Don’t Say It’s a Compliment. It’s Not.
Catcalling is taking its toll on millions of women, yet many people (perhaps even you) don’t care.
I remember it almost like it was yesterday.
He whistled and yelled out “Hey there, cutie. Where ya goin’?”
I was only twelve years old, and I didn’t understand this encounter. Who was this man? I didn’t know him. But, I knew that I didn’t like him talking to me.
He was sitting on a set of steps that led to the road where my dorm for that summer was located. It was around 10 pm at night, and I had just finished classes at the camp I was attending. My friend and I had walked back together, but the guys’ dorm was one street closer than girls’.
He asked me if I wanted him to come with me to my dorm, but I said that it was okay. What’s the worst that could happen? After all, it was just a couple hundred feet.
So, my friend turned right, and I kept walking up the road. As I came closer to the set of concrete steps, I saw the man. He was sitting with his legs apart, forearms on his thighs, and hands clasped together. Wearing a blue windbreaker and dark wash jeans, he looked like any ordinary guy. I wasn’t too worried at the time since he was not holding any dangerous items, but I made sure to walk on the other side of the steps in order to avoid contact.
However, I soon learned that I should’ve been more scared. When I was halfway up the stairs, I heard rustling noises from his jacket as he turned to look at me. Things were starting to feel a little wrong, and my grip on my phone tightened. I quickened my pace, but before I reached the top of the steps, he yelled out to me. At first, I was confused, but then, he laughed and I quickly realized that it was all a joke to him: he was just trying to make me uncomfortable. I felt disgusted by his belief that he could say those kinds of things to me, and fearing that something worse would happen, I broke into a full sprint, running as fast as I could to my dorm.
A few minutes later, I burst in through the door. People were sitting in the lounge room, but no one noticed as I, out of breath, turned to go up the stairs to the rooms.
When I reached my room, the lights were off, and I assumed that my roommates were downstairs. When they came back later that night, I didn’t tell either of them because I didn’t want to worry them. But, the next day, it came up when I was talking with one of my friends who I had met earlier that summer.
I told her about the guy, but she just shrugged her shoulders and asked “Was he cute?”
Though I was appalled, I didn’t say anything. She didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.
Later that day, I looked up “creepy men calling women names at night,” and the results were several articles and stories about instances of catcalling. That is how I came to learn about this danger that is ever-present in our society.
Street harassment has been around since the beginning of time, yet there are still many people who don’t see it as a problem.
“Come on, he’s complimenting you,” they would say.
But, that’s disgusting. A 2015 study found that, across women from 22 countries, 84% of women have experience street harassment by the age of 17, proving that my story is not just an exception. Think about that. We aren’t even adults, yet we have already been subjected to the sick pleasures of men (by the way, this doesn’t mean that it’s okay for grown-up women to be catcalled).
As young girls turn into adults, the so-called “compliments” turn into physical harm. A report from earlier this year concluded that 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their life. That’s outrageous: even after the interactions have turned physical, there are many who still don’t believe the stories of victims who are just trying to get help.
Following the rise of the #MeToo movement, more women have been coming forward with their experiences, trying to build solidarity to confront this issue. However, at the same time, many women are still silenced. Whether their abuser was a boss, supervisor, or even family member, it’s difficult for many women to speak out.
If we don’t teach men that they cannot treat women like objects, they will continue to harm women, using their power or relationship with the victim. They need to learn that even these smaller acts of harassment are not okay, and they cannot continue to violate the rights of women because we deserve to be able to live without fearing these interactions.
There are so many people who still don’t recognize how big of a deal street harassment is. For me, even three years later, I still feel the fear that I had in that moment. I can’t walk anywhere by myself without being scared that something like that will happen. Not only do I feel uncomfortable, but I also know that there is a chance that an incident like what happened a few years ago could easily escalate. And even in a professional setting, knowing that there are men like Harvey Weinstein still out there, it’s impossible to ever feel safe.
Take a look around you, and see what the men in your lives are doing. Are they respecting women? Or are they treating women like objects, thinking that it’s okay? Even if they are your loved ones, remind them that it’s not okay. Let’s make the change that is needed because without it, women will continuously face sexual assault each and every day. Together, we can build a society that understands that catcalling and other forms of assault are not okay and one that is free of these dangers.