Canoe News

August 19, 1999

Woman who kicked catcaller an unwitting hero

TORONTO (CP) -- Enduring raunchy mating calls from macho men has become routine for many women, who have somehow learned to grin and bear it.

But the case of an Ontario woman charged with kicking an 18-year-old in the crotch after she got fed up with catcalls and sexist taunts has some young females talking about how they don't want to take it anymore.

Corrine Brannigan, 30, is accused of punching and kicking Jason Batisse after a group of boys apparently made vulgar sexual comments as she passed them on a street.

Now an unwitting hero, the petite and pretty University of Toronto student nervously faced the cameras on Thursday after making a brief court appearance.

"I just reacted under pressure and I think I reacted like a lot of people would," said Brannigan, who is fighting the assault charge.

"If you get enough of this kind of thing happening to you, you're going to snap."

She played down suggestions she performed a heroic act, but many young women who have come to expect unwanted sexual attention were praising Brannigan's bravery.

"I'd say 'Yeah, you go girl,' because she didn't take it," said Denise Campbell, the youth representative of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

"She's saying we don't have to put up with it. We can voice our disapproval in lots of ways and sometimes physical retaliation is the only way we have."

But Campbell, who's been the target of several catcalling incidents, cautioned against endorsing the approach for everyone.

"I wouldn't want to push that too far because sometimes that puts women in a worse situation. For me the safety of young women is really important."

Previous generations of women may have been more willing to tolerate the taunting, privately dissecting the harassment among their circle of close friends. But, like Campbell, many modern women were pleased at the suggestion that someone was kicking back.

The change in attitude is being reflected in the culture.

A recent episode of the cutting-edge cable show Sex in the City, which chronicles the sexual adventures of four single female friends in New York, featured an altercation between one of the characters and a catcalling construction worker. When she called his bluff on his lusty advance, he crumbled and nervously fingered his wedding band.

Brannigan's case is important because it's helping to finally address a problem that's always plagued women, says Pamela Cross, the legal director of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children.

"Corrine's case has generated a lot of discussion about something that's gone on forever. Women have just thought 'Oh yeah, I've got to put up with it,"' Cross said.

Cross, who's met with Brannigan and her lawyer, was pleasantly surprised when a group of middle-aged men contacted her a few weeks ago to make a donation to Brannigan's legal fund.

For Cross and others though, the bottom line is Brannigan shouldn't have been charged.

"It's ironic and pathetic," said Melanie Randall, who has a law degree and is a women's studies professor at the University of Western Ontario.

"(Brannigan) tried to defend herself against a violation of her right to walk freely in a public space. I find it distressing that this is the legal remedy."

For his part, Batisse has said he didn't deserve the pummelling because he wasn't the one who did the taunting. Police laid charges after he went home and told his mother, who called the authorities.

While some women cheered Brannigan on Thursday, others were just wondering how the tiny woman had the courage to do what she did.

"I think that men don't understand when they call women names how incredibly scary that can be. The thing about the Corrine Brannigan case that makes it unusual is that she apparently wasn't scared," said Paddy Stamp, the University of Toronto's sexual harassment officer.

Copyright © 1999, Quebecor New Media Limited Partnership.