Expat Life

Catcalling in Cuenca: Worse here than in the U.S. but not welcome anywhere

By Melina Marks

Catcalling is known by women all over the world, but what is it like here in Cuenca?chl guest

From my experiences, catcalling here is much more aggressive than in the States. In the States, typical comments simply consist of “hey girl” or just “damn.” When it comes to actions, Cuenca and the States have whistling and honking in common.

Melina Marks
Melina Marks

Here in South America, being the young gringa that I am, lingering stares have become normal to me, and provocative language is thrown in my face every time I leave the house. Local young women and foreigners alike, experience this ridiculous display of “manhood,” and every once and a while the scenario can stand the hairs up on the back of your neck. Usually the remarks are harmless, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay on our toes.

Some women see catcalling as a compliment, most see it as offensive, and I can imagine that there are women out there who have mixed emotions about the matter. Is it nice to know that you look pretty good? Sure. On the other hand, it’s not a stranger’s place to tell another stranger how they look. We don’t live in a world where women yell at men on the street for their appearance, so when did it become okay for men to yell at women?

chl catcallWhen out and about, the common “compliments” I have received and watched others receive are ‘hermosa’ or ‘guapa.’ Comments like these are usually in passing and I truly don’t think these guys are trying to offend anyone or cause trouble. Taunting young women is more for the friends of the speaker rather than the girl they are catcalling. It has only been on a few occasions when the situation has gotten uncomfortable.

In one incident, a group of drunk men by the Tomebamba River started yelling things at me while I passed. Since I didn’t turn my head or say anything to acknowledge them, they got angry and started following me. With the combination of my quickened pace and their intoxicated state they eventually stopped following and calling out disgusting things. This was the only time that I ever felt scared due to random men yelling at me because they had the audacity to follow me.

The thing that I couldn’t wrap my head around, and frankly still can’t, is the idea that they became angry with me for not acknowledging their presence when they were the ones harassing me. I was the one who should have been angry at them for trying to provoke a response out of me, but all I felt was fear.

Catcalling is not a welcomed action for many women, nor should it ever be. The reason for catcalling, in my opinion, is simply to impress the other guys in whatever group the caller is a part of and nothing more. No matter where we go in the world, women are constantly being given attention by men that is unwelcomed.

In Norfolk, Virginia or Cuenca, Ecuador, catcalling exists everywhere. I for one, as a 17-year-old foreigner living in South America, do not enjoy being harassed by strange men no matter where I am in the world.

Editor’s note: Melina is not the only woman in Latin America offended by the attention of strange men. Women in Peru, Chile, and Venezuela are fighting back and turning the tables on their harassers. To read more, click here.

Melina Marks is a 17-year-old high school student working at her mother’s and stepfather’s café and pasteleria, Popacuchu, located at Edificio Cuatro Rios, Primero de Mayo y Ave. de las Americas in Cuenca, Ecuador.


  • LeeAnn

    The catcalls will fadeaway when the wrinkles start to appear. Then you may just wish for one quite catcall to remind you that your still attractive. I think life is too short to be concerned about “enduring” a catcall. Breath deeply, enjoy all aspects of life, hold your head up high and say, “damn right I’m attractive” and walk into the sunset with a smile.

  • JG

    Having worked in New York City, I saw and heard many construction workers yell out to young women all the time. I looked at the women, too, because they were pretty. I always wondered why some of these offended women always walked the same direction every morning in front of the same workers who would whistle, and made not-too-subtle remarks at them, when they could have easily walked on another block, and missed these cat calls.

  • jJe

    As long as women dress and walk to at tracked attention they will get what they are asking for. There are no rules that give the women the power to regulate who may look and may not. The author, 17, is very disingenuous.

  • I lived in NYC in the late 60’s when any woman walking past big construction sites was in for it. The city eventually got down on the employers because it was a big drain on production with all these guys spending their time harrassing women rather than working. It did get better. The essential thing, though, is that despite feminism and political correctness, the streets are still a jungle from the hormonal level and that will always be the case. Use your awareness and dress accordingly….

  • LOL @ any woman who complains about harassment when she chooses to wear revealing clothes in public. There is a reason for modesty and people just don’t get it. Instead of complaining, wear modest clothing and hand out Bible tracts in Spanish to these lewd men. Do that with enough support and you can change this society instead of merely complaining about it. I would support such an effort.

  • Susan Burke March

    Unfortunately it doesn’t matter if the woman is wearing a skirt or a burka – young or old – cute or not. it’s sexual harassment, and I’m disappointed that there are people posting comments seemingly blaming the victim. Why should women have to “walk on another block”? This is harassment, and is linked to physical violence. Melina Marks, join Hollaback! A non-profit and movement to end street harassment
    powered by local activists in 92 cities and 32 countries – See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org

  • Seriously, LA and JG? Catcalling isn’t appreciation; it’s intimidation. Appreciation is a NON-threatening smile or greeting. Some of these guys FOLLOWED her! That’s not about being “offended” or not; that’s downright SCARY, especially if you happen to be a female walking alone. Wouldn’t you feel shaken up? What if just smiling and firing off a “damn right!,” results in one of them taking it the wrong way, bringing on something even worse–would that be HER fault? Why should someone have to take a different route to work/home for fear of some idiot’s inappropriate behavior and how it might escalate? And maybe your ship has sailed, but what’s a young woman supposed to do for the next 20-30 years until those “uglifying” wrinkles set in? Plan alternate routes? Puhlease! **Melina, pls know that not everyone feels the same as those 2 commenters. Not even all the GUYS I know feel that way. You SHOULD hold your head up high, but you shouldn’t have to grit your teeth at the same time.

  • Expressions of physical admiration vary from culture to culture. My wife takes them in stride and most often feels flattered. However, she is a seasoned traveler and very poised.

    Others, notably anglophone or Sicilian ladies, can get very upset, feeling demeaned and/or threatened. In Muslim countries, public comments of this nature can have the cat-caller’s throat slit on the spot.

    It is not hard to find a culture that suits any individual.

  • To the editors if Cuenca HighLife, why on earth are you allowing the posting of comments that say to this young woman that women are “asking for it” and shouldn’t complain about sexual harassment? Not every idiot needs to be given a forum.

  • Catcalling is some man or men letting me know, a complete stranger to them, that they are thinking about me sexually and that I should be aware of it and that I should know that they could DO something about it if they wanted to. It’s not flattering and it’s not welcome. I am appalled and disgusted by the comments made that women should take responsibility for their sexual harassment or that it’s no big deal.

  • Excellent article. Very insightful and well-written. Keep them coming.

  • Melina Marks

    Well to all who understand where I am coming from, thank you very much for your positive feed back. As for the others, I suppose I respect your opinions, yet I never said anything about my clothing. When I’ve been followed and yelled at my clothing has never been a factor, dress or sweats. Women are never “asking for it.” I may be 17, but I certainly don’t feel that I am disingenuous. No man has the right to harass me no matter where I am. But, I guess that’s just my opinion

  • Jayne Bowater

    excellent article Melna well done. You don’t want to be afraid to walk around Cuenca or you will lose your independence Just 2 things I would like to point out. Did you report this group of men to the police? the are many officers along las Américas . 2nd why was the address of the coffee shop added to the end of the article? I know it’s for advertising but as a safety aspect probably not a good idea
    hold your head high & keep up with the articles!!

  • Jim

    Very embarrassing… Catcalling is NOT universal. It is a cultural thing. A popular video on YouTube shows a woman walking around in Riga, Latvia for hours without ever being bothered in the slightest. This applies to much of Scandinavia, Europe & most of North America, minus the bigger cities. Europe has become increasingly dangerous for women these last years… A sign of the insane times we live in. Stay Safe, be mindful. I apologize for the behaviour of these men, It is very uncivilized behaviour to say the least. Good article. 🙂