Let's Talk About Catcalling

Trigger Warning: This article is about a subject that may be sensitive to people. But it’s an important subject.

 

Hello, all! This week, I was planning on writing an article about everything that is happening in the state of Alabama at the moment, from the law to ban abortion and the refusal to air the episode of “Arthur” with same-sex marriage, to nationwide responses to the new laws and censorships put into place. I’m taking the liberty today to use this platform and speak about catcalling. I feel like it’s something we should be talking about more given that it’s an everyday experience for most people.

 

I’ve come to realize that catcalling will follow me anywhere I go. No matter where I am--at home in Chicago, walking onto campus in Seattle, or traveling in South America--someone will always be shouting at me from a car or from across the street. Like many of the women reading this (men, too, I’m sure), I’ve been catcalled long before I knew what it meant, let alone that it was a sick culture I would have to learn to maneuver.

 

I’m 21 years old and go to school in a buzzing city where it seems I can’t walk anywhere and be left alone. It doesn’t matter if it’s mid-winter and I’m all bundled up in a scarf and hat or I’m wearing a skirt on the train. When I leave my house, I carry my makeshift brass knuckle out of my keys, walk with one earbud out and avoid eye contact with all people, because apparently the new “consent” to approach me is meeting eye to eye. Forget about the rain, I’m wearing a jacket nowadays because it feels like the second I walk out of my apartment I’m at risk of being touched, shouted at, whistled at, hooted at, and now spit at.

 

Yup, you read that right.

 

A grown-ass man actually projected his saliva onto a complete stranger in public. Worse than that, what he did was completely perceived as “normal” within our patriarchal society (even though what he did is technically considered assault). Women (apparently) are public property to be used and abused at the will of men. The other day it was over 80º and (dare I say) I wore a skirt to meet a friend downtown. Walking downtown has now turned into a game for me, counting how far I can get before getting catcalled or groped. It’s not a fun game and truth is, I never win.

 

It’s (and I hate to call it this) a right of passage for women to learn the dos and don’ts when walking alone in the city. You learn to have eyes and ears open at all times, you can’t afford to have a blind spot, and you learn to look a whole block and a half ahead in case a detour is necessary. I do this every week when I walk to my therapist’s office. I know when to walk closer to the curb, when to pause my music and keep my head down. It’s mandatory training every young woman must go through at some point in their life. And while I am exhausting myself surviving in a man’s world, I’ve been told that I’m too “paranoid,” that I’m “asking for it,” and even teased that I “like the attention.” No, I do not. But apparently “no” is code for “yes” now.

 

“So why don’t you just say something back?” This a question I frequently get asked from relatives and friends. I’ve learned that in most cases, the more you engage the worse it is, especially when you’re alone. In this one instance, I was outside a museum with a couple of my friends last week looking up directions to a bookstore. Three men walk past speaking Spanish and one of them calls (in Spanish), “Look, hey babies…” it was barely audible, but I took the liberty to blurt out in a baffled tone, “um hola…” (if I had been by myself I wouldn’t have engaged at all, but it was day time and I was not alone and so I said something). Anyways, one of them turned around, shocked, and asked if I spoke a lot or a little Spanish, and I responded, “a lot.”

 

I must admit that my friends and I felt a rush of confidence, like we reclaimed a sense of our dignity from the patriarchy that’s been robbing us for generations. Although it felt as though my years of speaking Spanish came in handy, I was still scared that those men might have reacted differently and scared that they would come back and we wouldn’t have been able to fight them off. Now I understand why in high school P.E. the girls learn self-defense while the boys learn wrestling.

 

I’m tired of it. Every time I walk downtown, I’m fight or flight, I can’t relax, I need to be ready for anything and everything--it’s never-ending! But the reality is that I can’t afford to be exhausted because I’m still young, and this will happen to me every day for the rest of my life. (I’m not saying get used to it, but I’m saying, get used to it.) So long as we are living in a world where women are raped and blamed for it, harassed on the street and forced to cover up, and face a longer prison sentence than their rapist for terminating their pregnancy, we have to do what we can to thrive in the face of adversity.

 

While I’m aware that catcalling will always be “a thing,” I want to stress the importance of separating the culture from ourselves as strong and powerful women. This culture is meant to dominate women, it’s meant to make us feel inferior and “put us in our place,” and while I’m not sure there is an instantaneous relief of the problem without putting our lives in danger, there are ways we can be there for one another and ourselves.

 

As a woman, I am an object by which the patriarchy asserts itself. That’s a tough pill to swallow. I was groped on the train the other day and I came home feeling so bad that I took two showers. But it happened, and I’m lucky to be surrounded by strong and amazing women who I can talk to about things like this. As a teacher, I want to see schools take more action to avoid the internalization of cases of sexual harassment and rape. All students, regardless of their gender identity, should be taught in health classes about street smarts. Everyone should learn self-defense. Education. Education. Education. We need to advocate for safe spaces for people who have been harmed to come and talk about it. If it’s going to be a reoccurring part of our life, we have to normalize the victim’s experience in safe spaces such as schools. The more we talk about it, the more we reconcile and heal from traumas, the more we can come back stronger for future generations and eventually stomp out the patriarchy.

 

At the end of the day, regardless of what happens or has happened to you, you aren’t alone. Your body is beautiful, you are strong and no less worthy of the life you have. Find people in your life you can reach out to, be that person for someone who may be needing support. And for pete’s sakes, wear whatever the hell you want.