For women around the world, unwanted stares, whistles, and whispered propositions on the street are all-too-common. These encounters can be scary, demeaning, and even life-threatening.
But for some men, they constitute something quite different: a form of entertainment.
The study itself focuses on four Middle Eastern countries — Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, and Morocco — but the results are global in scope.
In Lebanon, nearly 60% of women report having been harassed in the streets — roughly equal to the number of women in the United States who report having experienced the same behavior — but just one-third of men report having been the perpetrator of such harassment.
In Egypt, on the other hand, two-thirds of men reported having ever harassed a woman on the streets, and 90% of men who did so said that the reason was “for fun.”
“I've seen that reasoning before in other studies: 'I'm bored. I'm bonding with my male friends. We're just having fun,' " Holly Pearl, founder of the organization Stop Street Harassment, told NPR. "Men aren't thinking about how women are feeling."
The extensive study polled 4,830 men in total, and the authors of the poll came to some interesting conclusions.
One of these conclusions had to do with levels of education. Although it’s commonly believed that less-educated men are more likely to harass women, the results of this study showed the opposite.
“Younger men, men with more education, and men who experienced violence as children are more likely to engage in street sexual harassment,” the report stated.
The authors noted that the proclivity toward street harassment among men with higher education levels could be a product of a lack of economic opportunities, even for those with a secondary education.
“They're in a suspended state of adolescence,” one researcher, Shereen El Feki, told NPR, so they harass women “to put them in their place,” she said, adding, “they feel like the world owes them.”
Street harassment is, of course, not unique to these four countries, or to the Middle East in general.
A 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment found that 65% of US women reported having been subjected to street harassment. In the UK, these numbers are even higher. In a 2016 study, it was reported that three in four British women report having experienced this behavior.
A 2011 Gallup poll from 143 countries showed that women feel less safe than men walking alone at night in all but four countries: Syria, Sri Lanka, Burundi, and Angola.
The May study also included several recommendations for ways to reduce the culture of street harassment and promote equality.
One major solution, the authors found, was getting men more involved in childcare and household responsibilities in order to “change societal norms.” Doing this will also require creating more pathways for women to enter the workforce.
By shifting what are considered to be traditionally female and male roles, men will become less inclined to catcall women and more inclined to play an active role in the household, the study suggests.
But, as the numbers also show, changing these habits will be a long, uphill battle.