I'm driving down Route One, windows down, listening to my favorite podcast. At a traffic light, I spot out of the corner of my eye that the window of the car next to me is being rolled down, and suddenly words are being called to me, trying to get my attention. My open window is not for an invitation for those words, but an invitation for the crisp spring air to fill my car.
However, these words that I can barely make out, interrupt the tranquility of the scene, invites an uncomfortable presence that I wasn't prepared for. At this point, my eyes were still on the road ahead, but curiosity turned my head towards the one who possessed those unwanted words.
He was a black man. He looked at me with a bold gaze and now with my attention held, he began to increase his advances. He made kissy noises, smirked and kept asking me how I was doing. I wanted to take this as an innocent and friendly interaction with a fellow stranger, but I couldn't. I was not afraid of him, rather I was afraid to give him that chance. Instead of a fearful side-eye, I look at him directly and say hello.
But as soon as the greeting escaped my lips, I wanted nothing more to do with the interaction. I quickly rolled my window up as the light turned green and speedily drove away.
Maybe I handled it badly. Maybe I should've just ignored him and turned my speakers all the way up, and pretend to have not heard him. Maybe I should've kept my window down, look at him without any judgment, no fear and confidently said, "Hello." But preconceived notions permeated my mind at that moment and all I wanted to do was drive undisturbed to my destination. Instead of listening to the rest of the podcast, I sat with my thoughts on the situation. It wasn't a big deal; women get catcalled all the time and it's frustrating when it happens.
This shouldn't be the norm, but it is.
We can blame society and toxic hyper-masculinity but at the end of the day, it probably will still happen. But after the situation that had just happened at the traffic light, I wanted to think about the man who catcalled me for once. How did he feel? What made him do that? Did he think I was a bitch when I acknowledged him only to shun his existence by rolling up my window? Did he think I would appreciate his advances towards me?
These open-ended questions got me to think of a new perspective. Obviously, I want men to stop catcalling and harassing women. But sometimes there's a deeper meaning behind why they do it. And this doesn't categorize all men as predators. Men and women are both potential victims of this unwanted attention. This is not a gendered issue. So maybe we should take a non-gendered approach to it.
Men like Terry Crews who are outspoken voices in the "MeToo" movement have helped break down the walls of hyper-masculinity, especially in black men. I wonder if the expectation to adhere to the "boys will be boys" ideology and "brute" stereotype often attached to black men inadvertently drives some of the crass behavior some men partake in. If these ideas were never pushed upon or perpetuated, would catcalling even occur? In a perfect society, maybe.
If I could go back to that scene, to the black man who catcalled me from the car window, I would acknowledge him and ask, Why? I wonder what he would say.