It’s 11 p.m. on a Tuesday. I’m situated in front of the coffee machine at an empty gas station that's dimly lit in fluorescent lights when you walk in.
“Oh, hey baby, what’s your name?” you whistle. I turn, ready to snap some snarky comment your way when the words stick in my throat. Towering over me by a foot and a half and outweighing me by at least twice my body weight, it’s clear that the last thing I should do is anger you in any way. I just smile meekly and turn back to the coffee, hoping that you’ll leave me be.
“I’m talking to you. Hey BITCH, I asked what your fucking name is.”
“You workout, Amy? You look like you work out. You’re fine as hell.”
“Ah, thanks.” I’m wearing leggings and an oversize Salisbury t-shirt. No makeup, hair up in a pony tail plastered under a hat, the way I look would be considered bumming it and that’s being generous. My eyes keep darting to the bathroom where my Mom is and I try not to show any fear as I stare behind you at my Dad parked outside, willing him to look up. You pay for a couple packs of cigarettes and turn back towards me, advancing, leering down at me. Even the clerk looks worried from the counter.
“You smoke? How old are you?”
“Oh, eighteen huh? Good age, heh-heh. You smoke? You drink? We should hang out sometime.”
The bell on the door rings and my Dad walks over to me. By sheer presence of another male associated with me in the store, you finally leave. I can confidently say that if my parents weren’t in that store with me that this would have ended very, very differently.
I’ve had so many other interactions like that. When I was in seventh grade (just at thirteen years old), some middle aged man called me a slut in front of my whole family - mind you, I was wearing a gray t-shirt and jean shorts. There’s been at least four instances of guys following me around in grocery stores and gas stations, plenty of times where construction workers have whistled and yelled at me in different languages as I walked to my car, and an infinite number of stare downs with men old enough to be my father in restaurants. If I had a nickel for every time cars honked at me and my friends when we walked down the street, I could pay for all my college tuition.
I would bet my life that every single girl reading this can attest to their own stories of cat calls and harassment. If someone asked any woman what they do to protect themselves against men, it would sound something like this.
“I park as close as I can to the store front and if there’s a spot, I park under street lights. I never park next to a truck or a van, and when I walk to my car I hold my keys between my fingers like some kind of Wolverine. Walking down the street alone I keep a brisk pace, never making eye contact with men that seem remotely threatening or any men at all for that matter and I never leave the house without my pepper spray. I don’t leave my drink out of my sight at parties and I never accept an open cup from someone. I go to the bathroom in groups, I keep my phone unlocked with 911 at the ready if I’m alone at night and I do a check around and inside my car to make sure no one’s in it. If I’m catcalled, I just smile and keep walking; I don't dare make them angry out of fear that they’ll follow me home or get violent. I know too many friends who have had that happen to them.” The fact of the matter is that sexual harassment has reached such a high level that it’s common. It’s common to sexually harass people. So common, that it’s become second nature for us to turn as nervous and alert as a freakin deer as soon as we step outside a store or our house. We are constantly on watch, ready to fight or flee at any sign of danger.
A lot of our first responses to being cat called is to fire back with a retort or flash the middle finger. But we’ve had to suppress that defense mechanism because if we women show any sign of being defiant or fierce, the harsh truth is that we run the risk of being followed, attacked, raped, or even killed.
Catcalling is not a compliment. It’s not flattering, it’s not funny, and it’s certainly not attractive. It is a predatory sound that we dread. It is the sound for literal danger, a signal that we need to get ready to either defend ourselves or search for an escape route and run. So, the next time you think about screeching a “AY YO BABY”, or piercing the public peace with a shrill whistle and a “HEY! NICE ASS”, remember that it doesn't do anything for you. If anything, it just makes you look like the disgusting, low, sleazy piece of trash that you are. Because let's face it, no relationship has ever begun with "Oh, he yelled sexual obscenities to me on the street and I just knew that he was the one!"