, the type of men who harass girls with tattoos are usually the type who'd harass girls without them too.

"Any physical attribute they can comment on is just their go-to line because they don't have anything of substance to talk about," she said of the men who come up to her.

"I also get guys frequently telling me they 'don't usually like girls with tattoos' but that I'm 'different'. I usually inform them that I'm actually not different and judging a whole group of people by their choice to have tattoos is absurd.

"What needs to happen, is that EVERYBODY needs to stop commenting on women's bodies and how people choose to decorate or alter theirs."

Like Rhian, I don't appreciate strange men approaching me to tell me they find me attractive, or even that I'd "look so much better without tattoos" - as if they couldn't fathom the fact that women exist for a reason other than being aesthetically pleasing.

And in true Jeremy Kyle closing soliloquy style, at the end of the day - that's what tat-calling really boils down to.

These men wouldn't dream of stopping a fellow bloke across the street to marvel at his sick tribal half sleeve, so let's just call it what it is - street harassment.