Explaining catcalling to my 10-year-old sister

I was watching Michael Jackson music videos with my little sister, who absolutely adores him, when I realised there is so much I could tell her about this world, that would completely ruin her dreams and idols.

Just a few minutes into ‘The way you make me feel’, which I can’t remember ever watching before, I decided I had to say something.

If you haven’t seen it, this is basically what happens: Michael catcalls a woman who’s walking down the street alone, cheered on by a bunch of other guys. He snaps his fingers, dances, thrusts his hips, follows her around, blocking her way even though she clearly tries to get away… and then in the end, she kisses him.

Do I need to tell you what’s wrong with that?

I hope not.

But I had to tell my 10-year-old sister.

First, I had to explain to her what catcalling is. Then I had to explain why it’s not okay, and why you should definitely run in the opposite direction if somebody does that to you. If someone follows you around and doesn’t leave you alone even if you tell them to, call for help, call the police if you have to, and most definitely: don’t accept it.

Of course, my sister is still too young to fully understand any of what I tried to explain to her, but I think it’s crucial to start these conversations early. So I will keep talking to her about these things, until I’m certain she knows that it is not romantic that someone is persistent after you’ve rejected them. It is not a compliment if someone calls after you in the street. It is not in any way okay to treat you like Michael Jackson does the woman in his video.

I know it’s “just a video”, that it’s outdated, and hopefully wouldn’t be made again the same way today — but it’s still important to stress that this is not acceptable behaviour, and more importantly, should not be romanticised.

“Even if it was Michael Jackson who did it?” my sister asked.

Especially if it was Michael Jackson.”

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