Joke, compliment, or threat?

The day my views on cat calling changed, forever.

warning: potential trigger story

From NYC to MSP and beyond

As I was skimming through facebook today, I noticed not one…but two different postings about cat calling. I thought to myself, “Oh, lovely…the perv patrol is out again.”

One post from my pal Alison (in NYC), and the other from Erin (Twin Cities).

“Another day in NYC, another day of getting catcalled and having gross men say gross things to me as I try to make it to the train. I actually prefer when it’s in Spanish, since it takes more time to parse and I can ignore it more easily.” -Alison


“The age of cat calls and yelling vulgar things out your window has not ended, men of Minneapolis. If any of my lovely readers thought this was frowned upon (it is) and that they would be the only people doing it (they wouldn’t), I’ve got news for you… it is perfectly common to share your thoughts on the female anatomy out your window at 6AM on a cool spring morning. *Swoon* (By swoon I mean SERIOUSLY? Do you really think this is going to work for you?) Also, yesterday a guy squawked in my face repeatedly.” -Erin

When it comes to cat calling I actually know people who are still confused about whether it’s right or wrong. One guy pal said to me, “But, attention is attention, right? It has to make you feel good?”


It makes me feel angry, dirty, and (in my case anyway) terrified.

Allow me to explain…

A typical bus stop day

Erin and Alison did a great job talking about their situations with humor…even though I know it really does bother both of them, as it should. But, I’m no longer able to do so in a humorous way. A close call has ended that luxury.

A few years ago I had no reason to be afraid, because nothing bad had ever happened in a scenario with a stranger. Nothing threatening. Just “dudes being dudes.” A typical day at the bus stop would usually go something like this,

“Hey Girl. Come here. Come talk to me.” “You don’t know what you’re missing…” With, “Fuck you, bitch,” being the most common response after I’d walk a different direction. It didn’t really bother me though, because it was so common. Sure, it made me nervous. But, it didn’t give me the nausea it gives me now…

The cat call that changed it all

My usual spot near the middle of the bus was taken. So, thinking nothing of it, I walked to the back…sitting two seats away from a man I’d never noticed before. He seemed harmless enough. Smiling.

“Hey Baby…” he drawled, looking at me through hooded eyes, as I found my seat. Nobody on the bus seemed to notice, or care.

I answered with a curt, “Hey,” and promptly turned to face the front of the bus, ignoring him.

He called out again, “Baby, look at me…c’mon now…”

I stared ahead, my heart starting to race. This cat call was different. Very different. My throat started to close in fear. Then I felt him slip into the seat behind me. (The seats in front and on the other side of the aisle…empty, nobody near to hear what happened next.) He leaned forward, and whispered in my ear,

“Hey Baby…you shouldn’t ignore a man, you know? Your blonde ass is mine.”

Tears formed. Memories flooded back from college. I always thought I’d be the type to yell, even after my attack, years before this-I promised myself I’d be a yeller. But, my voice failed me as I choked back tears of fear. Afraid he may have a knife or something worse. I flinched and leaned forward, trying to inch away, but still basically frozen…he leaned in closer — continuing to whisper,

“Listen to me…hear me? I am going to find you. After work some night. I’m going to drag your blonde ass into an alley and teach you a lesson, and rape you. And ohhhhhh blondie…I’m gonna enjoy it. Think you can get away, sweetheart?”

I bolted. A stop too early. It was before work-and I just wanted to get away. I heard footsteps behind me, and I knew he had followed. I readied myself to feel the familiar grip of hands wrapping around my arms.

Instead, I heard a voice. A deep, booming voice. Hell, it could have been God for all I knew…it felt like it at the time. He yelled,

“Stop right there. Don’t you dare touch that woman.” It was a tall, lovely, elderly African-American gentleman who had ridden the bus with me before. He continued,

“I saw you whispering to her, and I know that look. Turn the fuck around, and forget about her — or I will make you sorry, young man,” and he nodded at a nearby police car stationed downtown on the street.

The cat caller took two quick steps toward me, then stopped. He gave me a look that said, “This isn’t over.” And spun on his heel and got back onto the bus right as it pulled away. I was too scared to speak, and late for I nodded a “thank you” to the man who had helped me. I ran 5 blocks to work, tears streaming down my face, afraid the cat caller would jump off the bus at the last minute in anger. When I made it to the safety of my office, I broke down. Shaking. Unable to speak. And to this day, it’s still tough to articulate in person.

One Interaction Shapes All That Follow

I realize, “Not all men…” threaten women or cat call. That’s why I’m pointing out the gallant actions of the elderly man on the bus. I would also like to point out though, that if more men were taught that verbally harassing someone is wrong, it would have saved me a dozen panic attacks by now. I know. I know…loosen up, right? Some cat calls are just stupid, and meant without harm. Jokes. But, really? A joke? People have said to me, “What’s your deal? It’s just some jerk. Laugh it off, no biggie…”

I’d like to be clear: it’s not the cat call I’m afraid of. It’s what comes next.

The fact that the man who sat behind me on the bus — is still out there, and could be the voice behind the next, “Hey baby…” Ready to deliver on his promise. And the fact that more women than you can even imagine, have a story very similar to this…