Harassment is not appreciation.

I’ve had to deal with comments from older men since I was a young teenager. I don’t know exactly how old I was the first time I encountered harassment, but I know it’s something that has bothered me for several years. Maybe it was the sexist, condescending comments I received from older male customers at my fast-food job when I was 15. Men would call me “babe” or “sweetheart” and make me feel foolish and incompetent. They would say “no honey, that’s not what I want” or accuse me of forgetting items that they hadn’t ordered. At the time, I didn’t really think about it as harassment, because I assumed it was just related to work. I thought that maybe these men were just customers who were angry about having to wait in line and were just taking it out on me. Maybe they were just trying to be nice to me and it didn’t come out right. 15 year old me was naive to the world that I was growing up in, and didn’t fully understand the challenges of being a young woman in this society. 

 

I guess my awakening to what I was going to have to deal with for the next several years came on my 16th birthday. I was working a late shift on my birthday and wore a sticker telling my customers about my special day. Several men, including one of my coworkers, asked me if I was 18 yet in a teasing tone and even expressed disappointment that I wasn’t. Others asked me if I had a boyfriend I was going to spend time with later. I felt embarrassed and ashamed because I wondered why these older men would be so interested in me when I was obviously so young. It was then that I realized these men were not interested in complimenting me or being nice to me. They didn’t see me as a kid, they saw me as an object and a commodity, not as a human being that deserved respect.

 

A few days later, I went to get my driver’s license. I walked into the Secretary of State’s office in my school uniform with my mom, excited to finally be able to drive by myself. As I walked in the door, a man who was at least 3 times my age walked out of the door, looked at me, and then ran back inside towards me. He told me that if I always looked that good, he would come by more often, winked at me, and then left. I was disgusted. Getting my driver’s license was supposed to be an exciting milestone, but all I really remember from that day was that creepy man. I still think about that sometimes because it was so clear that I was a school-aged child, yet this man still had the nerve to comment on my appearance. 

 

Since then, men have harassed me more times than I can count. One incident that I remember as being particularly scary was when I was approached by two men as soon as I stepped out of my car in a grocery store parking lot. They walked towards me and called me their baby. I quickly walked past them and looked over my shoulder to see them laughing at my obvious fear. Maybe they took pleasure in seeing my wide, scared eyes as I darted past them, checking behind me to make sure they weren’t following me. Another time I remember getting out of my car with my family in downtown Detroit, only to be whistled at by an old man. I was so furious, yet there was nothing I could do except blush and stare at the ground in shame. I was made to feel foolish and powerless because of the fact that I am a woman.

 

It’s unacceptable that within seconds of stepping out in public, I am subjected to this kind of humiliation. I know I am not alone in this. Around 99% of women have reported being harassed in some form, including being whistled at, honked at, or being the subject of vulgar or sexist jokes. 75% have endured even more terrifying acts of harassment, such as being followed or being groped. It has nothing to do with the way we dress or the way we act, and has everything to do with the “boys will be boys” narrative. Men feel that it is socially and culturally appropriate to disrespect women in this way because they feel like they are appreciating us. 

 

If you ask any woman, I can guarantee that she will tell you that appreciation does not include catcalling or any other form of physical or verbal harassment. Real appreciation means respecting us as human beings and treating us with the basic dignity and respect that we deserve. I’m tired of people urging men to respect women because we are mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, or friends. Before we are any of those things, we are human. We aren’t simply objects in relation to others, we are our own people in our own right. 

 

I’m also sick of men telling us that these comments should make us feel beautiful and appreciated, or that we should enjoy this attention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from so many men in my life. Men have a habit of telling women how we should feel, and it absolutely needs to stop. Why should we feel happy about being objectified and harrassed? Why should men making lewd comments at me make me feel good about myself? Any woman should be able to run errands, go to the gym, hang out with friends, or any number of other things without having to worry about what men might say.

 

If you feel that society does not respect and value you, just remember that you are loved, you are worthy, and you deserve to be respected. If we keep fighting, standing up for ourselves, and supporting one another, one day we will change the narrative.