My Experience With Legal Sexual Harrassment
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Politics and Activism

My Experience With Legal Sexual Harrassment

The first time I got catcalled.

My Experience With Legal Sexual Harrassment

Being a young woman, I am not a stranger to attention from men. Whether it is staring or subtle comments about my appearance, I am never surprised by male attention. Up until the age of 18, I had never been catcalled. I had heard about it and found the practice disgusting, but I had never experienced it firsthand.

So, not only did I finally experience catcalling at the age of 18, but I even experienced it multiple times within one day.

Growing up, I followed all the unspoken rules of female existence.

Rule number one: I made sure I was covered up so that nobody would stare at me, although some men still did.

Rule number two: I always traveled in a group of people, whether it was with family or friends.

Rule number three: Any time a man made a comment toward me, I would smile politely.

After all, I wouldn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable.

Growing up, there were not many chances for me to go somewhere alone, which meant that I was less likely to experience any kind of harassment.

This changed when I went off to college and found that it was normal to go off and do things on your own whether it was for shopping, errands, appointments, or anything else. However, the first day that I did go off on my own to run errands, I realized why I had always been instructed to travel in groups.

It was a hot day, as it was nearly summer. And I was nearly sweating in my clothes, so this is where I broke the first rule. Instead of covering up, I wore tank top and denim shorts. (So that I wouldn’t burn to death).

It was a simple task. All I had to do was walk a few blocks to the bank and then walk back. Simple enough. Still, this was the first time I would be breaking rule number two.

I took a shuttle up to the train station and got off to start the walk. I noticed some people staring at me along the way. While it made me uncomfortable, I was also used to this, so I continued walking with my head up.

Within two minutes, I faced my first cat-calling experience by a worker cleaning the windows of one of the shops.

“Damn, girl,” he said, looking me up and down.

While I had never experienced this before, I knew from hearing stories about it that I was not supposed to say anything. So, I kept my mouth shut, as I kept walking. Besides, I reasoned that this was far milder than what some other women hear, so I told myself not to take it seriously.

On the way, I ignored the people staring. Most of them didn’t even register in my head, since I was still shaken up. When I finally reached the bank, I stood in the long line and waited, ignoring the men in line that were staring at me.

Until finally, one man turned and looked at me. And this is where I followed one rule. Rule number three, always smile politely when a man makes a comment toward you.

“You look like a doll, baby!” he said with a grin.

I forced a smile in response and mumbled a “thanks”.

After all, I didn’t want to be rude.

Even though I was already burning up in the outfit that I was wearing, I found myself wishing that I had worn a baggy sweater just so that men would stop staring at me.

I decided to walk quickly when it was time to walk back to the train station to catch the shuttle. I just wanted this experience to be over. By now, I was thoroughly embarrassed, uncomfortable, scared, and so much more.

I guess I just couldn’t take a compliment.

Still, I felt relief when I saw the train station. I was so close to it, so close to safety. But just a few feet away from the train station, a middle-aged man called out to me.

“I just gotta tell you,” he yelled out in front of everyone. “You’re one of the best girls I’ve seen all year!”

I could feel tears of frustration in my eyes. I had already broken rule number one and two. And here is where I finally broke rule number three as well.

“That’s not really a compliment,” I said with no attempt to hide my resentment.

The people passing by looked up as soon as the words left my mouth, as if they were watching to see how the man would react. But I was too afraid to wait for his reaction. I continued walking, anger and fear fueling my every step.

For a long time after this day, I would resent both the men who made me uncomfortable as well as myself. I would feel as though it was partially my fault because of the outfit that I was wearing. Because I broke not one, but all three rules of female existence.

Soon, I realized that the acts of other people are in no way my fault. I could have been wearing anything, doing anything, and there still would have been a man out there, waiting to cat-call young women. It could happen to anyone, and it does quite often.

This is an experience that will stay with me forever. Because this is the experience that taught me that men are allowed to openly harass women in public. But it also taught me that I am allowed to speak up about it.

The one lesson that stands out at the end of the day is not for me to learn, but for society instead. The lesson is, there is never a valid reason to catcall. Ever.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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