I was shocked when I realised I hadn’t taken the time to write about this. Flabbergasted, one might say. Absolutely jaw dropped, that I hadn’t yet broached this topic. Because I’ve got some opinions on it. So, let’s discuss.
The first time I remember getting catcalled, I was 11. I was walking with my older sister who was 15 and a truck honked at us. It pulled up slowly and drove away pretty fast. My sister grabbed my hand and she turned really red. I didn’t understand fully what had happened. I had seen movies where guys hollered at girls, but those situations seemed like it was all in good fun. The guys in movies were in high school and wore polos with popped collars and drove convertibles (it was the 2000’s), and they complimented girls who they already knew, girls they were already involved with. But this wasn’t like that. These men weren’t in high school, because my sister was in high school, and they were so much older. And there was no fun music playing or cheerful smiles, it felt like they were sneering at us. Most importantly, it wasn’t all in good fun and we didn’t know them. My sister seemed embarrassed and I was uncomfortable because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what was going on.
And catcalling has remained that confusing for me ever since.
I often say, “It’s funny until it’s not”. My friends and I trade stories about catcalls and bad pickup lines and that’s fine. We laugh about it because otherwise it feels scary. I often tell people about the guy who followed me for 5 blocks when I was 19, and I tell it with a jokey tone. But that’s because it ended without harm. In reality, I was scared. I called my dad to come meet me because I was only a block from my house. The guy left as my dad approached, but not before repeatedly touching my arm and asking me to come home with him.
It’s funny until it’s not, but otherwise I feel gross. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin, because I don’t understand why I’m attracting that sort of attention. I don’t understand what I did, what signal I made, what clothing item I wore that warranted being followed, being touched, being yelled at. And that’s the worst part, that I sit around asking myself what I could’ve done better. Should I have worn a sweater in the summer over my tank top? Should I have gone running in leggings over shorts? Should I have made eye contact with the ground, as not to attract unwanted attention? I treat it like a learning opportunity for me, when in reality I’ve done nothing wrong.
Don’t get me started on trying to explain to men. I got catcalled this week on a run and I told my mom about it when I was home. The guy stopped me at a red light and said, “Well, you’re a good girl, aren’t you? Mmmmm yes, you’re such a good girl.” It took most of my strength not to dive headlong into traffic.
My mom cringed with me, and my dad asked me, “Why didn’t you say something back? Why didn’t you tell him to fuck off? Why didn’t you kick him in the balls?” and while I understand where my dad’s suggestions were coming from, he didn’t get it. He didn’t get that talking back isn’t always an option. Yes, I’m 6ft tall, but this man easily cleared 6’3”. I’d bet my lucky stars that he was stronger than me, and based on our previous interaction, I don’t suspect he respected women very much. I was outnumbered by this man, even though it was only 1-on-1. I was clearly not in the position of power. And that’s often how it is. Interacting, engaging, calling back doesn’t end in a witty punchline or a victory. It ends in more discomfort, or even retaliation.
I said earlier that catcalling still confuses me. And it does, what do they think the suspected outcome will be? Do you think you’ll holler “Hey baby, you’re looking good?” and I’ll hop in your Hyundai Sonata and we’ll just go at it like animals in the back seat? What caveman part of the brain thinks, “Yell at that woman, I think she’ll find it endearing”? What is the point if not simply to make women uncomfortable? Why do it, because I can’t imagine it actually garners positive attention.
That’s it from me today. Just frustration and fear and a good anecdote, because it’s funny until it’s not. It’s funny until you’re 13 and trying to explain to a 40-year-old man that you’re not interested in going on a date. It’s funny until you’re telling the man on the subway to stop touching your knee as he tries to get your attention. It’s funny until you get off the bus three stops early just so the man will stop bothering you. It’s funny until he keeps asking you for a price because “girls that pretty are always hookers”. Its funny until it’s not.
And let’s be honest, it’s rarely fucking funny.
From me, with love, to you,
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