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Who Let The Dogs Out; Thoughts from Outside

 

**Content Warning: Sexual assault/harrassment**

 

Picture this: it is around nine in the evening. You decide to go for a run around your college campus, mainly to blow off some steam, but also because you feel guilty that you have not fully worked out in almost a month. You get changed into your favorite running pants and tank top, and immediately head out. Beginning at a brisk jog, music blasts in your eardrums while you take in the campus scenery at night. Feeling peaceful and content, you feel like all of your worries were suddenly melting away. However, as you pass one particularly rowdy dormitory building, you hear something weirdly similar to a dog barking through your music. Ripping out one of your headphones and slowing down, you think about who would even have a dog around here. Then, you hear the barking again, but this time it sounds much clearer (and much more humanlike). Alas, to your extreme distaste, you turn your head upwards in the direction of the sound and see two boys peering out of their bedroom window, staring down at you and smiling like they have just reeled in the biggest fish in the Atlantic Ocean. You sprint away, your body turning red-hot with shame, discomfort, and irritation. 

After that, you have never gone running at night ever again. 

Some may think that was simply a fictional scenario that I created to set the mood of this piece, but it most certainly is not. It is very much real, and it happened to me last semester here at SUNY Oswego. I wish I can say that was the only time that something like this has happened, but it has actually occurred time and time again. What makes it even worse is that they all happened in different places, at different times, and with different people. This repetition of events made me wonder, why was this so normalized? Why do these men act like there is nothing wrong with shouting, whistling, or in my case, barking, at unsuspecting women? Why do women around the world continue to feel unsafe when they are walking outside at night, whether they are alone or not? Most importantly, why has no significant action been taken to immediately curb stomp this issue? Because these questions have stayed mostly unanswered for as long as I can remember, women will continue to associate the words “walking outside at night” with negative connotations of fear and anxiety. 

That time when I went running is not even the instance that I think about the most, and for some it probably would be. Yet, I found myself in another situation that was a bit more disturbing to me. It was a cool October evening last semester, when my housemate and I made the spontaneous decision to get dressed up for absolutely no reason at all, simply to take pictures with the aesthetic night lights that could be considered downtown Oswego. We felt on top of the world that night, our newfound confidence and excitement over our fun evening together taking us to places inside ourselves that we had never been before— what I mean by that specifically is that we honestly felt unafraid. For just a mere moment, we were not worried about who might be watching us, or if we would get approached or catcalled by strange men. That was beyond short-lived though, because as we were crossing the street towards our car to head home, two boys who looked to be about our age drove by us on the road. As I was laughing hysterically with my best friend about a conversation that I couldn’t remember even if I tried really hard, time suddenly froze as the guys in their car barked at us. I can still see their smug smiles even now, looking like they had just won awards for being the biggest assholes on planet Earth.

“Fuck you!” I can still hear that phrase slipping out of my mouth as I flipped the two guys off. I realized then that my mood had instantly switched from a beaming, radiant sunset to a violent and unforgiving thunderstorm. 

I can still remember how that moment made me feel like I was barely human, like I was abruptly reduced down to some nameless object that was of interest to only the male population. My identity and my femininity had been stripped from me all because of one sound, and feeling like that was so awful that it made me want to dig a hole with my bare hands and crawl right into it.            

Despite those degrading feelings that I had about myself, I still thought hard about how I reacted to this second bout of barking for quite a long while afterwards. Perhaps me cursing at them brought me right down to their level. Maybe I was just as bad as them. But then I scolded myself for feeling that way, because how was me acting out because I was so fed up with being catcalled yet again even remotely similar to doing it to someone myself? Making women feel uncomfortable on purpose is placed on an entirely different scale than a girl blurting out a curse as an answer to this unwarranted attention. 

Now, I understand and acknowledge that there are many different forms of male harassment, the most serious and dangerous instance being sexual assault. That said, I stand wholeheartedly with all of the innocent, unsuspecting women who are preyed on at night. Whether they were enjoying a Friday evening out, or if they were simply just walking home from work, each of their traumatic experiences are completely valid, and specific action needs to be taken to stop this from happening to more women and girls in the future. 

Keeping these women in mind, it angers me how we are the ones who have to change our ways to avoid male confrontation on the streets. How many times have you heard that girls need to wear more modest clothing, take different routes home, or carry a pocket knife or pepper spray with them to reduce their chances of being catcalled or assaulted? Just last week, my housemate and I were visiting our friend who lives off campus, and she was showing us a self-defense tool she ordered online. It was pink, sparkly, and shaped like a cat because she loves cats. It also had sharp edges, so that if someone was to approach her, she could just jab them. Cool right? We then launched into a discussion about how my housemate and I should buy some kind of tool that looked the same, so we could all match. The effort was there, of course, but I seriously had to take a step back from the conversation and question why we even needed to have it. We were girls literally sitting around and talking about getting matching self-defense tools to walk around at night with, while all of the men who got away with raping and verbally harassing women were probably sitting on their computers, mindlessly playing video games. How is that normal? How is that okay? 

Moreover, my attention automatically began to shift from how I responded that October night to how we, collectively as women, can better respond to things like this on a bigger scale. Women should no longer be the ones to fix themselves in these ways. We should not have to change certain things around in our lives, because to be quite blunt that caters to men. It makes us subservient to the patriarchal ideals that our society holds, and we need to rise above these shameful norms. Instead, it is time for men to do better, and we, as feminists and as women, can help them achieve this. We must begin to educate them on the long standing history of sexual assault and catcalling, and how it makes women feel like they are wasting away from the inside out. We need to show them how to make women feel safer when they are walking outside at night, alone or not. Mothers need to start raising their sons to have respect for everyone and everything, so they do not grow up thinking that troubling women is an art form instead of a problem. Most importantly, the focus must start moving from what women can do better in their own lives, to how they can help men become allies to us, so that we can slowly begin to coexist together. 

Male harassment has been a persistent issue for years, and the blame is almost always placed on women. We need to start questioning why that is, and how we can use our feminst power to join hands and start pushing forward, instead of being held back. Reflecting on my own personal experiences with walking outside at night, I know that I no longer want to see the world after dark as a place where I should always be afraid of what lurks in the shadows.

Sara is a double major in English and Creative Writing, with a minor in Communications at SUNY Oswego. She hopes to one day work for a publishing company as an editor, while also living out her lifelong dream to write books. When Sara isn't reading or writing, you can find her cooking, listening to music, or rewatching her favorite Netflix shows!
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