Well, it’s the age old story of boy sees girl, boy screams out window at girl, girl rolls eyes, flips guy off and they never see each other again. Catcalling.
Or at least, I’d like to say that’s the way the story played out this time.
But it did not.
My husband and I had made the drive from Edmonton, Alberta to Portland, Oregon and we weren’t aware that we were in the liberalish bubble that Portland can be. Where catcalling or street harassment might not be as common as in downtown oil patch Deadmonton. So, as we were walking back to our AirBnB from breakfast, I noticed a truck pull off to the side of the road where we were walking. Two men were leaning out the window toward us and yelling something. Immediately, I gave that eye roll glare, looked ahead and kept walking.
It’s likely I was thinking something along the lines of “Good Lord, I’m walking with a man and a baby, can a girl get one outing with some peace?”
I hadn’t noticed but my husband had stopped to talk to the two men in the truck.
Then I heard the elderly man at the wheel ask for directions to Woodstock.
I felt humiliated and obviously like an ass.
And then I didn’t.
I thought of the conversations I’d had with friends. One in particular when I told them that a man had approached me on the street for the sole purpose of asking whether I was single and when I said no would push further and ask about my partner and I would literally have to push past him to get away. I thought about how when stories like this were told, these friends would allude to the fact that me assuming these men were entitled creeps made me seem like a bitch. That these men were just being nice. I should be thankful for the compliment. A lot of women don’t get that attention. Grow a thicker skin. There was no harm done.
Except for the fact that I don’t get to keep my dignity when I walk alone down any street, or even browse the grocery store for that matter.
Yep, the grocery store. Where a man followed me around until I was about to leave, commented on his attraction to me, put out his hand for me to shake it, then pulled me in and kissed me on the mouth.
It wasn’t until the grocery store incident that the men in my life started understanding that the catcalling and the harassment were bigger problems than they had thought. I was no longer being bitchy. I was now walking around with a target on my back. I was too nice.
Right there is the catch 22. If I assume their behaviour is degrading in some way and I respond like an animal backed into a corner, I’m a bitch. If I’m approached and let the conversation go on too long and the man starts to get pushier, I’m too nice, welcoming attention, naive.
At what point do we turn this around and say, “Hey, maybe the problem isn’t the women’s response, but the fact that these men constantly feel entitled to our time and attention.”
Should I really feel guilty for my defensive response to these innocent men in this truck?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not prescribing giving all strangers the big eff you, but can you really blame us for getting to the point where we just don’t want any of it? Where we’d rather play defence than play polite?
Anytime I find myself alone on a street or a parking lot. I instinctively go into survival mode. It’s very automatic. I walk quickly, keeping my eyes peeled, carry my keys with my hand on the unlock button as to get into my car as quickly as possible. If I see a man or men approaching, my pace quickens, my heart is in my throat. I get in the car. Immediately lock the door and drive the hell out of there. I’m acting and reacting out of fear. Every. Single. Time.
We practice these rituals for protection from humiliation, belittlement and as we are all so very well aware of, the threat of assault or death. Walk confidently, but not too confidently. Don’t make eye contact. If you are trapped into engaging, be polite, but not too polite. Dress this way, not that way.
But the rituals fail us too often.
I think of the time my friend and I were walking downtown to get to my car. It was late, we were alone and all of a sudden a man dashes across the middle of the street toward us. Both of us grabbed each other as if bracing for attack. He got to the side of the street where we were and saw us standing there in complete petrification and immediately realized what we were thinking. He was humiliated. He quickly apologized as he continued walking.
Then I think of times like when I was walking with friends down a path at night to get home and a group of intoxicated men started howling at us. The howling turned to following us. They quickened their pace as we quickened ours until they were chasing us through a dark park and I had to hide in a bush next to someone’s fence while my friends continued to run.
I think of the time a man hugged me from behind while I was pushing my cart through the frozen aisle and asked if I would take him home for dinner, or the time a man grabbed my crotch at a bar as he walked by, Or the time a man continually tried to feed me carrot cake in front of my friends, all of whom were acting REAL uncomfortable.
Ask any woman, she most likely has at least one story of humiliation, belittlement or paralyzing fear as the result of being female.
So, to the men who don’t find catcalling a “big deal”, I know you will never quite understand the impact catcalling has on women as you are not harassed on a daily basis based on the sum of your body parts but let me break this down for you.
- It’s arrogant to assume that any stranger is interested in what you think of their body
- It’s startling and rude to scream at anyone unless you are saving them from imminent danger
- I don’t care if some women tell you they like it. Unless you know that this specific woman likes it and she verbally consents to your screaming at her out your car window, or humping the air in her direction, it’s not okay.
- It’s harassment.
- It’s degrading.
- Most of us would take your respect over your “compliments” any day.
- Women’s bodies are routinely made a spectacle of and we often feel threatened by strangers who take interest in them. Most of us are tired of being measured by your attraction to us, no matter your intention.
- You aren’t entitled to any response from us for your catcalling, your “compliments” or your advances, let alone a positive one.
- You aren’t entitled to women assuming that your intentions were simply to lend a compliment.
So, to the men in the truck who pulled over to ask for directions, sorry… but not really.