I didn’t want to write this article because I thought I would come off as conceited. But then I realized that’s exactly why I have to write it. I remember the first time I felt threatened by a cat call. I was 16, and was walking back to my car from a music festival, I was wearing a crop top and shorts, because it was 80 degrees and that’s what I felt like wearing. My walk back lasted for 15 minutes, and I received unwanted attention from six different grown men. A limo driver with no passengers literally pulled over next to me on the street and told me I was “sexy” and he wanted to give me a free ride. I almost could have laughed because it was one of those scenarios teachers and parents always warn kids about when they are young--“don’t get into a stranger’s car even if they say they have puppies!”--but I simply put my head down and kept walking. I am fairly physically strong and 6’2”, so I had always felt that I couldn’t be too threatened if a man were to make inappropriate comments toward me. However, I was wrong.
I was so distraught after this experience that I had to just sit in my car for 10 minutes before I could actually drive. I was infuriated that a few simple words could make me feel so vulnerable when I truly thought I was strong enough to ignore it. When I am walking on the street anywhere in an urban area, I can almost guarantee that I will get a crude remark, and I think almost every other woman can say the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s dark outside or broad daylight, it doesn’t matter if I’m wearing baggy boyfriend jeans or tight leggings—nearly without fail, I can expect that I will be sexually harassed. And that just seems to be something I, and we as women, have come to accept. I learned not to engage them, to just keep walking. I don’t turn around, I don’t offer any words back, but somehow it never seems to stop. These people seem to think they are entitled to a woman’s physical features. They think that they deserve our attention, and if they don’t get a response they often keep talking, their words like little rocks, hitting me in the back as I walk away with my head down.
I often wonder if the right answer is to respond or to “not let them have the satisfaction” and just keep walking, pretending as if the words did not affect us. But all the latter does is support catcalling and street harassment. By not responding, we are ignoring that it is wrong. We are being passive and we are letting these people continue to think that our bodies belong to them and that a 16-year-old girl wears a crop top in the heat because she wants a 50-year-old man to say, “damn, you’re sexy”. So if we know how to respond, how do we stop this from happening to the next generation of young girls?
I came across a video made by 15 and 16-year-old high school girls in Los Angeles about their experiences with catcalling. One girl explained that she can no longer go running in shorts because she doesn’t like the attention she gets. Another girl, Mary Beth, explained she has been harassed “just about everywhere”. Later in the video the videographer goes on to interview two boys from their high school and get their say on catcalling, and the response was saddening. "If a girl's wearing a crop top and short shorts, it looks like they wanna get catcalled," one boy says. "It looks like they want the attention... I'm pretty sure they don't think they're getting harassed. They're just flattered." This response only goes to show how deeply entrenched this is in our society. Later in the video the boy says again, “it’s not the girl’s fault, it’s not the guys fault, it’s just our personality style, it’s the way society thinks about people,”.
So, let’s change that. Next time someone catcalls you or makes a remark about your body that makes you feel unsafe and uncomfortable, look them in the eyes, say something. Speak up for yourself, because who else will? It doesn’t have to be the way society thinks about us anymore, our bodies don’t have to belong to anyone but ourselves and maybe one day we can walk outside in whatever clothing we please without a single pervasive comment.
Watch the video here: